Vesuvius
I am here
You are all I have
Fire of fire
I'm insecure
For it is all
Been made to plan
Though I know
I will fail
I cannot
Be made to laugh
For in life
As in death
I'd rather be burned
Than be living in debt

Vesuvius
Are you a ghost
Or the symbols of light
Or a fantasy host?
In your breast
I carry the form
The heart of the Earth
And the weapons of warmth

Vesuvius
The tragic oath
For you have destroyed
With the elegant smoke
Oracle, I've fallen at last
But they were the feast
Of a permanent blast

Vesuvius
Oh, be kind
It hasn't occurred
No it hasn't been said
Sufjan, follow the path
It leads to an article of imminent death
Sufjan, follow your heart
Follow the flame
Or fall on the floor
Sufjan, the panic inside
The murdering ghost
That you cannot ignore

Vesuvius
Fire of fire
Fall on me now
As I favor the host

Vesuvius
Fire of fire
Fall on me now
As I favor the ghost

Vesuvius
Fire of fire
Fall on me now
As I favor the host

Vesuvius
Fire of fire
Fall on me now
As I favor the ghost

Vesuvius
Fire of fire
Fall on me now
As I favor your host

Vesuvius
Fire of fire
Fall on me now
As I favor the ghost

Vesuvius
Fire of fire
Fall on me now
As I favor the ghost

Fall on me now
Or follow down

Why does it have to be so hard?
Fall on me now
Or fall on the ground

Why does it have to be so hard?
Fall on me now
Or fall on the ground

Why does it have to be so hard?


Lyrics submitted by imapickledbeet, edited by acidcasualty

Vesuvius song meanings
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  • +12
    General CommentOk, so admittedly I look at life through a Christian lens, and sometimes that makes me a terribly biased song interpreter.
    But here's how I see the song (which I absolutely cannot stop listening to).

    First off, "Vesuvius" and "Fire of Fire" and "permanent blast" are the same thing. Sufjan's using the famous volcano as a symbol for the ultimate fire, which is God.

    That said, the entire song is Sufjan's internal dilemma of whether he will follow the "flame" or whether he will fall on the floor. According to Christian belief (with which Sufjan is very familiar), the believer must choose between following the Spirit of God which resides within him, or the flesh, which is always the easier choice ("Why does it have to be so hard?").

    It's also interesting that Sufjan consistently uses the word "ghost" to refer to the Holy Spirit in his music (To be alone with you f.e.). And so here, the "murdering ghost" is a picture of the Holy Spirit within Sufjan urging him to die to his self and follow the proddings of the spirit.

    Also, the lyrics are "article of eminent death" and not "immanent." Eminent death could possibly be a crucifixion reference, although it's tough to be sure.

    The latter part of the song seems to be Sufjan's decision to choose the ghost, rather than flesh. It's going to be terribly hard, but it's better to follow the flame than fall on the floor.

    Anyways, not saying I'm right, but this is how it jumped out to me as one who holds to the same beliefs as Sufjan. In any case, the song is incredibly powerful.
    Caveman7on October 11, 2010   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI think he's referring to Vesuvius as an inner anger/secret. He says it's "all he has." He is holding on to it, and he knows he will eventually let it out, which he sees as failing. The secret is either shameful, or selfish. It is frightening and painful.

    His insecurity about releasing this "fire of fire" is not knowing if it's what should really be done (are you ghost/symbol of light), or it's what he's been lead to believe is right (or a fantasy host).

    He blames this "Vesuvius" as taking his innocence, something he holds terribly dear. He says it's a tragic oath. It has destroyed what the elegant's(angels?) know. He claims to have "followed men less, but they were the feast of the vermin inblessed(i think he means unblessed/wicked)"

    He says though he knows he will fail he can now be made to laugh. Why? As he would rather burn than live in dust, he would treat others this way. He knows he will let out the "fire of fire" held inside to burn those around him rather than bury them in the ashes of a distant explosion (like Pompeii). Thus, it's funny because he feels he has no option. "it has been made to plan"

    The panic inside comes from knowing the time is drawing near. He can't ignore the "murdering ghost".

    He prays Vesuvius will fall on him now while he is favoring the ghost (believing it to be right thing to do) rather than believing it to be the fantasy host he mentioned earlier, which he seems to be flip flopping between.

    "Sufjan fall on the flame or fall on the floor" He is saying be brave and know the pain of being burned and being truthful, or else, you will be as the dust which falls on the floor, burying everything in lies.

    "Why does it have to be so hard" Revealing yourself is frightening. You won't know the consequences until you act.
    NovemberSkyboton October 06, 2010   Link
  • +5
    My InterpretationSufjan gave a pretty significant (and somewhat rambling) exposition to Vesuvius in Boston at the Orpheum (11/11/10). Thanks to ShoGoEr on Youtube for recording a similar version of the explanation at the Philly show:
    youtube.com/…

    My apologies for the super-long interpretation — I hope it’s fun & interesting for some to read — those that hate literary over-analyzing, skip ahead and don’t flame please. :) What I took away from his story was the following:

    The main struggle in Vesuvius is the artistic one he felt in the 5 years following Chicago. He was burnt out on Song Writing, exhausted by the sudden stardom and grueling tour. Songwriting had lost its power as an artistic outlet for him, and he started turning towards sonic experimentation and chamber orchestration. But embracing that turned out to be far more difficult - it turned out to be a vortex, a chasm, a ledge that spiraled away, that threatened an impossible return from. It reminded him of the feeling he got when standing at a precipice like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls and being enveloped/overwhelmed by the nature around him, feeling paralyzed, and wanting to jump. Vesuvius is about standing at that precipice, wanting to take the leap. While Krobe23 is right, that Sufjan called it "wonderous and great", like everything typical of Sufjan, especially the grown up one of Adz, there's a much darker undercurrent to it - suicide. I got chills, hoping that it was just a metaphor for artistic suicide, and that he wasn't really heading down the dark path traveled by many of the brilliant artists of our generation - Elliot Smith, David Foster Wallace, etc.

    But back to the artistic struggle, post-Illinoise, he had fame, he had an adoring audience, and he was contemplating abandoning them. It would be total artistic suicide to so radically shift his musical style & abandon songwriting altogether. I'm guessing he saw the world in which critics would dismiss him, his fans would abandon him, etc. Which is what some of us did after the BQE (guilty as charged). But the burden of living in the eternal shadow of Illinoise and never progressing as an artist was too much to bear, and he was looking for an escape.

    Vesuvius / I am here /You are all I have
    Fire of fire /I'm insecure
    For it is all / Been made to plan /
    Though I know /I will fail
    I cannot /Be made to laugh
    For in life /As in death
    I'd rather be burned /Than be living in debt

    The first stanza speaks to this directly. He needs to move forward artistically, but he knows that the volcano of sonic experimentation is certain failure. But he would rather die trying than forever live in the shadow of the glory of Illinoise, to which is indebted. The rest of the stanzas flesh this out and add layers to his struggle.

    Vesuvius /Are you a ghost
    Or the symbols of light / Or a fantasy host?
    In your breast / I carry the form
    The heart of the Earth /And the weapons of warmth

    The 3 symbols, ghost / symbols of light / host are tricky to interpret. Of course the words ghost & host are both stacked with religious meaning - the ghost being the holy ghost, and the host being the Catholic transubstantiation of the body of Christ, and perhaps the "fantasy" referring to the fact that as a non-Catholic he considers it a fantastic notion? However, both seem to imply something dark or negative pulling at him. Literary ghosts are often called upon to point the way forward, think Dickens' Christmas Story and the ghost of Hamlet’s father. If it's the same ghost as the "murdering ghost" in stanza 3 though, it is something far more dangerous - perhaps a dangerous ambitious that is not substantial and somehow linked to a darker current of self-destruction. That murdering ghost also doesn’t square with the notion of the holy ghost, either. I don’t know how to read it. Symbols of light is easier to interpret - it is the end goal, artistic transcendence — always in the distance, elusive, but bright. Fantasy host is again tricky — perhaps it refers to a temporary body that is just a mental fantasy that is just an illusion and not real? In this interpretation, Sufjan is asking himself and appealing to the volcano oracle, if this is the real path, or just a temporary fantasy, or something more dangerous.

    The next two lines say to me that he carries in his heart the artistic form that he sees as the essence of his music. That it's the "weapons of warmth" suggests that he knows he can turn it into something useful. Even though the weapons image is aggressive, the fact that he uses warmth, rather than fire or burning, suggests that he knows that he can create something loving and out of it.

    Vesuvius /The tragic oath
    For you have destroyed /With the elegant smoke
    Oracle, I've fallen at last
    But they were the feast / Of a permanent blast

    The third stanza’s tragic oath probably refers to King Herod’s oath to Salome of half his kingdom, which of course ended up with John the Baptist's head on a plate. The lesson learned, that overpromising can have dire consequences, is what hangs over his head — if he jumps, there's no turning back. The "elegant smoke" may be the literal ash and smoke that came out of Vesuvius. Why elegant? Not sure… perhaps because the unearthed scenes at Pompeii and Herculaneum were elegant?

    The third line, I'm not sure if it is "fallen at last" or "follow my last" — I think it's the latter, but it's really hard to tell. The last line in the stanza is the biggest mystery to me — who is "they"? Again, another reference to the citizens of Pompeii maybe, but… not sure what it's a metaphor for. Perhaps someone can come up with a good theory on this?

    Vesuvius / Oh, be kind
    It hasn't occurred / No it hasn't been said
    Sufjan, follow the path
    It leads to an article of imminent death
    Sufjan, follow your heart
    Follow the flame / Or fall on the floor
    Sufjan, the panic inside
    The murdering ghost / That you cannot ignore

    The fourth stanza is pretty straightforward. It’s his other self telling him that he needs to move forward. The path is alternately one of death or enlightenment, but failure to do that would be giving up ("fall on the floor"). The "panic inside" and "murdering ghost" are very evocative of artistic desperation to keep progressing and not becoming stagnant.

    The last refrains then flesh out this indecision, although it's again hazy to me what exactly he's implying by following the ghost and host, since I'm not entirely sure what they stand for.

    At the end of the day, Vesuvius is layered with meaning, as with all of Sufjan's music. He’s a true artist that uses his prodigious intellect as much as he uses his heart. He's a master at weaving ambivalence and ambiguity into his lyrics, and many interpretations are equally plausible. I choose to interpret his song as artistic struggle, but there are clearly many other interpretations — about struggle with/loss of faith, death, sexuality and innocence — his bread and butter, really!

    One last thought, if anyone has bothered to read this far, is in revisiting the last 2 lines of the first stanza, I came away with a pretty interesting reading related to faith… it suggests that he would rather burn in hell than live in the debt (of Jesus Christ who paid for humanity's sins). That line alone makes the case that everything that I’ve said is bullocks, and the entire thing is about the questioning of faith.

    Happy listening, everyone! :D
    bottarga77on November 18, 2010   Link
  • +4
    Song MeaningI saw Sufjan live in Salt Lake, and he described a feeling that he got when he saw bodies of water such as the Great Salt Lake, or Crater Lake, or Niagra Falls, just when the sun is hitting theme exactly right, and you see this mesh of beautiful colors. He talked about how when he sees that kind of a majestic view, he just wants to, like...merge with it, to be part of something huge, that's so beautiful--just to jump in and become part of it. Then he said that the next song is kind of about that feeling, of wanting to jump in and be part of something huge, and played Vesuvius.
    Smintituleon November 05, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI can't help but be reminded of when Sufjan sings John Wayne Gacy Jr. from the Illinois album:

    Sufjan, follow the path
    It leads to an article of imminent death
    Sufjan, follow your heart
    Follow the flame
    Or fall on the floor
    Sufjan, the panic inside
    The murdering ghost
    That you cannot ignore

    the end of John Wayne Gacy Jr.:

    And in my best behavior
    I am really just like him
    Look beneath the floorboards
    For the secrets I have hid
    mca72on October 01, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAnd a key mistake in the posted lyrics (basically changes the whole slant of the song) is that "I cannot be made to laugh" is actually "I can now be made to laugh".
    breaveson September 28, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAre you sure it's not "fall on me now" rather than "follow me now"?
    annieelizabethon September 29, 2010   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningI think Vesuvius is Sufjan's different word for death.
    Butlersworthon December 31, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is about Sufjan belatedly giving in to the fire of his id: ie. "Vesuvius!"

    He said last night at Royal Festival Hall that he had been a planner when he was 15, everything meticulous, well-behaved and in it's place, but at 30 he has decided to give in to all his impulses and feelings, to give in to his desire to become a creature of the body instead of the creature of the mind he has been in the past. He said he was trying brave new things like stamp-collecting, and he (jokingly) told us to quit school and take drugs.

    From a Christian perspective, you'd say that Sufjan has fallen, and is risking fire and brimstone (and the song worries about this - "article of eminent death," "why do things have to be so hard"). I'd say Sufjan's belatedly finding himself. Best wishes, Sufjan! Awesome concert, eruption of joy and dancing at the end - everything I think this song is about! :)
    yhtrownuon May 13, 2011   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationTwo separate comments:

    1. Think about these lyrics in context of Lord of The Rings and the mission of Frodo to bring the ring to Mount Doom/Vesuvius. Like 90% of this could translate pretty directly. I don't think for a second that LOTR influenced Sufjan but still it's kind of interesting.

    2. As an Atheist I love the "rather be burned than be living in debt" line interpreted as a rejection of God's salvation. But while reading a little about the major eruptions of Mount Vesuvius and how many people were killed nearby and I thought of another possibility. A person who knows they will die because the volcano is erupting and rather than sit and wait for their imminent death(living in debt) they choose to climb the mountain and jump into the volcano. Dying on their own terms and confronting their doom directly.
    danlmanon June 03, 2015   Link

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