Whose is the hand that I will hold?
Whose is the face I will see?
Whose is the name that I will call
When I am called to meet thee?

In this life who did you love
Beneath the drifting ashes?
Beneath the sheeting banks of air
That barrenly bore our rations?

When I could speak it was too late
Didn't you hear me calling?
Didn't you see my heart leap like
A pup in the constant barley?

In this new life where did you crouch
When the sky had set to boiling?
Burnin' within; seen from without
And your gut was a serpent coiling

And for the sake of that pit o' snakes
For whom did you allay your shyness?
And spend all your mercy and madness and grace
In a day beneath the bending cypress?

It was not on principle
Show, pro-heart, that you have got gall
A miracle!
I can bear a lot but not that pall
I can bear a lot but not that pall
Kingfisher, sound the alarm
Say, "sweet little darlin', now, come to my arms
Tell me all about the love you left on the farm"

He was a kind, unhurried man
With a heavy lip and a steady hand
But he loved me just like a little child,
A little child loves a little lamb

Thrown to the ground by something down there
Bitten by the bad air while the clouds tick
Trying to read all the signs
Preparing for when the bombs hit

Hung from the underbelly of the earth
While the stars skid away below
Gormless and brakeless, gravel-loose
Falling silent as gavels in the snow

I lay back and spit in my chaw
Wrapped in the long arm of the law
Who has seen it all
I can bear a lot but not that pall
I can bear a lot but not that pall
Kingfisher, cast your fly
O lord, it happens without even tryin'
When I sling a low look from my shuttering eye

Blows rain upon the one you loved
And though you were only sparring
There's blood on the eye, unlace the glove
Say, honey, I am not sorry

Stand here and name the one you loved
Beneath the drifting ashes
And in naming, rise above time
As it, flashing, passes

We came by the boatload
And were immobilised
Worshiping volcanoes
Charting the loping skies

The tides of the earth left
Us bound and calcified and made as
Obstinate as obsidian
Unmoving, save our eyes

Just mooning and blinking
From faces marked with coal
Ash cooling and shrinking
Cracks loud as thunder rollin', I swear

I know you; you know me
Where have we met before, tell me true?
To whose authority
Do you consign your soul?

I had a dream you came to me
Sayin', you shall not do me harm anymore
And with your knife you evicted my life
From its little lighthouse on the seashore

And I saw that my blood had no bounds
Spreading in a circle like an atom bomb
Soaking and felling everything in it's path
And welling in my heart like a birdbath

It is too short, the day we are born
We commence with our dying
Trying to serve with the heart of a child
Kingfisher lie with the lion


Lyrics submitted by mutinyinheaven_x

Kingfisher song meanings
Add your thoughts

23 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +3
    My InterpretationMy theory is that it's a tragic love story that took place during World War II. The religious references are not the focus of the song, I think. It took me a long time to see it, but the context speaks of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

    First, Kingfisher was a bomber in the air force, or perhaps a fighter pilot. The stanza that illustrates that best is:
    "I can bear a lot but not that pall
    Kingfisher, cast your fly
    O lord, it happens without even tryin'
    When I sling a low look from my shuttering eye"

    Other things like rations, "sounding the alarm" and "preparing for when the bombs hit" keyed me in to war at first, and there's more evidence later in the song that she's talking specifically about Pearl Harbor.

    I think Joanna does switch narrators several times during the song. She sometimes sings as Kingfisher him/herself, but other parts are his/her lover addressing or observing Kingfisher. The "quiet" part at the end is more historic, and definitely speaks to me of the persecution of the Japanese after Pearl Harbor:

    "We came by the boatload
    And were immobilised
    Worshiping volcanoes
    Charting the loping skies

    The tides of the earth left
    Us bound and calcified and made as
    Obstinate as obsidian
    Unmoving, save our eyes"

    The stanza:
    "I know you; you know me
    Where have we met before, tell me true?
    To whose authority
    Do you consign your soul?"
    Clinches the relationship between Kingfisher and the other character; S/he was a Japanese immigrant, and they were lovers before the war. S/he might have even been an actual Japanese spy, but that's not stated very clearly in the song. Now s/he is imprisoned on a military base (in Hawaii?), where Kingfisher sees him/her again.

    "To whose authority / Do you consign your soul?" is a reference (almost a joke) about the Japanese' devotion to their emperor versus Americans' to the flag. What they did to the Japanese after Pearl Harbor was pretty atrocious.... The "dream" where Kingfisher kills the lover as if by an atom bomb (a basically undeniable Japan reference) is the final stroke. All hope is lost for the him/her, and s/he expresses his/her regret in the final stanza for the choices they each made.

    They rest of the song, while beautiful and fully up to Newsom's poetic standards, says more about their love and less about what actually happened. It's still a love song, but with a historical context and a tragic outcome!
    xypotionon May 22, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAnyone have any ideas on what it means? All I can come up with:

    "Kingfisher" might allude to the myth of Alcyone, whose husband Ceyx was killed at sea, came to her in a dream to tell her he had died, whereupon she went to the seashore and threw herself in. They were both turned to kingfishers.

    Also, I guess the whole thing is sort of like an investigation/questioning. Obviously several lines end in question marks, but the part about "The long arm of the law" and "Who has seen it all?" make it sound like they are looking for someone. A murderer, perhaps, considering later there are images of murder (not least in the dream at the end).

    The lines "Blows rain upon the one you loved, and though you were only sparring there's blood on the eye, unlace the glove, say honey I am not sorry" are pretty unsettling for me, and show this overarching violence.

    Of course, also the pall, which is a sheet that you cover a coffin with, is an image of death.

    Unfortunately, I don't know how to put all of these things together. It's hard to tell if Joanna is switching narrators throughout the song, who the kingfisher is, how many people are asking questions and being asked questions, how many people are loving other people or killing other people, etc. The whole middle section, "We came by the boatload" to "Do you consign your soul?" really baffles me. What might the recurring images of bombs/ashes/volcanoes mean?

    Also, the stanza, "Hung from the underbelly of the Earth" is one of my favorite Joanna stanzas. But I don't understand it at all.

    Any feedback/thoughts/ideas?
    sanfordcon April 04, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI'm not entirely sure, but in my interpretation it seems to touch on the ideas of eternity and reincarnation. Saying that, I think sanfordc's take on it is very interesting indeed.
    ao7hinon May 02, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think these are very interesting interpretations. I think that it's got a lot of meaning. I did want to point out that in reference to SanfordC's post about Moses the line:

    Beneath the sheeting banks of air
    That barrenly bore our rations?

    May be referencing the manna that God sent from heaven for the Israelites as they wandered the desert. Just my two cents. I believe that Kingfisher is more like Jesus, the Lamb of God sacrificed back to God and the Kingfisher or lamb, as it was pointed out previously, lies down with lions.

    There are also many Biblical references such as the Cypress which features heavily in the Bible (particularly in the Song of Solomon) and was the wood used for Noah's ark. I believe this song works on a few levels, one of which, is Biblical. Perhaps a crisis of faith as was noted earlier.

    Some more obvious connections between the word Kingfisher and Jesus is the story of the fishes and loaves where Jesus (descended from King David and often referenced as a King in the Bible) multiplied the fishes to feed the multitudes. He is closely associated with fishing as some of his Apostles were fishermen and one of the earliest signs of Jesus was the fish (as seen on cars these days). I think that using the name Kingfisher for Jesus would make sense in this context, but that's not to say I'm right. Ms. Newsom is very deep and so the name could mean many things.
    jankouton July 21, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is definitely an elegy lamenting the dead who suffered the eruption of Vesuvius, Pompeii in AD 79...worshiping volcanoes...being immobilized...obsidian and all the other volcanic references!

    In the first stanza her awareness of the tragedy seems to have prompted existential questioning, she goes on to direct the questions to the victims that lay buried still, almost writing from the perspective of witnessing the tragedy first hand....using the collective 'our' when asking...
    "...preparing for when the bombs hit..."

    "..I had a dream.." Here is the personification of the volcano who has the dream. Mother earth who see's it as this harmful canker, takes her knife/wave-earthquake and rid's herself of the blister.
    "spreading in a circle like an atom bomb" equates with the amount of destruction caused by the blood/lava. The imaginary of the blood having no bounds soaking and felling everything in its path is really beautiful in its symmetry to the lava flowing in the same manner.

    The last stanza is the realization of just how imminent life is, every second is bringing us closer to our last hour and we have no say in our fate, nature will do as it pleases, regardless.

    I guess it also fits that in ancient Greece the body of a Kingfisher could ward of thunderbolts and storms so perhaps thats why she chose this particular bird. And where the Kingfisher gets mentioned she seems to be asking something of it.
    "Kingfisher ..sound the alarm....Kingfisher...cast your fly"

    Lastly, I love the ending line "Kingfisher, lie with the lion" I think this represents a golden age, where everything is finally at peace. its similar to some part in the bible about the wolf laying with the lamb. the natural order of things ceases and a type of symbiosis occurs that dictates a harmonious co-existence between all living things.

    There are other parts which I don't think are too cryptic and were probably just a natural progression of telling the story.
    bugitaon January 24, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentHere is a Gerrard Manley Hopkins poem:

    As Kingfisher's Catch Fire

    AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
    As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
    Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
    Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
    Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 5
    Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
    Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
    Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

    Í say móre: the just man justices;
    Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; 10
    Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
    Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
    Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
    To the Father through the features of men’s faces.



    I think this poem works well with the song's religious/sacramental/nature imagery, but in a narrative sort of way. Thoughts?
    INTP233on March 27, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSuch a beautiful song!
    It is too short, the day we are born
    We commence without dinning

    Should be:
    It is too short, the day we are born
    We commence with our dying
    sprout13on February 15, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis is certifiably epic
    predicateon February 18, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Commentit's obstinate, not ostinate. haha

    it sounds like it could be metaphorical for the end of a relationship. it would thematically match the progress of the album, at least. so wonderful.
    tinylittlewordson March 03, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is the best song on Disc 3
    mollyphillips69on March 08, 2010   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain