"Terrible Love" as written by and Matthew D. Berninger Aaron B. Dessner....
It's a terrible love that I'm walking with spiders
It's a terrible love that I'm walking in
It's a terrible love that I'm walking with spiders
It's a terrible love that I'm walking in
It's quiet company, it's quiet company

It's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders
It's a terrible love that I'm walking in
It's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders
It's a terrible love that I'm walking in
It's quiet company, it's quiet company
It's quiet company

And I can't fall asleep
Without a little help
It takes awhile to settle down
My ship of hopes
Wait til the past?

It takes an ocean not to break
It takes an ocean not to break
It takes an ocean not to break
It takes an ocean not to break

Company
It's quite company
It's quiet company

But I won't follow you into the rabbit hole
Last night I woke but then I saw
The ship of woes but didn't want me to

It's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders
It's a terrible love that I'm walking in
It's a terrible love that I'm walking with spiders
It's a terrible love that I'm walking in

It takes an ocean not to break
It takes an ocean not to break
It takes an ocean not to break


Lyrics submitted by neah17068, edited by dpf62984, hnavarro, SpankySnail

"Terrible Love" as written by Matthew D. Berninger Aaron B. Dessner

Lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

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Terrible Love song meanings
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26 Comments

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  • +9
    My InterpretationThe A.V. Club's review of High Violet gives a pretty good idea of the overall lyrical theme of the album and this song.
    "On High Violet, the band’s fifth overall, Berninger opens up like never before, using apocalyptic images of floods, bee swarms, and even brain-eating zombies to express the fear of a man who now must put a wife and young child ahead of himself."
    "[...] taking on a potentially trite subject–being a new father–and making listeners feel the sledgehammer pounding of a scared (but committed) man’s heart."

    Here's my interpretation. Hopefully others can point out flaws in my understanding of the lyrics, or offer other meanings that never occurred to me. I don't think the lyrics are that cryptic to break apart, but it took me a while to give consistent meaning to every single line.

    It's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders,
    It's a terrible love and I'm walking in,
    It's quiet company,

    The words terrible love, while also alluding to being infatuated and deeply in love, describe the heavy feelings of fear and anxiety from starting and loving a family.
    Spiders refers to creeping and tingling feelings, and the fear of walking into a web, to be doomed.
    Walking in refers to committing oneself despite said fears.
    Quiet company refers to how the feeling isn't really expressed out loud or saying anything; it's just there, lingering, and the future isn't certain. Another meaning I find likely is that quiet company refers keeping oneself composed and together, and not breaking apart from the feelings of fear and anxiety.

    And I can't fall asleep without a little help,
    It takes a while to settle down, my shivered bones, until the panic's out,
    It takes an ocean not to break,

    The meaning here seems clear enough to not need much explanation. There's a terrible amount of stress, and in turn it takes a terrible amount of will and effort not to break under the pressure of it all. Matt mocking himself makes sense sense as well, given his frequent wine drinking--it takes an ocean of alcohol not to break.

    But I won't follow you into the rabbit hole,
    I said I would but then I saw your shivered bones, they didn't want me to,

    Rabbit hole is an Alice in Wonderland reference, and describes the feeling of being lost and overwhelmed in a strange new world--i.e. of being a new parent.
    On a personal level for Matt, "you" refers to his wife. Matt saw that his wife has the same fear and anxiety as he does, and so he wants to be strong for her, to be the help for her as she's been for him. Matt (quietly) resolves not to mess it up and to be a good husband and father.
    noisejuton August 04, 2011   Link
  • +7
    My InterpretationHaving not long ago survived a relationship with a person who turned out to be a clinical psychopath, to me this song perfectly nails that kind of destructiveness. I re-listened to this at the tail end of the relationship, and it was remarkable how completely it fit the situation.

    After the initial rush, this kind of thing indeed becomes a "terrible love." You are walking with monsters, or spiders, whatever creepy image fits. And it's "quiet company," because you doubt your own perceptions and can't even discuss them with the other person.

    Anxiety sets in, and indeed you cannot sleep "without a little help." "It takes an ocean not to break," an ocean of wine, perhaps, as another poster suggested.

    And finally, recognition of the gravity of the situation. You can't go any further down that rabbit hole of misadventure into insanity. You see the bones of the person, who they really are, and it's clear.

    Of course, this track will mean many things to different people, I suppose that's the brilliance of good songwriting.
    hiway61on December 08, 2012   Link
  • +4
    General CommentHi, I'm pretty sure the lyrics must be like this:

    The National - Terrible Love

    It’s terrible love and I’m walking with spiders
    It’s terrible love that I’m walking in
    It’s terrible love and I’m walking with spiders
    It’s terrible love that I’m walking in
    this quiet company
    this quiet company

    It’s terrible love and I’m walking with spiders
    It’s terrible love that I’m walking in
    It’s terrible love and I’m walking with spiders
    It’s terrible love that I’m walking in
    this quiet company
    this quiet company
    this quiet company

    And I can’t fall asleep without a little help
    It takes a while to settle down
    My shivered bones
    Until the panic ‘s out

    It takes an ocean not to break
    It takes an ocean not to break
    It takes an ocean not to break
    It takes an ocean not to break

    Company
    This quiet company
    This quiet company

    But I won’t follow you into the rabbit hole
    I said I would but then I saw
    Your shivered bones
    They didn’t want me to

    It’s terrible love and I’m walking with spiders
    It’s terrible love that I’m walking in
    It’s terrible love and I’m walking with spiders
    It’s terrible love that I’m walking in

    It takes an ocean not to break
    It takes an ocean not to break
    It takes an ocean not to break


    Argentatuson February 26, 2011   Link
  • +3
    General Commentsounds to me more like this:

    and i can't fall asleep
    without a little help
    it takes awhile to settle down
    my shivered bones
    until the panic sets

    but i won't follow you
    into the rabbit hole
    I said I would
    but then i saw
    your shivered bones
    they didn't want me to


    the rest seems more or less correct.
    equivalenceon April 27, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General Comment"It takes an ocean not to break"


    probably one of the most beautiful lines ever written for a song. So much emotion and truth.
    TheDestroyeron December 17, 2011   Link
  • +3
    General CommentOne night after dark I was walking my baby daughter to sleep in a stroller, and we came very close to walking into a web with a huge spider in the middle of it. I just happened to be listening to The National on headphones at the time too. That's when it occurred to me that this song is about the love a dad has for his kids and how complex that love is. During an early televised performance of the song (on Fallon maybe?), Berninger mentions that terrible love is a good thing. That fits. It's incredibly difficult being a dad, but it's worth it.

    Anyway, that's what the song is about for me.
    infincibleon May 09, 2013   Link
  • +1
    Lyric CorrectionIt's a terrible love and I'm walking with spiders
    It's a terrible love and I'm walkin' in
    its quiet company

    And I can't fall asleep without a little help
    It takes a while to settle down
    My shivered bones
    Until the panic sets

    It takes a ocean not to break

    But I won't
    follow you into the rabbit hole
    I said I would
    but then I saw
    your shivered bones
    They didn't want me to

    It's easier to tell when you listen to a live version, aka Pitchfork's session with them.
    scarlon May 03, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFor a long time my friend and I debated whether he was saying "It takes an ocean not to break" or "It takes a notion not to break." Then we learned that Matt Berninger never prints his lyrics, and it dawned on us that he could very well mean both. "It takes a notion," as in it takes a strong belief, and "It takes an ocean," that is, an immense source of strength–so it's like an ocean of a notion, or something like that. I've found other examples of him doing that, where he could be saying two things, and both of them work. He may not be doing it intentionally; but if he is, and I think that's the case, then he has got to be, hands down, the most innovative songwriter alive right now.
    jascott541on October 29, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Commentto me, this song feels like it's about alcoholism
    smevinon November 20, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI feel like this song is definitely about alcoholism, relating to one of the overwhelming themes in the album.

    I feel like "It takes an ocean not to break" is in reference to excessive drinking and that in order to stay whole and intact he has to basically get drunk, drowning out the sorrows of his life.

    Amazing song, album, and band.
    Award13on December 03, 2010   Link

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