"Work Song" as written by and Andrew Hozier Byrne....
Boys workin' on empty
Is that the kinda way to face the burning heat?
I just think about my baby
I'm so full of love I could barely eat
There's nothing sweeter than my baby
I'd never want once from the cherry tree
'Cause my baby's sweet as can be
She give me toothaches just from kissin' me

When, my, time comes around
Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I'll crawl home to her

That's when my baby found me
I was three days on a drunken sin
I woke with her walls around me
Nothin' in her room but an empty crib
And I was burnin' up a fever
I didn't care much how long I lived
But I swear I thought I dreamed her
She never asked me once about the wrong I did

When, my, time comes around
Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I'll crawl home to her

When, my, time comes around
Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I'll crawl home to her

My baby never fret none
About what my hands and my body done
If the Lord don't forgive me
I'd still have my baby and my babe would have me
When I was kissing on my baby
And she put her love down soft and sweet
In the low lamp light I was free
Heaven and hell were words to me

When, my, time comes around
Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I'll crawl home to her

When, my, time comes around
Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I'll crawl home to her


Lyrics submitted by basser, edited by randy11242, teaspill, WunderWolfieHH, sedowney18

"Work Song" as written by Andrew Hozier Byrne

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Work Song song meanings
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  • +7
    Song MeaningI'm not sure about the violence/guilt/abuse interpretation, but here's how I see it:

    The man has done many wrongs in his life, to the point where he has ended up on the floor, probably close to death, drunk and high and completely ruined. I think he's telling the story of how he was saved, not quite by an angel, but by his love. As the song progresses, it is apparent he believes he owes his life to her, and that having and loving her is worth more than death. As the chorus states, "No grave can ever hold my body down, I'll crawl home to her." And again in the third verse he says "heaven and hell were but words to me," saying that death and anything after it is virtually nothing compared to her saviour. Perhaps he's saying that the death he almost encountered, whether it was purposeful suicide or otherwise, was a permanent problem to a temporary solution and that all he really needed was this his love.
    As for the title and the first verse, I think he's just telling his story to his fellow workers, when they're having a hard day at work, he tells them he thinks about this woman who changed his life and saved it and how he's ultimately working for her. Therefore, the work is worth it if it helps his saviour.
    iaskyousmileon July 17, 2014   Link
  • +5
    My InterpretationHonestly im not sure about the ones above. This is truly a 'work song'.
    Listening to the beat of it, you can close your eyes and imagine the humming of these enslaved workers, throwing sacks or digging along with the beat. That bit i believe can be seen.
    The meaning however is a little more hazy, but to put it simply my interpretation is this:
    This story is coming from a man working (as mentioned before), and he is telling his 'boys' his story, along with encouraging them.
    "Boys working on empty
    Is that the kind of way to face the burning heat?
    I just think about my baby"
    As these men are doing hard work, hes saying 'i just think of his baby',

    He then proceeds to say how significant she is to him.
    "There's nothing sweeter than my baby
    I'd never want once from the cherry tree
    'Cause my baby's sweet as can be
    She give me toothaches just from kissing me"

    The chorus comes into more significance closer to the end of the song which ill explain later.

    continuing on with this work story he says
    "Boys, when my baby found me
    I was three days on a drunken sin
    I woke with the walls around me
    Nothin' in her room but an empty crib
    And I was burning up a fever
    I didn't care much how long I lived
    But I swear I thought I dreamed her
    She never asked me once about the wrong I did"

    He honestly showing what his life was like before, drunken.
    but he woke up in an unfamiliar room, a room that only had a crib in it. the man had a fever but obviously didnt care much for his life. in his drunken daze he 'swear' he dreamt her. i believe he would be remembering her when he smashed drunk, but not clearly. This girl never asked him about the wrongs in his life however even though she took him in and looked after him.

    this is where the chorus shows his love and devotion to her. when his time comes around he dosent care where it is (cold hard earth) because its not with her. even though his body has died hes saying he'll crawl back to her, where he belongs.

    "My baby never fret none
    About what my hands and my body done
    If the lord don't forgive me
    I'd still have my baby and my babe would have me"

    this is going back to the point where this woman dosent care about his past wrongs, (what his hands and body has done) , and if the lord dosent forgive his wrongs he dosent care because he'd still have his baby.

    "But I was kissing on my baby
    And she put her love down soft and sweet"

    i think this may be referring to sex, or something intimate between them.

    "In the lonely plight I was free
    Heaven and hell were words to me"

    i honestly am unsure of this bit. maybe saying that through his lonely life, in this moment of intimacy between these two people he is finally free.
    Then because of the life he has lived he has known hell.
    but in meeting and falling in love with her, he now knows heaven.

    Then the chorus still carries the same meaning as before.

    Anyways thats my lonnnnng and word interpretation, if youve read up to here then thank you, this is a beautiful song and i had to express what i believed the meaning was.
    koreelah10on October 07, 2014   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis song is first and foremost a declaration of how a girl saved him from himself. No matter his past or the state she found him in, none of it was ever important to her. She only cared about helping him out of the drunken sin that almost killed him. Hozier's lyrics are almost always infused with religious reference, and when he thinks of the love he shares with this girl, concepts like heaven and hell lose their meaning. Life, death, and the prospect of an afterlife all pale in comparison to his new saviour.

    These thoughts are what keep him standing while he labours under the burning heat. Doing hard labour for little pay is stressful, especially in the face of debt or having to provide for another. No matter hard he works, he is reminded that as long as he has his girl, he can continue to work hard because she's at home waiting for him. It's also a reminder to continue working at bettering himself for her; to not regress back into the lazy, drunken state she found him in. And even when the hard work of life eventually gets the better of his physical body, that still is not enough to keep her out of his heart and mind. Even death cannot keep them apart.
    takatschon October 29, 2014   Link
  • +2
    Song MeaningFirst thing's first: Hozier is too clever by half, and you can bet he knows it.

    This is a song about love, true enough. Intensely attached, profoundly limerent love than transcends death and makes the world, the things one has to do, and even the potential of an afterlife fade into irrelevance. A love that reaches in, unquestioning, and loves, protects, and raises up the loved in spite of faults and sins and crimes.
    The rhythm encourages the listener to leave it at that. Just a love song, all about the redeeming qualities of love. How it can get you through the day and save you from yourself. A traditional topic applied with a rhythm that reinforces the old-fashioned homeyness of the sentiment.

    Yeah. Not quite. That's there. You're supposed to hear it, and that's been covered beautifully by multiple posters here already. But the whole story, as always with Hozier lyrics, is a bit more than that.

    The first hint comes early, and is pointed out by the music itself.

    "Boys workin' on empty
    Is that the kinda way to face the burning heat?
    I just think about my baby
    I'm so full of love I could barely eat"

    There you are. Getting through the day, miserable about what you have to do to earn an income, distracting oneself with thoughts of love. Then that last line, "so full of love I could barely eat." And the music pauses, the driving, worker's rhythm stops. That's a cue. You're supposed to stop and think about that line.
    Is it a reference to courtly love, the lack of desire to eat that comes from intense limerence? Absolutely. But that alone would not necessitate a pause in the music, it wouldn't need to be pointed out. It wouldn't have the touch of strangeness that the pause adds to such a driving, rhythmic song.
    What else could make someone not want to eat? What is he hinting at?

    "There's nothing sweeter than my baby
    I'd never want once from the cherry tree
    'Cause my baby's sweet as can be
    She give me toothaches just from kissin' me"

    There's a juxtaposition here that shouldn't be missed: The nutritious, healthy sweetness one would find from a cherry (rejected), and the sickly, rot-inducing, unearthly sweetness of artificial sweets (accepted).
    Another point: Unlike a cherry, the sweetness of his baby is intense enough to cause actual pain, and there is some implication that it feels sweeter for the pain it causes. There's also a bit more play in mentioning a toothache, because it would make you disinclined to eat for very physical reasons.
    In summary: his love is more satisfying and sweeter than food, even as it unavoidably causes him pain.

    Chorus, let's save that for the end.

    Next verse:

    "That's when my baby found me
    I was three days on a drunken sin
    I woke with her walls around me
    Nothin' in her room but an empty crib"

    It starts the same, this time tortured by life choices and one's own sin rather than one's economic obligations, misery abounds, and he is redeemed by love.
    Then there's that fourth line again. No pause this time, the line's disturbing enough. Why is the crib empty? The most optimistic interpretation is to say that it's hope for the future, for a family, but I suspect it's meant to imply the opposite. There was potential for simple family-life, for wholesome growth, but like the cherry's nutritious sustenance, it was rejected for something sweeter, more satisfying. The crib is empty, and it will stay that way. After all, he already has his "baby."

    "And I was burnin' up a fever
    I didn't care much how long I lived
    But I swear I thought I dreamed her
    She never asked me once about the wrong I did"

    A fever this time, heat from inside rather than outside. He's progressed from working outside, honestly, in the heat, to "drunken sin" and fevers. Is he making a living anymore? The statement that he doesn't care how long he lives implies he might not be. This is rock-bottom, where you want to give up. Until you remember your savoir. A fever dream. Something that will forgive you, make everything okay, love you in spite of it all. No questions, no guilt, no shame for all your sin and sickness.

    "My baby never fret none
    About what my hands and my body done"

    The tenor of manual labor in the first verse is important here. His baby doesn't care about his work, his virtues, his effort, just as she doesn't care about his sins and vice. Hands and bodies work in both ways.

    "If the Lord don't forgive me
    I'd still have my baby and my babe would have me
    When I was kissing on my baby"

    Here he is giving up any fear of damnation and any desire for salvation, preferring instead the earthly sweetness of his love. Her forgiveness, her heaven will be the only freedom he will feel, the only thing he will have, the only thing he can consume or care about. Complete devotion for all time. Devotion that transcends virtue, sin, hope, and fear alike.

    "And she put her love down soft and sweet
    In the lowland plot I was free
    Heaven and hell were words to me"

    There is an implication that the love has to be activated in the first line here. It isn't a constant, comforting thought, but comes all at once. And then you have a grave being referenced, as if the love itself can cause death. Then what comes after death, the afterlife: It, like food and family and (likely) honest work, has been rejected.

    Now the chorus:

    "When, my, time comes around
    Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
    No grave can hold my body down
    I'll crawl home to her"

    It's about addiction, kids. You start out with a normal life, occasional comforting thoughts, and active desire. Then it gets worse, but at every point the drug redeems the situation, even as you give up food, honest work, health, family, your future, and ultimately your life in exchange for its embrace.
    But it's a love song, a beautiful one. There is no regret, just the desire to crawl back, even when the worst comes to pass. The music itself drives it home, as it keeps going on, pushing and driving, even as more and more of the narrator's world is stripped away. Even as the world is quite literally stripped away by death. It only pauses once, and that's early on.
    Not an uncommon story, but portrayed uncannily well in so many ways that I had to write about it here.
    teaspillon December 06, 2014   Link
  • +2
    General CommentOkay so I don't agree with a lot of the interpretations of the character being a drunk and the importance of his character to the song. This song after all is called "Work Song"

    I will also note that I do not interpret that the person or character in this song is a man or woman because Hozier has written "Take Me to Church" about same sex relationships. So, I am not going to assume that this person has an assigned gender. (Other than Hozier points out that the character is talking about a woman).

    What I have taken is that the main character (boy or girl) has gone through a very rough times. In fact, the character obviously did not even care about living or their own well being. For the character life has merely been a task with no meaning attached; just a life of going through the motions.

    We hear this in the lyrics:
    "That's when my baby found me
    I was three days on a drunken sin"
    "And I was burnin' up a fever
    I didn't care much how long I lived"
    and
    "Heaven and hell were words to me"

    However after being introduced to her, he/she has found that life has meaning. Whether it be that she showed him that or that he took that away from her. We can tell she is a genuinely caring soul from how he/she describes her actions.

    We hear this in the lyrics:
    "I woke with her walls around me"
    and
    "My baby never fret none
    About what my hands and my body done"

    But what I find the most interesting thing about this song is not his/her love for her or how he feels changed. What makes this song is that the character still goes on in life without having meaning of heaven or hell. In other words, still goes on in life without fully believing in having purpose, but knows that whether or not there is a heaven or hell, he/she finally has something great worth living life for. Someone who makes the character feel purpose beyond the realm of life and death.

    We hear this in the lyrics:
    "When, my, time comes around
    Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
    No grave can hold my body down
    I'll crawl home to her"
    and
    "If the Lord don't forgive me
    I'd still have my baby and my babe would have me"

    In addition, he/she loves this woman so much that even though he really does not have anything to offer (as seen by when the character describes their drunken self), the character WORKS and puts so much effort into life and WORK now that he/she might even go without eating (or skipping food because he/she can live off of the fuel that she provides). The character WORKS because he/she feels that there is something to work for to the point of complete selflessness. In fact the individual becomes so selfless that he/she knows when death arrives that their purpose was to put in effort in work for this wonderful woman. That their work shows their love for this woman. And when put down to rest that effort and purpose only lives on because he/she has such a great love that can live beyond death.

    We hear this in the lyrics:
    "Boys workin' on empty
    Is that the kinda way to face the burning heat?
    I just think about my baby
    I'm so full of love I could barely eat
    There's nothing sweeter than my baby
    I'd never want once from the cherry tree
    'Cause my baby's sweet as can be
    She give me toothaches just from kissin' me"

    are also shown in
    "When, my, time comes around
    Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
    No grave can hold my body down
    I'll crawl home to her"
    "If the Lord don't forgive me
    I'd still have my baby and my babe would have me"


    This is song has such beauty because it is not so traditional.
    theendureron September 12, 2015   Link
  • +2
    My InterpretationI agree and disagree with parts of other peoples interpretations. My own is that the song is promoting the concept that the love given by a soul-mate can provide ALL of the fulfillment that one needs to exist and live. He's elevating romantic love to such a degree that it can replace and substitute spiritual fulfillment.

    He's sharing these observations and his story with his fellow workers, to give them encouragement.

    I believe many parts of the song possess a dual meaning: a literal one and then a deeper metaphorical one.

    The song begins as such:

    “Boys workin' on empty
    Is that the kinda way to face the burning heat?”

    I think he's addressing his fellow workers, his “boys,” as they do hard, manual labor. In a literal sense, I think he's referencing the terrible conditions in which they are working: physically hungry while laboring in the blazing sun. However, metaphorically, I think he's contemplating the spiritual and emotional emptiness in their lives and asking, is that any way of facing a life that's smoldering from hardships and sins and on a downwards trajectory towards fiery self-destruction and/or hell? He sets the stage to tell them of a better way, or at least keep them occupied as they work and to tell them about the solution he found in his life….

    “I just think about my baby
    I'm so full of love I could barely eat”

    His love for his baby gets him through his day, and her love for him gives him so much fulfillment that, in a literal sense, he's saying that it's more important to him than food. I think in a metaphorical sense, however, he's also saying that, to him, it's more important than spiritual sustenance too. When framed by the context of Catholicism, he doesn't always need to eat of the body of Christ to be spiritually full; her love makes his life full in every way, already.

    “There's nothing sweeter than my baby
    I'd never want once from the cherry tree”

    He's saying that, for him, nothing and no other woman can compare to his baby, that he would never even have desires for another woman after meeting her. I think the word choice purposefully creates a parallel to the story of of Adam and Eve—cherry tree vs. forbidden fruit. In that sense, I think, she's like his Creator, in the parallel. His life began the moment he met her, and unlike Adam and Eve, he's saying he will never make the mistake of betraying that gift.

    'Cause my baby's sweet as can be
    She give me toothaches just from kissin' me

    I see that other people have interpreted the above as being unhealthy in a way: that his love for his baby is like the sweetest sugar, that its so addictive that he'll always choose it over a healthier alternative, and she'll sometimes cause him pain (toothaches).
    I don't agree though. I think it's just like it sounds….. He's just emphasizing how kind and loving (sweet) she is. I don't think the “toothaches” that she gives him with her kisses are emotional pain, but rather an aching, longing to be with her all of the time, for every moment of his life.

    “When, my, time comes around
    Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
    No grave can hold my body down
    I'll crawl home to her”

    The above is his way of saying that even death cannot separate him from her, nor can it end his love for her. He's saying, do whatever with his body—he doesn't care. He will always seek her, and be with her, forever, no matter what.

    “Boys, when my baby found me
    I was three days on a drunken sin”

    He was in a drunken stupor. His life was in a dark place when she found him.

    “I woke with her walls around me
    Nothin' in her room but an empty crib”

    Literally, through the haze of his drunkenness, he remembers she took him into her home. Metaphorically, though, I think the walls he speaks of were her loving care, like an embrace or cocoon that he remembers around him, keeping him safe and comfortable during that dark time in his life. I think the line, “Nothin' in her room but an empty crib”is a juxtaposition between his emotional baggage and skeletons in his closet, and her clean and pure life history. Unlike him, the only thing in her “closet”/”room” is a metaphorical empty crib, meaning, she's a young woman, having just left youth behind, unburdened, pure, not having accumulated regrets or sins.

    And I was burnin' up a fever
    I didn't care much how long I lived

    This reinforces how troubled his life was at the time. Beyond his literal fever induced by his drunken/unwell state, I believe, he was referring to a metaphorical “fever,” which was his self-destructive, debaucherous, and possibly reckless state of mind. It was so bad, he had given up on life and didn't care how long he lived.

    “But I swear I thought I dreamed her
    She never asked me once about the wrong I did”

    In his state of drunken stupor and hopelessness, his memories were hazy, his grip on reality loose, and he didn't trust that something so fortunate had happened. She seemed too good to be true. He then said that his dark past wasn't something that she asked to know. She looked past the fact that he was a sinner and his life was at a low point. It didn't matter to her what skeletons he had, and you can tell that he's grateful.

    “My baby never fret none
    About what my hands and my body done.”

    He's reinforcing his previous statement.

    If the Lord don't forgive me
    I'd still have my baby and my babe would have me

    Once again, he's saying that even if he doesn't have spiritual sustenance or God's forgiveness, he still has his baby's love, and that's all that he needs. Her love is so intrinsically important to him that it can be a substitute for God's love.

    “When I was kissing on my baby
    And she put her love down soft and sweet
    In the low lamp light I was free
    Heaven and hell were words to me”

    I believe this refers to sex, and during that intimacy, in the low lamp light, he was set free from all worries. It didn't matter where his soul is headed; all that mattered was her.
    porfiriuson November 01, 2015   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI disagree with previous comment. I think this a song of admiration/love not regret/anger/denied sex (?)
    rebp11on June 21, 2014   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song gives me chills it is so incredible. He moves through the song describing the depth of their relationship. Though he may be a bad boy, he's a good man. His "baby never asks none about what his hands or his body done." She doesn't care if he is a opportunist and has a woman for a night because "when my time comes around lay me gently in the cold dark earth. no grave could hold my body down I crawl home to her." Their love and connection is so strong that even death can't keep him from being with her. They have an understanding that most people wouldn't comprehend.
    erika10100on November 03, 2015   Link
  • +1
    My Interpretation"Boys workin' on empty
    Is that the kinda way to face the burning heat?
    I just think about my baby
    I'm so full of love I could barely eat
    There's nothing sweeter than my baby
    I'd never want once from the cherry tree
    'Cause my baby's sweet as can be
    She give me toothaches just from kissin' me

    He's explaining how hard he is working and how hard it is to work when the conditions are very bad. He saying even though the work is hell and the conditions are shit he can get through it if all he thinks about is his Love and how much and how huge she is a part of his life and why he works so hard even when it's hella tiring.

    When, my, time comes around
    Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
    No grave can hold my body down
    I'll crawl home to her

    The Chorus is self explanatory really, He say even death can not keep them apart , that as soon as they lay him down in the cold dark earth he crawl right back home to her.

    That's when my baby found me
    I was three days on a drunken sin
    I woke with her walls around me
    Nothin' in her room but an empty crib
    And I was burnin' up a fever
    I didn't care much how long I lived
    But I swear I thought I dreamed her
    She never asked me once about the wrong I did

    He was a drunk when she found him because before she found him drinking/drugs was the only way he knew how to unwind and relax after a hard day of slaving away at his shit job. Before she found him he was dead inside he didn't care about much if anything at all he certainly didn't care about his life or how longed he would continue on with it. He was drinking/ getting high himself to death when she took him in and started helping him to clean up himself. He was so fucking out of it from all the drink and drugs he consumed that he thought he was hallucinating an angel (probably thought it was the angel of death at first lol) but then he realized it was his babe when all she did was care for him and never asked about anything that he might of done.

    Chorus just reaffirming that his love is to strong and that nothing can hold them apart.

    My baby never fret none
    About what my hands and my body done
    If the Lord don't forgive me
    I'd still have my baby and my babe would have me
    When I was kissing on my baby
    And she put her love down soft and sweet
    In the low lamp light I was free
    Heaven and hell were words to me

    His Baby doesn't care in the slightest what crimes/sins he might of committed in the past, to her the past is in the past and that's where its going to stay untouched unworried about. He saying even if the Lord (Christian God) doesn't forgive him that it really doesn't matter to him cuz his baby has already forgiven him and so he'll always have her and she'll always have him. When they kiss and love on each and then make love to each other in the low light of the lamp nothing else in the world matters not even heaven or hell they become nothing but words that he doesn't care about.
    Charlie18Chaoson November 19, 2015   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think that maybe when he says:
    "When I was kissing on my baby
    And she put her love down soft and sweet
    In the low lamp light I was free
    Heaven and hell were words to me"

    he is talking about them making love, the "low lamp light" is the dimmed light in the bed room, and when he made love to her he was "free". As in nothing else mattered. As if the experience transcended even heaven and hell. Making love to her was something so much bigger than that that they just became words.
    mkm38on February 21, 2016   Link

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