"John My Beloved" as written by and Sufjan Stevens....
Are we to speak, first day of the week
Stumbling words at the bar
Beauty blue eyes, my order of fries
Long island kindness and wine
Beloved of John, I get it all wrong
I read you for some kind of poem
Covered in lines, the fossils I find
Have they no life of their own?

So can we pretend sweetly
Before the mystery ends?
I am a man with a heart that offends
With its lonely and greedy demands
There’s only a shadow of me in a manner of speaking I'm dead

Such a waste, your beautiful face
Stumbling carpet arise
Go follow your gem, your white feathered friend
Icarus, point to the sun
If history speaks of two baby teeth
I’m painting the hills blue and red
They said beware, Lord hear my prayer
I’ve wasted my throes on your head

So can we be friends, sweetly
Before the mystery ends?
I love you more than the world can contain
In its lonely and ramshackle head
There’s only a shadow of me in a manner of speaking I'm dead

I’m holding my breath
My tongue on your chest
What can be said of my heart?
If history speaks, the kiss on my cheek
Where there remains but a mark
Beloved my John, so I’ll carry on
Counting my cards down to one
And when I am dead, come visit my bed
My fossil is bright in the sun

So can we contend, peacefully
Before my history ends?
Jesus I need you, be near me, come shield me
From fossils that fall on my head
There’s only a shadow of me in a manner of speaking I'm dead


Lyrics submitted by pseudowood

"John My Beloved" as written by Sufjan Stevens

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John My Beloved song meanings
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  • +1
    My InterpretationThis seems to be pretty clear it is about a relationship with Jesus. This song was hard to interpret, but here are a few things I picked out.

    John was considered the "apostle Jesus loved", as is well known, and I won't get into that.

    "Are we to speak, first day of the week
    Stumbling words at the bar"
    *First day of the week is Sunday - the day everyone goes to church. It can be awkward to speak with God and you don't always know what to say.

    "Beloved of John, I get it all wrong
    I read you for some kind of poem"
    *Beloved OF John, probably referencing Jesus.
    He is saying he had read the whole story as just a pleasant sounding tale. It isn't so much that he didn't believe it, but it seemed distant, more like art than a relationship.

    "Covered in lines, the fossils I find
    Have they no life of their own?"
    *I'm not as sure of this one, but the worldly things that take his interest, they seem dead to him.

    "So can we be friends, sweetly
    Before the mystery ends?"
    *This seemed fuzzier to me, but at least one interpretation. Several times in the New Testament, it speaks of "the mystery", and here, the end of the mystery could easily be death, or kingdom come - the moment he goes to heaven.

    The last verse seems to be from Jesus' perspective.
    "If history speaks, the kiss on my cheek
    Where there remains but a mark"
    Judas' kiss on Jesus cheek

    "Beloved my John, so I’ll carry on
    Counting my cards down to one
    And when I am dead, come visit my bed
    My fossil is bright in the sun"
    Saying he's going to die, so come visit his grave.
    lookslikeion April 26, 2015   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationThemes: the end of a relationship, digging up the past, the questioning of faith and roles

    The sense I get from this song is one of mourning over an inability to get over past relationship issues and move on with one's life. The author struggles with finding new ways to imagine how relationships can progress, so he imagines the progress of his relationship through a series of different roles. The author is the beloved apostle John and the partner is Jesus. Then he is the Daedelus to his partner's Icarus. Next, the author is Jesus and the partner is Judas. Then the author is Jesus and the partner is John, the roles that the author finally settles on.

    An interesting note about this song is the subtle but pervasive sense of the masculine in the partner. All the characters he compares his partner to are male. His tongue is on his partner's chest rather than breast. At the very least, his partner is someone with a rather masculine energy.

    On to the lyrics.


    "Are we to speak, first day of the week
    Stumbling words at the bar
    Beauty blue eyes, my order of fries
    Long island kindness and wine"

    The author meets the Other at a bar on a Monday. The most mundane of circumstances. One thing starts to lead to another (beauty, blue eyes, kindness, inebriation, lust).

    "Beloved of John, I get it all wrong
    I read you for some kind of poem
    Covered in lines, the fossils I find
    Have they no life of their own?"

    The author sees the possibility of a new relationship, and in his excitement he imagines this person to be Jesus (the beloved of John) and places them on a pedestal, ascribing poetic virtues to them. He compares this person to his past relationships, and finds that these past relationships cannot compare, they are old and uninspiring. He ignores the lessons that they have to offer (the lines).

    "So can we pretend sweetly
    Before the mystery ends?
    I am a man with a heart that offends
    With its lonely and greedy demands
    There’s only a shadow of me in a manner of speaking I'm dead."

    The author is in love with love, and he knows that this relationship will lead nowhere, but wants to enjoy it while he can. He knows that he is terribly demanding, but he wants so badly for the relationship (any relationship) to work that he practically wills it in to existence as a way of ignoring the overwhelming emptiness at his core.

    "Such a waste, your beautiful face
    Stumbling carpet arise
    Go follow your gem, your white feathered friend
    Icarus, point to the sun"

    The author wants their partner (Icarus now) to fly free, but knows the peril of doing so. Having fostered this love, though, he can't take it back; by pretending to be in love, he has molded his lover in a particular way. He has crafted their wings out of wax and set them on a trajectory. He knows it is doomed (such a waste), and also knows that what has been set in motion is now destined to come to pass (Icarus' fall).

    "If history speaks of two baby teeth
    I’m painting the hills blue and red
    They said beware, Lord hear my prayer
    I’ve wasted my throes on your head"

    This reference feels ancient, maybe Roman, especially when in the same breath as hills and just after Icarus. Blue and red could be a reference to melancholy and anger. Two baby teeth suggest teething problems, the early issues in a relationship. The hills (a reference to all things timeless) are the ones who are telling him to beware, that his effort in the relationship is a waste.

    "So can we be friends, sweetly
    Before the mystery ends?
    I love you more than the world can contain
    In its lonely and ramshackle head
    There’s only a shadow of me in a manner of speaking I'm dead."

    The mystery here is another reference to faith. More pointedly, to the mystery of love and the faith in it. The author really does love his partner, but knows the relationship is ending. He wants to end it amicably, but has no hope since the world (the whole of his existence) is lonely.

    "I’m holding my breath
    My tongue on your chest
    What can be said of my heart?
    If history speaks, the kiss on my cheek
    Where there remains but a mark."

    The author is afraid to speak this truth, that he knows that the relationship cannot survive based on this lie. He's engaged in lovemaking, but his heart is not in it. He thinks his lover will inevitably betray him, and holds his heart back out of fear. He casts himself in the role of Jesus, and his lover in the role of Judas.

    "Beloved my John, so I’ll carry on
    Counting my cards down to one
    And when I am dead, come visit my bed
    My fossil is bright in the sun"

    Here, we see another shift; having decided the relationship is over, the author can see his former partner in a more accurate light. He realizes that his partner has been John all along, worshiping and dutiful. Life has become tedious and depressing, and death something to be embraced. "And when I am dead, come visit my bed" implies a desire to still be in a relationship with the other person but only on the author's terms. "My fossil is bright in the sun" is an absolutely brilliant double-entendre. The author suggests he will still lust after the other even on his deathbed, but that a relationship cannot happen with him in his current state (he has to go through a literal or metaphorical death first).

    "So can we contend, peacefully
    Before my history ends?
    Jesus I need you, be near me, come shield me
    From fossils that fall on my head"

    The author wants resolution, and sees no hope in the future. He pleas to Jesus for absolution; he is haunted by guilt for not paying enough attention to the lessons offered by past relationships.

    "There’s only a shadow of me in a manner of speaking I'm dead"

    The ending note of the song. The relationship has gutted him. Even if he succeeds in learning from his mistakes and forgives himself, it hardly matters, since without the other person he doesn't even know who he is anymore.

    On the whole, there's a suicidal feel to this whole song, as if we're looking in on something horribly intimate; either a preemptively protective Dear John letter (subtly suggested by the song title, note that it's John my Beloved and not Beloved my John as per the lyrics) or a suicide note. It's a delicate bauble left in your hand that you don't dare drop, but don't know what to do with it either, so you just have to hold it until the moment has passed.
    FutileDeviceson August 26, 2015   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationThis comes off as his account of his final encounter with his mother, who he has said he had a loving but distant relationship with, on her deathbed.
    Kaliwaxon May 08, 2015   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationFossils - this that are ancient and buried, no long relevant, that emerge?
    edgebadgeron June 20, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHumorous comments...john day fossil beds...Oregon is the thread, parents are the needle and you are the result.
    gui1056172on July 22, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General CommentBeloved my John is a reference to John the apostle, who was the beloved the disciple of Jesus. This song is a reflection on the Gospel of John and how Steven's has come to a new understanding of the text
    "Beloved of John, I get it all wrong
    I read you for some kind of poem"
    Perhaps his new understanding was spurred by the death of his mother. If you read interviews Steven's did about his album, you will find he had a difficult relationship with his mother. In the song, I believe he is trying to make sense of the past and is how he is unable to get over what happened. These feelings spur him to see a new meaning in the Gospel of John.
    "And when I am dead, come visit my bed
    My fossil is bright in the sun"
    He refers to memories as fossils, he understands how the Gospel of John is about making what is old, new. He is able therefore to make sense of his past.
    Jake54321on May 31, 2016   Link

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