"He Doesn't Know Why" as written by and Robin Pecknold....
Penniless and tired, let your hair grow long
I was looking at you there and your face looked wrong
Memory is a fickle siren song
I didn't understand

Image and a light as the morning nears
You don't say a single word of your last two years
Well you will be, you'll reach the frontier
I didn't understand, oh

See your running hands and a silver knife
Twenty dollars in your hand that you hold so tight
All the evidence of your vacantlie
My brother you were born

And you will try to do what you did before
Pull the wool over your eyes
For a week or more
Let your family take you back to your original mind

There's nothing I can do
There's nothing I can do
There's nothing I can say
There's nothing I can say
I can say


Lyrics submitted by chickenflicker, edited by Doccy11, Brassfinch, stegokitty, DsquareD

"He Doesn't Know Why" as written by Robin Pecknold

Lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

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He Doesn't Know Why song meanings
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49 Comments

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  • +6
    General CommentI don't know if I'm reading things into this song that aren't there, but to me he is speaking to his older brother who has disappeared for a couple of years and comes home in pretty sorry state. The singer doesn't remember him as he sees him now. It seems the brother is suffering through something, possibly drug addiction or maybe just a unhappy life, and has done this before - come home and relied on his family while he gets himself together. There is a longing on the part of the singer to help, but he realizes there is nothing he can say or do to help his brother.
    songyoneon July 10, 2008   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI think this song is modernly about the prodigal son.
    Chamoseson July 11, 2008   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI love the "pull the wool over your eyes" bit. So many people think they can go home and be the person they were years ago when their troubles get to be too much. But it just doesn't work.
    spastikcommaon May 14, 2009   Link
  • +3
    Memorya few days ago i confided a secret in a new friend, a boy who had introduced me a few weeks ago to fleet foxes. i've been listening to 'ragged wood' often but i didn't notice the correlation between the situation that i'd find myself in with this boy and the words to this beautiful song. i am unable to love this boy because i am in a long-distance relationship with another, very different, person who will be arriving to stay with me for six months in a month and a half from now. since meeting my new friend i have been driven to distraction by his poetic way, amazed at the freedom i feel in expressing myself to him, have fallen unfortunately in a type of sad love with him. we had spent a few curious nights conversing until the wee hours and ending up curled like kittens around each other, clothed and warm in his bed. we kissed in a moonlit garden. we tiptoed delicately around the romance that we could not have. and i have shattered, with the breath of my secret, our understanding. i suppose it is a good thing, but find myself despondent nonetheless. i wish i had never given him that crystal ball to hold. he was too innocent.
    i had told my friend a few weeks before my worries about my mother. she had been a stripper after leaving my father and finding it impossible to give her children the various lessons and comforts that she wished to give us on a grade nine education. though she had found more respectable employment and a rich boyfriend to help her fill in the gaps, she had lately regressed to a type of 'whoring' that worried me. though i can not know the particulars i do know that she has been getting paid to have lunch with rich businessmen for the beautiful company and witty conversation she offers. she is a beautiful woman and a very fine person but i feel that every date she has degrades her. not a good situation.
    what i didn't tell my friend was that young as i am, i have forayed into her world. last year, floundering and unsure, oppressed and unhappy (i won't go into details), i decided to make money fast and run away. i never reached my goal, thank god. but i did walk through the hellish underworld of prostitution. i sold my body for $80 the half-hour in a condo downtown. i welcomed twenty strangers into my arms over two cold months. i became scared of my shadow, a shell of my former self. i quit, got tested, found i was healthy, and have vowed to myself never to repeat.
    when i told my boy the full story of the past two years, he didn't know what to say. he didn't know what to do. he said 'it's just something i don't want to hear about.' later that night i went up to his room and knocked on the door. he was lying in dark in his bed. 'it's not a charade,' i promised. i lay my head on his bed and left my feet on the floor. he petted my hair kindly. we said nothing, nothing, nothing. he suddenly kissed me, lay back down. without unlacing my boots i curled around him and he slept. i watched dawn come and left at 8 without any words. there's nothing he can say. i'll have to find my original mind on my own.
    slumberingbeeon November 04, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis song is actually about me.
    OliverJameson July 27, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General Comment$20 in your hand THAT you hold so tight, where are you hearing MAKES?
    iangurteenon June 30, 2009   Link
  • +2
    My InterpretationI had a really different interpretation from most of the comments here. I do not think we're supposed to have a pitiful view towards the returning person. In fact he is admired for all that he's been through, for he has had 'real' experiences.

    I presume this because of the fleet foxes aesthetic, which is more and more Paul Simmons/Cat Stevens-enesque. Having a long hair and a vagrant life is not something bad, quite the contrary. It becomes clear in the line "my brother you were born", like he was finally alive because of the difficult times when he reached the frontier.

    Another line thats points towards that is "pull the wool over your eyes", which I think is quite a direct reference to Maia's veil, that is, that which prevents us from gazing to the world as it is, to see the truth in it. That is, letting your "family take you back to your original mind" is NOT a good thing. The narrator feels this, but doesn't really know what to do.
    threepwood86on June 04, 2011   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationWhat started out as a coincidence has become what I'd love this song to be about. We can try to cut this song apart and cross reference everything, but the truth is:

    This song reminds me, oddly, of the movie Into the Wild or the main character, Chris McCandless (the movie was based on his life). Here's why:

    "Penniless and tired, with your hair grown long
    I was looking at you there and your face looked wrong
    Memory is a fickle siren song
    I didn't understand"

    Chris would be penniless as he burned all of his money and donated his savings to charity. His hair is long because he's been homeless (willingly) for a long time. His face in his last ever portrait is really thin and sick looking, as it is theorized that he ate a poisonous seed which caused his death. This song would be sung from the point of view of his sister, Carine McCandless.

    "In the gentle light as the morning nears
    You don't say a single word of your last two years
    Where you were or when you reached the frontier
    I didn't understand, no"

    I don't think he ever contacted her, and he was gone for two years (and subsequently died in Alaska, definitely a FRONTIER). She didn't understand why he had to do all of this.

    "See your rugged hands and a silver knife
    Twenty dollars in your hand makes you hold so tight
    All the evidence of your vacant life
    My brother you were born"

    He would need a silver knife to live in the wild, and I'm sure his hands would have shown some wear-and-tear. No idea what the money would be, as I have never researched his life... I know he worked some odd jobs to get pocket change (like 20 dollars?) for supplies. He's vacant as he owns no fixtures or furniture, and he was finally how he wanted to be (in the wild).

    "And you will try to do what you did before
    Pull the wool over your eyes
    For a week or more
    Let your family take you back to your original mind"

    The last verse, to me, is that he is trying to cope with his parents' messed up marriage and their bad job in raising him and his sister. He pulls the wool over his eyes, meaning to hoodwink or deceive. He's tricking himself into thinking he wants this. She tells him to let his family take him back to being sane, basically.

    "There's nothing I can do
    There's nothing I can do
    There's nothing I can say
    There's nothing I can say
    I can say "

    There was nothing Carine could have done, as they had no idea where Chris was. Chris died in August after ingesting (theory, of course) poisonous seeds which caused his insides to basically betray him. His body was found in September by some hunters.
    hotexcelsioron January 13, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love the piano bit at the end.
    arlexahnderuhon March 27, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Commentsomeone who needs to find who they were.
    they have been gone for an extensive amount of time,
    now that they have come back, they need to find who they were before they left.

    'let your family take you back to your original mind'

    elishajeanon May 15, 2009   Link

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