Bastille lead singer Daniel Smith in an interview with Australian Radio's nova FM describes the song as a conversation between two of the inhabitants of the city of Pompeii as the city is destroyed by...
I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

We were caught up and lost in all of our vices
In your pose as the dust settles around us

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?
Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?


Lyrics submitted by psychedelicglee, edited by noelsguitar, henrymo, thatismahogony, Ashleeeee, amrj, tuckerka, marlize105

"Pompeii" as written by Daniel Smith

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Pompeii song meanings
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96 Comments

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  • +33
    Song MeaningI'm in agreement with llscience. Pompeii is used as a metaphor to describe somebody standing still, looking out as their life falls apart and swallows them whole. It seems to me that the narrator is somebody who has big dreams but becomes content working a regular job and living a regular life. One day they stop and look out at their life realizing that it's not what they had always dreamed about. They've been stuck in this monotonous, never-changing life that doesn't live up to what they'd hoped. And now in this realization, they start to lose that optimism that kept them going before of being something more. Quite genius really.
    EdwardCon May 29, 2013   Link
  • +25
    My InterpretationMost people know how Pompeii was destroyed by clouds of toxic gas and hot volcanic ash in 79AD, but not as many know it was severely damaged by an earthquake in 62AD caused by the same local volcanic activity. If the people of Pompeii had taken the warning in 62AD and moved away, they would have been saved from the devastation of 79AD. But they didn’t, they rebuilt on the rubble of the same situation. Similarly, in our lives, we often don’t take the warnings of potential devastation from our ‘vices’ (our personality characteristics equivalent to the underlying volcanic activity of Pompeii) and build on the same rubble (staying in the same life situation) while continuing our potentially destructive behaviour (our ‘sins’). The way to save ourselves is to take the warnings and move away, sometimes in a metaphorical sense of changing our personality and way of life, and sometimes also in a physical sense of moving way from people who lead us astray and encourage our self-destructive behaviour.
    Modfatheron August 17, 2013   Link
  • +19
    My InterpretationI can say with relative certainty that this song is NOT about a relationship, a specific person/story, or and definitely not just telling the story of Pompeii. The song is dense with truths about humanity and our tendency to inadvertently cause our own downfalls.

    Here's my interpretation: Both on a large scale (wars, poverty, etc.) and a small scale (hopelessness, poor relationships, etc.), our world falls apart due to our own faults ("vices" in the song — selfishness, greed, general wrongdoings). We look around and recognize that our society and our own personal lives are flawed.

    Over and over in anyone's life, there are problems and difficulties. Yet, when we "close our eyes" (stop thinking about the problems themselves), we realize that despite our recognition of these flaws, we really haven't changed our attitudes at all to help make things better ("nothing's changed at all"). For that reason, we keep making the same mistakes over and over again — we've "been here before," and we're making the same mistakes again, one reason why the metaphor of Pompeii and it's destruction is brilliant for this song. We want to change everything that's going wrong, when maybe we should be looking to change ourselves and our own shortcomings.

    One of the most powerful lines of the song conveys this message — "Where do we begin? The rubble or our sins?" In other words, do we just clean up and hide our messes, or do we dig for the root of the problem first? It seems to suggest that the first option will lead to continued failure and an endless cycle of destruction.

    There's definitely more here, but I think that's part of it. And like many songs, there are multiple valid interpretations, but I think this idea of our cyclical flaws is definitely in there. Fantastic song, even better lyrics.
    arobinsonon June 03, 2013   Link
  • +15
    My InterpretationThere's obviously a volcanic eruption going on if you look at it literally, but I think the song is a little deeper than that. I agree somewhat with JWStreeter.

    To me, I see someone who has been stuck in a continuous cycle, getting nowhere. As a twenty-something recent college graduate, I definitely relate. The first lines seem to really sum it up for me: "I was left to my own devices.
    Many days fell away with nothing to show." I imagine him working away at some dead end job with years going by. And then he stops and looks back at his life and sees that nothing has changed. Nothing is really happening and he starts to wonder when it will really begin. Even though he's always been an optimist, he's having a hard time being positive about his situation.
    llscienceon February 15, 2013   Link
  • +10
    My InterpretationThis song, like so many good ones, has many interpretations, and I love them all. However, I haven't seen my personal favorite yet:

    It's about that singular moment between something terrible happening, and having to face the consequences. We've all been there; glass breaks on the ground, someone rear ends us while we're driving, a loved one dies--and we close our eyes just for a moment, delaying the inevitable acceptance.

    We know we will have to ask ourselves, how am I going to deal with this? But if I close my eyes, I can pretend it didn't happen, just for a second...

    It's the moment at the top of a very unpleasant roller coaster.
    Dvanaon September 06, 2013   Link
  • +7
    My InterpretationAs with MANY great artistic interpretations of human experience, this song demonstrates our cyclic nature to persist in things that we despise despite our best efforts to avoid them. It could be interpreted as a perpetually dysfunctional relationship, the cyclic abuse of oneself in any forms of expression. That's what makes this song so perfect for an audience. We have all struggled with fighting our own selves against our better judgement. For example, a person in an abusive relationship, they build a safe city for themselves until it crumbles around them and they have to deal with the reality that this wasn't a safe place, or wasn't healthy in any way. Apply this to drug/alcohol addiction. We've lost so many days with nothing to show, and now this city (our environment, drug-fueled reality) that we love has to be reckoned with, at which time the walls come tumbling down and we have to deal with the dark clouds of withdrawal and sobriety coming rolling in over the mountains. It could be applied to a self-deprecating relationship, a situation where you are trying to constantly failing and having to restart with "optimism" about not failing this time. Very poignant, insightful, and deep for a man so young. Not to be mistaken for a back-handed compliment. I only wish I was so creative in the expression of my feelings.
    furbeeon June 20, 2013   Link
  • +7
    General CommentHe is clearly saying "How am I gonna be an octopus about this?" He is conflicted. On one hand, he wants to validate himself and live his lifelong dream of being an octopus. But alas, he is just a man and can never be a part of octopusdom. It's quite sad really.
    leesaenzon March 08, 2014   Link
  • +6
    Song MeaningI really like all these interpretations of the song! While I myself am not sure of what the true meaning is, Bastille (the band) stated in an interview with NovaFm that they wrote the song after learning of the "statues" that were created when Mount Vesuvias erupted in Pompeii. Apparently, the lyrics are meant to represent a sort of "conversation" between two of these statues, and how they must have felt in their last moments of life. Remember that the Mount Vesuvias eruption took literally all day, so to imagine how the people of Pompeii would have felt as they watched their city crumble... The band states that the chanting in the background is meant to capture this terrible magnitude, and the horror that the people of Pompeii would have felt during the eruption (rocks falling from the sky, massive black clouds, and finally the fatal ash). I actually really like the image of two "statues" having an in-depth discussion about the date of Pompeii, even though it is not as deep or poetic as some of the other interpretations on this page :)
    Kiokeeganon August 17, 2013   Link
  • +5
    Song MeaningI think it's simple, really. The city of Pompeii was partially destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. This song could be about someone going through that event.
    thlisteron February 02, 2013   Link
  • +3
    My InterpretationFrom what I can tell from the song and the video, it seems to be suggesting that essentially, we as people are not learning from history, and our mistakes there, and that as a result, we will be the cause of our own downfall. Essentially that we are selfish, and that it will get us nowhere, and only hurt us as a whole. Here's why:
    If you look at the actual occurrence of the destruction of Pompeii, which is referenced in the song metaphorically, many believe that it was an act of god, as the city was a very 'sinful' one. Kind of a more modern Sodom and Gomorrah. The point is that the way I see it, he is using the metaphor that they were bad, and as a result the city was destroyed.
    He is then saying that nothing has changed, we are not getting better, we've been here before. Obviously he is not suggesting that god will destroy us, or maybe he is, but it's more likely that he's just saying that our actions are going to end up hurting us.
    I think that this is shown especially when the song says:
    We were caught up and lost in all of our vices
    In your pose as the dust settles around us
    He is saying, that we we are caught up doing things that make us happy, no matter if they a wrong or hurt others.
    the final thing that led me to this conclusion is the line that goes:
    Oh where do we begin?
    The rubble or our sins?
    here he is essentially saying that when things go bad, do we just repair the damage as much as possible but go on as we were, or do we actually try and fix the problems within us.

    That's what I think anyways =)
    chloeb880on June 02, 2013   Link

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