"Angel of Small Death & the Codeine Scene" as written by and Andrew Hozier Byrne....
I watch the work of my kin bold and boyful
Toying somewhere between love and abuse
Calling to join them the wretched and joyful
Shaking the wings of their terrible youths
Freshly dissolved in some frozen devotion
No more alone or myself could I be
Looks like a strain to the arms it were open
No shortage of sordid, no protest from me

With her sweetened breath, and her tongue so mean
She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene
With her straw-blonde hair, her arms hard and lean
She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene

Feeling more human and hooked on her flesh I
Lay my heart down with the rest at her feet
Fresh from the fields, all fetor and fertile
Bloody and raw, but I swear it is sweet

With her sweetened breath, and her tongue so mean
She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene
With her straw-blonde hair, her arms hard and lean
She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene

And lease this confusion, I'll wander the concrete
Wonder if better now having survived
Jarring of judgement and reasons defeat
The sweet heat of her breath in my mouth I'm alive

With her sweetened breath, and her tongue so mean
She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene
With her straw-blonde hair, her arms hard and lean
She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene

With her sweetened breath, and her tongue so mean
She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene
With her straw-blonde hair, her arms hard and lean
She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene


Lyrics submitted by michigansdiction, edited by bearpig77777, randy11242, teaspill, cr0wgrrl, Cjmclm

"Angel of Small Death & the Codeine Scene" as written by Andrew Hozier Byrne

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Angel of Small Death & the Codeine Scene song meanings
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  • +9
    My InterpretationTo me, this is about the rapture of sex. In the first verse he sees all his buddies falling for girls. They're obsessed in some 'frozen devotion'. Wanting in on this action ('No more alone or myself could I be'), he decides to give in with 'no shortage of sordid, no protests from me'.

    Small death, translated into French is 'petit mort', a term used for an orgasm. The chorus is about his passion with another woman, someone quite passionate and intense and is like a drug to him.

    The whole song is basically their intensity and how overwhelming she is. After they've had sex, he's still in a bit of shock that it happened, but not caring is delighted it has happened:

    'And lease this confusion, I'll wander the concrete,
    Wonder if better now having survived,
    Jarring of judgement and reasons defeat,
    The sweet heat of her breath in my mouth I'm alive.'

    This could very well be about losing your virginity. The fear of the first time, then giving in and realising how incredible sex is. This guy could well have met with a rather experienced woman who gave him a lot more than he was expecting! :)

    Either way, an incredible song, full of fantastic descriptions, imagery and detail.
    meesaon December 11, 2013   Link
  • +2
    My InterpretationI'm trolling a little, but there's a really direct and obvious way to interpret this one.

    I watched the work of my kin, bold and boyful,
    Toying somewhere between love and abuse,
    Calling to join them, the wretched and joyful,
    Shaking the wings of their terrible youth.

    Lots of people fuck around with drugs when they're young and are perfectly fine. That's what the "codeine scene" is: young people who play with codeine, an over-the-counter medication in most countries, to get a little high and enhance their partying. Most of these people never do anything alone, never graduate to anything much harder, and knock it off when they stop being young and reckless.
    The protagonist here acknowledges that there's danger and harm to be found here (abuse, wretched, terrible), but also pleasure and greatness (bold, boyful, love, joyful, terrible). He decides to join in the fun.

    Freshly disowned, in some frozen devotion,
    No more alone or myself could I be,
    Lurched like a stray to the arms that were open,
    No shortage of sordid, no protest from me.

    Instead of finding something to enhance his partying, his having fun with others like himself, he found something that made him feel "alone" and "[him]self". Instead of shaking his wings and being active with the rest, he found a "frozen devotion", a stillness that has more of dedication, commitment, and obsession than youthful playfulness.
    He took whatever he could find ("lurched like a stray to the arms that were open") that would produce that feeling, even if it was less innocent than codeine ("no shortage of sordid"). He no longer minds that he's troweling through dangerous parts of town and supporting criminals and cartels, he won't protest the guns and death, he wants what he wants.

    With her sweetened breath and her tongue so mean,
    She's the Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene.
    With her straw blonde hair, her arms hard and lean,
    She's the Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene.

    Most of the heroin one finds in Britain is brown, heroin base. This is better smoked than administered in any other way (hence the sweetened breath and the straw blonde coloration). Her arms, naturally, are hard and lean like a needle.
    The basic thrust of her being a cruel master that feels too enjoyable not to indulge in, as noted by most of the older interpretations here, is obvious.

    Feeling more human and hooked on her flesh,
    I lay my heart down with the rest at her feet,
    Fresh from the fields, all fetor and fertile,
    It's bloody and raw but I swear it is sweet.

    He doesn't feel human, doesn't feel well without her. That's what it means to be hooked. It's the point when you can no longer abstain and feel okay. And he's reached it.
    "[L]ay my heart down with the rest" points out that it can't be a person -- this Angel has transfixed and stolen the hearts of many, and she keeps them rather than cycling through people as a woman would have to do.
    "Fresh from the fields" is another nod: People don't come from fields, but poppies sure do.
    "It's bloody and raw", sex tends not to be, but injection-points always are.

    In leash-less confusion I wander the concrete,
    Wonder how better now having survived,
    The jarring of judgement and reason's defeat;
    The sweet heat of her breath in my mouth, I'm alive.

    Punctuation is frequently very important in Hozier lyrics, and it's kind that he provides it in his liner notes.
    Reason is not defeating his unhealthy attachment to a woman. Rather, his reason and judgement have been defeated, and he relies upon the "sweet heat of her breath" to live, to feel like a person again. Without it he feels dead and cold.
    "Wonder how better now having survived" acknowledges that his life has been fundamentally altered in an incomprehensible and terrible way.
    "[L]eash-less confusion" is a lack of self-control, the confusion implies not really understanding what he's doing, or why he's doing it, when he goes out to "wander the concrete". It isn't an active, fully-conscious decision, he just finds himself doing it, zombie-like. What he's doing as he wanders city sidewalks is trying to score. And he does so successfully, as the last line of the verse indicates. Because he's smoked the heroin he bought, he gets to feel alive at the end of the song.

    It's great that people can find their own meanings in songs, it really is, but to my ears this is one of the least ambiguous things he's ever written. Maybe it's a metaphor, but the narrative feels much more intuitive if the song is read as simply personifying heroin.

    Drugs shift from youthful, playful experimentation, a way to have fun, to something you ultimately need just to feel alive at all. From something you choose lightly, to something that you will do anything to get, even against your better reason and judgement, even against your own moral scruples. That's the narrative. At least as far as I can see.
    teaspillon January 20, 2015   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationWhen I read the words ‘kin, boyful, abuse and terrible youth’ this sounds to me like a song about family related sexual abuse during childhood. I never heard a song about this theme before written by a man, it must take a lot of courage and Hozier is that kind of courageous artist. I’m not a native English speaker and I just grasp some meaning, but I’m touched by the compassion and understanding in this poem. From the beginning love is included in ‘toying somewhere between love and abuse’.

    ‘Small death’ might refer to sex and orgasm, but also to the lost childhood or what kids loose during their childhood after abuse. The song also suggests how kids and adults deal with these events and memories, often ‘frozen’ in their bodies and emotions, often ‘surviving’ in a kind of sedated state, losing their ability to give or receive the abundance of life while ‘walking the concrete’.

    Codeine is a painkiller, an opioid drug, maybe referring both to the abuser and the abused wanting to kill their pain. The rhythm of this song is also a bit sedating, going on and on, and that’s not because Hozier only knows how to count to 8. He makes brilliant beat changes in others songs but in this song he chooses not to. At the same time this rhythm becomes a heartbeat, makes you wanna dance, wanna live. The 'whows' and 'whoes' in the backings towards the end are very comforting and consoling to me, and then finally at the end, you just dance into this word ‘alive’. It often takes a life time for survivors to shake their wings, free themselves from the frozen concrete and become fully living creatures, ‘alive’. And we get this lifework here beautifully condensed in 3.39 minutes, freely shared on the internet.

    It takes a great poet, a great musician, a great man to do so, and if this is what the song’s about: respect. Even if it isn’t, it’s a great song anyway, makes me wanna dance, makes me wanna live. Thank you.
    JoannaBlumon October 07, 2014   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationThe song is about him recounting a time when all of his family and friends seemed to be in happy relationships and were so concerned with their relationship he felt shut out. He decides it's high time he find a relationship of his own and falls into the open arms of a woman-- quite an interesting woman. She's powerful and experienced, strong and yes, mean. You know those relationships where someone is unhealthily controlling but the couple sticks together anyway? It's like that. He's absolutely addicted to her. The feeling of being with someone, human touch, and (as someone else said) the rapture of sex overwhelm him. He's putty in her hands and she takes full advantage of it.

    I watch the work of my kin bold and boyful
    Toying somewhere between love and abuse
    Calling to join them the wretched and joyful
    Shaking the wings of their terrible youths

    All his loved ones are running around doing exciting relationship things and inadvertently calling or tempting him to join them in couple-hood.

    Freshly dissolved in some frozen devotion
    No more alone or myself could I be
    Looks like a strain to the arms it were open
    No shortage of sordid, no protest from me

    He couldn't take it anymore, he needed to be with someone. (Sordid=arousing moral distaste and contempt) "No shortage of sordid, no protest from me" = He knows this is bad, it's morally wrong, but he's not complaining. It feels too good.

    With her sweetened breath, and her tongue so mean
    She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene
    With her straw-blonde hair, her arms hard and lean
    She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene

    It feels so good but it hurts so bad, basically. Small death or "le morte petit" is a euphemism for orgasm.Here small death is used to show that yes, the sex is amazing, but also to show that he is dying a little inside. Hozier is awesome at double meanings. Codeine is a painkiller. The relationship is emotional torment and he's in pain. Codeine can also make you feel high and that's exactly what is going on here. She's causing him emotional pain but being with her gives him a high he can't get anywhere else.

    Feeling more human and hooked on her flesh I
    Lay my heart down with the rest at her feet
    Fresh from the fields, all feeder and fur tires
    Bloody and raw, but I swear it is sweet

    He's now joined the ranks of all those with romantic interests and he's addicted to her sex and just having someone to touch. He surrenders all of himself to her, knowing that she will cause him pain, but he doesn't care so long as he gets to be with her. Before her, he was clean, innocent. He says "I lay my heart down with the rest at her feet, fresh from the fields..." He gives his heart and his body to her, both of which are "fresh from the fields" meaning he's either never been in a relationship like this or he's never been in a relationship at all

    With her sweetened breath, and her tongue so mean
    She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene
    With her straw-blonde hair, her arms hard and lean
    She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene

    And lease this confusion, I'll wander the concrete
    Wonder if better now having survived
    Jarring of judgment and reasons defeat
    The sweet heat of her breath in my mouth I'm alive

    He finally is able to defeat his addiction to her and get out of such an unhealthy and emotionally abusive relationship and is just trying to catch his breath, bewildered at all that has happened. He wonders if it was beneficial for him to have been through all of this or if he was better off staying lonely like he was at the beginning. Even though his logical side says it was good for him to get out, he still can't help having thoughts of the high he gets from being with her and how alive it makes him feel.

    With her sweetened breath, and her tongue so mean
    She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene
    With her straw-blonde hair, her arms hard and lean
    She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene

    With her sweetened breath, and her tongue so mean
    She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene
    With her straw-blonde hair, her arms hard and lean
    She's the angel of small death and the codeine scene
    jenny11279on December 11, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMakes a great poem.
    Stailpooson February 20, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAgreed - song is about sex, but I think it also involves a prostitute and a healthy does or catholic guilt!
    katineon July 30, 2015   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationI think this song is about being in love with a Borderline or a BiPo1. Usually one who has experienced trauma, especially at a young age, are drawn to Borderlines with our "Fix you, then break ourselves trying, then break you", attitude.

    Every time I hear this song, I think of the aftermath of my relationships for the other party. Not that these don't damage us, as well, but we're hard to be with.
    Lady_eXoon October 11, 2015   Link

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