"The Owl and the Tanager" as written by and Sufjan Stevens....
All I had hoped for
I kept inside your car
The rabbit in the barn
Most of all I wait
I wait beside the door
I wait beside the door

And all I was wrong trembling in the cage
I was diamonds in the cage
In seven hours I consider death
And your father called to yell at me
You little boy, you little boy

Found out you cheated me
I ran behind the barn and cut my hands somehow
Blood in the meadowlark
I punched your ears instead
I punched you in the head
You only laughed and laughed and laughed

How I was wrong tingling from the kill
Tickle me until you devil bird you evil still
Slept on my arms, sleeping in the sill
I was sleeping in the room with you
You little boy, you little boy

How could you run from me now?
The loneliest chime in the house
The loneliest chime in the house
You let it out you let it out
Come to me Calvary still
I'm weeding and raking until
I'm bleeding in spite of my love for you
It bruised and bruised my will

Counting alluvial plains
The breathing inside of the range
You touched me inside of my cage
Beneath my shirt your hands embraced me
Come to me feathered and frayed
For I am the ugliest prey,
For I am the ugliest prey
The owl, the reckless reckless praise

You said you'd wait for me
Down by the Tannery Creek
Far out by the clotheslines where we used to kiss behind the sheets
Wrapped in a blanket of red
The owl and the tanager said
The owl and the tanager said
One waits until the hour is death

Lyrics submitted by lesea, edited by ciaran_t

"The Owl and the Tanager" as written by Sufjan Stevens


Lyrics powered by LyricFind

The Owl and the Tanager song meanings
Add your thoughts


sort form View by:
  • +12
    General CommentI think the reference to calvary is obviously a christian reference, but to me it's even more metaphorical than the song itself being taken in a christian light. I feel as if some of the song speaks for itself, being a boy loving another boy who hurt him, cheated him, and told his secret. The reference to calvary, the act of crucifixion itself, could be how he felt he was being viewed by everyone that knew. How most closeted gays feel when they are outed by others. That their secret is out and now he's on his way to be crucified by those around him.

    Being in that situation before, I actually felt that was what he was trying to say.
    Loving someone, being outed and hurt by them, and then later crucified by everyone around you.

    that's just what I felt he was trying to say. I hope it makes sense. :/

    The song itself is very stunning. Completely portrays the image of someone who is hurting from a love that has betrayed him.

    Sufjan = Amazing.
    lovejakeon November 07, 2010   Link
  • +8
    My InterpretationVery dark, very mysterious, and of course, being classic Sufjan Stevens, it's all very metaphorical. A couple ideas:

    - "Counting alluvial plains
    The breathing inside of the range
    You touched me inside of my cage
    Beneath my shirt your hands embraced me"

    This may be way off, but where your chest muscles come together, it's shaped like an alluvial plain. Your lungs are near there, and "you touched me inside of my cage, beneath my shirt your hands embraced me" - maybe that's referring to the other person touching his heart, since your heart is in your rib cage. The last verse almost seems like it could be vaguely sexual.

    My overall impression is that this is of a relationship. The main character of the song was cheated on, he was left shattered and angry, and out of anger, he tried to fight his boyfriend (the way 'you little boy' is used in the song at different times to refer to both he and the partner; along with the main character punching his partner (wouldn't work if the partner was female), it seems both people in the song are male), but was laughed at. Eventually, they reconcile, perhaps physically. There's also the strong note in the background of self-harm: "In seven hours I consider death" and "I ran behind the barn and cut my hands somehow" in the beginning and then again near the end, "Wrapped in a blanket of red" and "One waits until the hour is death", which seems weird if both he and the boyfriend reconcile near the end.

    Interested to hear others thoughts. Deep and very beautiful song, and I can only guess the meaning of about a third of it.

    PS: Not trying to spark the whole 'Is Sufjan gay' debate - though this song does make me wonder if it was written from his point of view.
    rtan90apon September 03, 2010   Link
  • +6
    General CommentHard. Hitting. Mother. Fucker.
    dothecollapseon August 24, 2010   Link
  • +4
    General CommentThe Tanager is a Western bird, and it's predator is the Owl. Maybe the relationship it insinuates is a predatory relationship? Where one preys on the other? And as the other preys, the relationship is waiting to die. I have always seen the "cage" as a place of being trapped, where the Tanager cannot escape it's death from the Owl. To me the image of blood means something costly, like a sacrifice, or something painful. It could be romantic, or could it not be. It could be any relationship with a human being where you feel trapped and preyed upon. I think it's written to not be understood, or vague so multiple people can relate. I could be wrong though. Just an opinion.
    sousetoileson September 20, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThis song reminds me of Donnie Darko so much.
    allstarz029on September 04, 2010   Link
  • +2
    My InterpretationI've got it!!

    But I totally would not have been able to come up with this without all of you giving me ideas, so thank you!
    So, someone suggested that it sounded like a continuation of Casimir Pulaski, which gave me an idea, and so I have been listening to it a lot and reading the lyrics along with it. I do think it has a lot to do with death... soooo.......

    First off, most of the song is in past tense, which is a great indication of death, especially of you compare it to Casimir Pulaski.
    And someone in here mentioned that owls prey on tanagers, and at one point he does say "I am the ugliest prey" which is the only present tense in the song (not exactly sure of the significance of that yet). But if he is preyed on, I thought maybe an abusive relationship? Or maybe it has something to do with the other's father? Not exactly sure where all that comes in either.
    But he does say "you touched me inside of my cage/ beneath my shirt your hands embraced me," which does give the impression of an intrusion, which it may be, metaphorically, if you think about it as an abusive relationship, but someone mentioned that your heart is in your rib cage. He was in love!
    At the end of the song, he says, "you said you'd wait for me down by the tannery creek/ far out by the clothesline where we used to kiss behind the sheets/ wrapped in a blanket of red/ the owl and the tanager said (2x)/ one waits until the hour is death" And that made me think about how M. Night Shyamalan used red as a symbol for the presence of ghosts in the Sixth Sense. And red is often a symbol of death, so if someone is "wrapped in a blanket of red," they are dead.. and that's why "one waits until the hour is death" because that's the time they will meet! When he dies! And THAT is why he considers death in the beginning of the song!!

    So thank you to all of those whose comments gave me ideas about this. I didn't read all of the comments, so as far as I know someone already cracked it.

    Another thing, too, is that the song is strangely dark. Sufjan often does sad, but not really much does he do dark, so that could be another indicator of a death/ghost type of theme.
    inpassingon October 21, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General Comment"All I had hoped for, I kept inside your car. The rabbit in the barn."

    I think the rabbit is actually a VW Rabbit. I'm serious. It would make sense. You could EASILY fit a VW Rabbit in a barn. Hell, you could probably fit 10 VW Rabbits in a barn... given the barn is big enough for 10 VW Rabbits. And also, a literal rabbit would make no sense in the stanza.

    Also, I thought it was "For I am the ugly osprey." I was thinking, "This song is great, it has so many bird references." But now I see it is, "For I am the ugliest prey." I can't help but be disappointed. But my love of this song and Sufjan quickly overshadows my disappointment.
    EthanTheBassiston September 15, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis song is so powerful and engrossing. It grips me everytime I listen to it. I was actually inspired to make a fan film for it. If you have a moment, please check it out :) youtube.com/…
    RickyKelleyon September 05, 2013   Link
  • +1
    Lyric CorrectionIn the last stanza, third line, it reads "Far out by the roadside where we used to kiss behind the sheets" It should read "Far out by the clothesline where we used to kiss behind the sheets."
    robertemmett33on September 04, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMaybe this is my total obsession with Casimir Pulaski Day, but it almost sounds like part of the same story. The part with the father yelling, and the intimation of something physical happening. But most of all the whispers of death and the expression of disappointment that she betrayed him by moving on.
    jenbrownon October 16, 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