This is the song for Baby Birch
I will never know you
And at the back of what we've done
There is that knowledge of you

I wish we could take every path
I could spend a hundred years adoring you
Yes, I wish we could take every path,
Because I hated to close the door on you

Do you remember staring up at the stars
So far away in their bulletproof cars
We heard the rushing, slow intake
Of the dark, dark water
And the engine breaks

And I said
How about them engine breaks
And, if I should die before I wake
Will you keep an eye on Baby Birch
Because I'd hate to see her
Make the same mistakes

When it was dark I called and you came
When it was dark I saw shapes
When I see stars I feel in your hand,
And I see stars and I reel, again

Well mercy me, I'll be goddamned
It's been a long long time since I last saw you
And I have never known the plan
It's been a long, long time, how are you

Your eyes are green, your hair is gold
Your hair is black, your eyes are blue
I closed the ranks and I doubled back
But you know, I hated to close the door on you

We take a walk along the dirty lake
Hear the goose cussing at me over her eggs
You poor little cousin
I don't want your dregs
A little baby fussing all over my legs

There is a blacksmith and there is a shepherd and there is a butcher-boy
And there is a barber who's cutting and cutting away at my only joy
I saw a rabbit as slick as a knife and as pale as a candlestick
And I had thought it'd be harder to do but I caught her and skinned her quick
Held her there kicking and mewling, upended, unspooling, unsung and blue
Told her "wherever you go, little runaway bunny I will find you"
And then she ran
As they're liable to do

Be at peace, baby, and begone


Lyrics submitted by blueofthesky

Baby Birch song meanings
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  • +5
    My InterpretationI don't know what this song is about but I have both miscarried and lost a much wanted baby over a year ago, she had severe Hydrocephalus incompatible with life and instead of seeing her suffer, we chose to terminate the pregnancy which meant me having to give still-birth to her at 22 weeks. This song for me sums up the experience perfectly, like the feeling your soul is being ripped out along wth the physical pain, confusion, guilt and emotional aftermath. It's a personal perspective of course but every verse reflects an aspect of how I feel still to this day. I love the line about 'staring up at the stars so far away in their bullet-proof cars'. It's like how when you were young, everything seemed so far off and the thought of loss wasn't as real, like it would never happen to you, then suddenly the dark water rushes in, you can do nothing to stop it and the horror of reality hits you. I think the end is really hopeful though, it kinda ends on a positive note for me, like that's life, you won't forget but just get on with it.

    Can't thank her enough for this song in particular along with others, she's an absolute rarity and to be cherished.

    Lolatadaon January 02, 2011   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI am honestly only here for fact-checking. I find this song to be heartbreaking and hard, and beautiful, like many of Joanna Newsom's songs, but I don't want to presume on her experience, only on the interpretations I'm seeing in the thread. (And I'm enough of a postmodernist to believe that if we hear these interpretations, they are reasonable, regardless of her intent! Her lyrics are complex enough to count as literature and I think they should be treated as such and I'm not sure fretting on about authorial intent is the be-all and end-all of interpreting them!)

    That said, an additional fact: it is not unusual for doctors to get involved in miscarriages, especially late or incomplete miscarriages, because they can be dangerous, and miscarriages are very common, especially in young women who have never been pregnant before. The imagery at the end could mean any of a thousand things, but if we want to talk about it involving the end of a pregnancy, it could mean that.

    Now my two cents: I personally - in my own personal politics and beliefs - certainly do think of abortions more as roads not taken, so to me that interpretation would ring true. But there are so many babies that people could have had if things had been a little different! There are the babies that could have been born if you'd been a little drunker or less shy or more forgetful or better or worse at math! There are the babies that could have been born if you just hadn't started an argument over whose turn it was to do the dishes, and the babies that could have been born if you'd skipped class that morning, and the babies that could have been born if the pregnancy hadn't miscarried, and the babies that could have been born if you hadn't broken up, and the babies that could have been born if you hadn't gotten an abortion. Every time we make a choice we shut out a whole bunch of other choices, all the time. How many missed chances are we supposed to live our lives for, anyway? But I think there are certain choices that come to represent how we expected our lives to turn out one way, and they didn't, and there's a whole lot of Joanna Newsom songs that seem to be about that kind of choice. She is a brilliant and articulate woman, and I wish her every luck.
    purpleshoeson April 21, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI don't think this song is about abortion per se. Haven't you ever walked through an old graveyard and seen all the "Baby {name}" headstones, for children that died before, or at, birth? The song could apply to all babies who never had a chance to live.
    Werlonon February 24, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentDoes anyone else pick up on all the nabokov tendencies newsom has? i feel like she has read all of his books and absorbed them, especially lolita, and it's very fun for me (as a fan of both artists) to think about them together and draw connections. both use some pretty vivid language and emotional intensity with their words.

    in nabokov's lolita, humbert humbert recalls a song that lolita loves, and it's about a lost love of some type. i hear this song echoed in baby birch. it goes:

    O my Carmen, my Carmen!
    Something, something those something nights,
    And the stars, and the cars, and the bars and the barmen--
    And, O my charmin', our dreadful fights.
    And the something town where so gaily, arm in
    Arm, we went, and our final row,
    And the gun I killed you with, O my Carmen,
    The gun I am holding now.

    the lost love, the guilt of having killed it, the stars, the cars, the rhyme scheme---all very similar.

    any thoughts?
    noraanudon March 08, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI don't believe this song is about abortion either. Well, maybe abort an aspect of oneself. I think that Baby Birch is a name the writer has given to an aspect of herself.

    "I will never know you, and at the back of what we've done, there is that knowledge of you" =not understanding that part of the self or why she has made certain choices.

    She goes back an forth saying "you" when addressing that part of the self and addressing an old lover.

    "There is a blacksmith and there is a shepherd and there is a butcher boy...."= Poetic allusion to, what, I'm not sure.

    "...Skinned her quick. held her there kicking and mewing....And then she ran, as they're liable to do"= Self-sabotage, that aspect of the writer was an emotional runner.

    Basically my interpretation is: Self-sabotage/ Getting too close to someone emotionally and pulling away in fear/Abandoning that cowardly aspect of self which causes the self sabotage. Hope this made sense.
    kalloweenon September 27, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this is about the character (perhaps Joanna, perhaps this is just the point of view she is singing from) having an abortion, and why she did it, and how she wishes things could have worked out another way. I suppose the singer is being haunted by thoughts of what could have been, had things worked out differently.
    emueyeson November 10, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI can't remember where I saw this... but there's a book called "The Runaway Bunny" about a baby bunny that wants to run away from his home/mother, and his mother follows him no matter what.

    I think Joanna is obsessed with motherhood. She writes of it all the time.
    blueoftheskyon November 10, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think it is presumptious to say that she has strong maternal instincts. I find Joanna to be fascinated by Motherhood, perhaps not because she has strong maternal instincts, but because it is that she is also deeply fascinated by the social expectations placed on women, and the controversy surrounding abortion as it connects to sexism and the concept of abortion as a taboo.

    The voice in the song seems sad, somewhat regretful, unsure, and I assume that Joanna is incorporating elements of an expectant mother that has aborted, however, I find it to be more of a social commentary and not a personal reflection.
    ClairePiazza243on December 25, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentLittlelifegiver, I appreciate someone atually taking the time to explain their theory, as opposed to just stating that this song is "obviously" about an abortion, without feeling that they might have to justify that statement at all. I really liked your interpretation of the "staring up at the stars" part in particular. However, Joanna has said that she looks at this album as kind of like a 24 hour period in the narrator's life, and one interviewer suggested each disc was like a chapter in a novel, and Joanna agreed with this idea. What seems telling to me is that she chose to place On a Good Day, immediately after Baby Birch. The lyrics to On a Good Day, most definitely support the idea of the death of an imagined life, as opposed to an abortion:

    On A Good Day

    Hey hey hey, the end is near!
    On a good day, you can see the end from here.
    But I won't turn back, now, though the way is clear;
    I will stay for the remainder.

    I saw a life, and I called it mine.
    I saw it, drawn so sweet and fine,
    and I had begun to fill in all the lines,
    right down to what we'd name her.

    Our nature does not change by will.
    In the Winter 'round the ruined mill,
    The creek is lying, flat and still;
    it is water, though it's frozen.

    So, 'cross the years and miles and through,
    on a good day, you can feel my love for you.
    Will you leave me be, so that we can stay true
    To the path that you have chosen?

    Meredith1982on March 11, 2010   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningProbably not abortion, but definitely the loss of a child. Both this and On A Good Day sound to me like a woman mourning a miscarriage, not wanting to abort a child.

    I agree that the image of a skinned bunny, held "upended, kicking and mewling, unsung and blue" evokes a baby, but I think the "unsung and blue" is key - the baby dying before birth.

    ~told her "wherever you go,
    little runaway bunny,
    I will find you."~

    I think she's saying here that she won't be able to let go of this lost child. That's the theme here - imagining what the baby would have looked like as it grew up. Walking around lake, etc. She can't let go of this child that never came to be.

    The following song "On A Good Day" she talks about still being frozen by this loss, but she has made progress. She can see the end (on a good day).

    HOWEVER, I don't think this is from Joanna's perspective, but her sister's. The song "Esme" has a verse:

    And I do not know
    If you know just what you have done
    You are the sweetest one
    I have ever laid my eyes upon

    And...

    The phantom of love moves among us at will
    Each phantom-limb lost has got an angel
    So confused like the wagging bobbed-tail of a bulldog
    Kindness, kindness prevails

    I think these allude to her sister Emily's losing one child, but finally having Esme - who doesn't replace Baby Birch, but still brings joy and life back to her.

    A lot of people talk about the album being about relationships (which some songs are), but I think the core of the album centers around this. I imagine her going back home to Nevada City and helping Emily deal with this loss, then a new birth, all while taking into account everything that has changed in her life and that of her loves ones.
    lostatlimboon March 14, 2010   Link

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