There grows a weed, looks like a flower
Looks like baby's breath on a mirror
My girl and I rushed atop the altar
The sacrifice was made
It was not easy undertaking
The roots gripped soft like a living grave

Oh young girl at the wedding
Baby's breath in her hair
A crowning lace above her face
That will last a day before it turns to hay

And good plans are made by hand
I'd cut a clearing in the land
And for a little bed
For her to cry comfortable in

And each day I looked out on the lawn
And I wondered what all was gone
Until I saw it was lucky old me
How could I run without losing anything?
How could I run without becoming lean?
It was agreed, it was agreed
It was me tearing out the baby's breath

Oh I am a helpless man, so help me
I'm on my knees gardening
It was not a weed, it was a flower
My baby's gone, oh where has my baby gone?
And she was not a weed, she was a flower

And now I know you must reap what you sow, or sing
Yes now I know you must reap what you sow, or sing

Lyrics submitted by askforgiveness, edited by smallwonderrobot

Baby's Breath song meanings
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  • +3
    General Comment"How could I run without losing anything? How could I run without becoming lean?"

    Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle and Have One On Me paint a sort of picture of Callahan/Newsom split to me. And this here seems like an aftermath, particularly "It was agreed, it was me tearing out the baby's breath." Seems to be accepting full responsibility for the literal or metaphorical abortion chronicled in Joanna's "Baby Birch."

    But also they all point to this notion that Bill had to leave and move on, like a shark that must keep moving to stay alive. But he's a human, how could he stay in motion without losing something precious or becoming "malnourished" of the basic human needs satisfied by familial or romantic love.
    GentleDogson April 21, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree with @thepowercut about it maybe being about an abortion, but I also think it might be about a man that left (or maybe killed) his wife and child for some reason. Either way, he regrets it.

    Throughout the song he uses a lot of imagery that alternates between death and life, ie the double meaning of "Undertaking" and hay being dead grass. The part of the song that confuses me most is the final line "You must reap what you sow or sing." Does anybody have any idea what that could mean?
    woimlglon March 24, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI am really starting to wonder if an abortion was what tore Joanna Newsom and Bill apart. Both of their most recent albums contain songs referencing this (Newsom's 'Baby Birch').
    Robbsterron March 25, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFrom an interview,

    "Maybe because it starts with a cattle drive," Callahan nods. "Then the second song, Baby's Breath, is about what happens when you finally choose where you're going to settle down and get your own plot of land. After that comes America!, which is looking at the bigger picture of stuff that's gone before in terms of the whole country."
    milankson April 02, 2011   Link
  • 0
    Lyric CorrectionLooks like baby’s breath on a mirror
    Eglkon March 22, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAfter only a couple of listens (i.e. reserve the right to change my mind) it sounds to me as though he's dealing with the guilt of having been involved in (suggesting or agreeing with) an abortion for his pregnant partner; it seemed to make sense at the time, but now he feels only regret.
    thepowercuton March 24, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI am fairly certain it has nothing to do with an abortion. Baby's breath is a kind of flower, it is commonly associated with innocence and purity of heart and it's often worn in a young woman's hair during wedding ceremonies (not necessarily the bride.)

    "You must reap what you sow or sing." could allude to the way that creating/singing a song is like sowing a seed, they flower and grow and take on bigger lives once they're planted out in the world for all of us to pick at.
    milankson March 24, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think the subject is either abortion or the break-up of a marriage, neither is particularly satisfying though. Also, although baby's breath is a flower that doesn't preclude abortion being the subject of the song.

    I was originally going to speculate that it was about abortion:

    Accepting that it is about abortion makes the last line obvious, 'you must reap what you sow or sing', he is singing, because he didn't reap (harvest) what he sowed i.e. his child. But then it makes the first line much more difficult, 'there grows a weed, looks like a flower' that then becomes 'it was not a weed, it was a flower'. Clearly the last line portrays the abortion as a mistake that the man/groom regrets, the first line, in my opinion, shows that he was never happy with the idea of aborting the baby in the first place; 'I'd cut a clearing in the land' is perhaps him trying to persuade the bride that it is wrong in this situation.

    but then all this is largely void considering the line 'it was me tearing out the baby's breath'.

    In any case, I cannot get any grasp at all on what 'how could I run without becoming lean' means. Really fantastic song too.

    Eddie2112on April 02, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentNot to mention:
    Gypsophila paniculata has become an invasive species in parts of North America.
    GentleDogson April 22, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMy original interpretation of the lyrics was loss of love, the evolution of his understanding of the true nature of the relationship over time, and his change in perspective.

    The sacrifice could refer to independence, freedom, bachelorhood. "It was not an easy undertaking"-- "it" referring to the relationship itself, perhaps to the process of his getting to the poiunt of agreeing to take the relationship to the next level, or perhaps to the sacrifices he made to committ to the relationship. That's why the "roots" of the love, symbolized by the "weed," "flower," and "baby's breath" "gripped" him and were like a "living grave." The cutting of a "clearing in the land" conjured images of homesteading. Then the bed, perhaps a domestic nest, for her to "cry comfortable" in. This is a contradiction, and perhaps the first signs that the relationship is doomed-- he made a homestead and a comfortable bed/nest/home with good intentions not realizing how his absence (physically or emotionally) is causing her pain and sadness. He looks "out across the lawn"-- his kingdom, his homestead, and regonizes that something is gone or missing from the picture but doesn't know what. Until he realizes that he is the missing piece. His running (either avoidance of emotional intimacy or physical running by touring) resulted in loss. And he finally realizes this and accepts it by agreeing that it was he who pulled out the baby's breath/flower. "I am on my knees gardening; It was not a weed it was a flower." The identification of himself as a gardener could be an extension of the flower metaphor-- a gardener should know the difference between a weed and a flower, and should be caring for and nurturing the flowers. The act of gardening could also refer to the process he is now engaging in: of reflecting back on the relationship, or examining his own emotional state or capabilities and realizing that it was he who was either lacking, or responsible for the demise of the relationship, the misidentification of the flower as a weed. "Now you must reap what you sow, or sing." Perhaps instead of wallowing in despair or perhaps not wanting to take responsibility, he chooses instead to sing, to avoid the sadness or simply to move past it.

    Of course, I am partial to this interpretation because it speaks to my past-- ending a relationship that seemed like a weed and then realizing it was actually a flower.

    The interpretation of the song being about abortion is interesting and could also work. My only hang-up with this is that I feel like the use of "baby's breath" is a bit too obvious-- but that's my own personal opinion.
    LostHoneyon September 18, 2012   Link

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