"Pennyroyal Tea" as written by and Kurt Cobain....
I'm on my time with everyone
I have very bad posture

Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
Distill the life that's inside of me
Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
I'm anemic royalty

Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld
So I can sigh eternally
I'm so tired I can't sleep
I'm a liar and a thief

Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
I'm anemic royalty

I'm on warm milk and laxatives
Cherry-flavored antacids

Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
Distill the life that's inside of me
Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
I'm anemic royalty


Lyrics submitted by bonj, edited by LivieP

"Pennyroyal Tea" as written by Kurt Cobain

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

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Pennyroyal Tea song meanings
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  • +8
    General CommentI think it's a very clever play on words. Its references to his recurring stomach problems are obvious, but there are deeper meanings.

    The line "Distill the life that's inside of me" can mean a LOT of different things. If you understand the word distill, it means to purify and strenghten (such as distilled water, or wine distilled into brandy). That line CAN signify that he is becoming more purely and clearly himself - a depressing notion, because he obviously doesn't like who he is becoming.

    Then there's the abortion aspect. Personally, I don't take this one literally either. He is referring to suicide, as if foretelling it, a theme occurring in many of his songs and inferred from his contact with the press. He is not aborting a fetus; he is little more than a fetus, and feels helpless to control his environment, emotions, even his actions.

    "I'm anemic royalty" probably refers to an insecurity or deep-rooted belief that he is much less than his Holy Icon in the public mind makes him out to be. And the wordplay on the antiquated term "penny royalty" seems to reinforce this - he is a worthless figurehead, more powerful as a symbol than as a man.

    This is just my take on the song, and maybe a little over-analyzed, but I can't believe this is simply a song about stomach pains.
    HighPrisstesson March 14, 2003   Link
  • +7
    Song MeaningI believe it is about Heroin withdrawal...

    The pain aches you feel, the lifelessness, and particularly the fact you can't sleep, no matter how tired you are.
    You also get bad constipation, hence the laxatives and tea. It also makes you skinny by killing your appetite. Not to mention the depression which is compounded by all this.

    I'm an ex opiate addict so the song makes a lot of sense to me.
    robbie27on June 11, 2012   Link
  • +6
    General CommentFirst off Courtney had nothing to do with this song. Kurt wrote this song before he even met Courtney. This is a direct quote from Kurt, "It's a cleansing theme where I'm trying to get all my bad evil spirits outof me and drinking Pennyroyal tea would clense that away." You have to drink gallons of the stuff to give you a abortion. I personally think this song has something to do with his stomach also. Obviously with the pains Kurt experienced he had trouble sleeping hence the lines:
    I'm so tired I can't sleep
    I'm anemic royalty
    I'm a liar and a theif
    I'm anemic royalty

    I'm on warm milk and laxatives
    Cherry-flavored antacids
    Just my humble opinion though.
    Mithas25on July 01, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General Commentthis song is about Kurt Cobains stomach problems, almost positive of it, but i could be wrong
    KIM04on February 23, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAlright, so I'm going to give my schpeel on this, and I'm surprised no one has come up with this idea about this song before. I also think this song is about his stomach problems, but it’s a lot deeper than that. This song is purely about heroin, not only from a lyrical standpoint, but also a musical standpoint. I had a REALLY great post written up on this before I pressed refresh on accident a couple of days ago, but bear with me…

    The verses are him explaining the reasons he feels the need to do heroin,

    The chorus is about doing heroin and how he feels on it.

    "I'm on my time with everyone,
    I have very bad posture."

    This line representing two of his insecurities leading him to do heroin:
    The first is about his problems with pressures of being a rock star. Everyone’s expecting great things out of him, done within a time limit. He’s expected to go to concerts and do an amazing job constantly. You’ve got to think where he’s coming from. He started out some 16/18 year old kid who thought being a rock star would be a release from all of his problems and he’d finally be happy, but really there’s even more pressure than there was before.

    The second refers to problems he has with self-image.

    I also think these first two verses are actually about why he started using heroin in the first place.

    So, he picks up his needle…

    “Sit and drink Pennyroyal tea”
    This is a metaphor for him doing heroin.

    “Distill the life that’s inside of me”
    This is him saying how heroin makes him feel alive and rid of his troubles, also relieving his stomach problems.

    “I’m anemic royalty”
    He feels like he’s the ruler of his disease (stomach problems and depression) when he’s on heroin. I don’t know personally, but maybe long-term, heavy heroin use could cause anemia?

    “Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld, so I can sigh eternally.”
    Sadly, this line is about suicide. This line is about why he attempts to overdose on heroin. He’s an extremely depressed person, and he’s hoping that on the other side it’s a lot happier. If you don’t know, Leonard wrote very happy music, and I think this is what Kurt saw “the other side” as.

    “I’m so tired, I can’t sleep.”
    Saying he’s tired, but he can’t sleep because of heroin withdrawal.

    “I’m a liar and a thief.”
    He’s lying to everyone around him and continuing his heroin use because the pain when he’s off of it is unbearable. He’s a thief because he feels like he’s stealing money from Kris and Dave by forcing the record company to give him a bigger percentage of the royalties so he can keep up his expensive habit.

    Now the next part is the big part of why I think this is about heroin. Also, this is why you have to listen to the music to know what this song is about. In the acoustic version of the song, he slows down considerably during the third verse, and sounds completely hopeless in his vocals. Then the song picks up into the chorus (which is about him doing and during heroin) on a happier, more hopeful sounding chord.

    “I’m on warm milk and laxative, cherry flavored antacids.”
    These are the things he has to take when he’s off of heroin to help with his stomach problems. However, they just don’t have the same effect and he feels they’re worthless. So he once again picks up his needle…

    The second reason I got the idea that this song is about heroin is the outro in the original take on In Utero. I think the outro is about the way him coming down from heroin. It starts out loud, with a heavily distorted guitar, slows down the whole way, and eventually the distortion is turned off, which is also present in the whole song. The verses, while he’s off of it are clean, and the chorus, while he’s on it, has distortion. If you listen to it, it makes a lot of sense.

    Sorry for the in-depth post, but I think this is possibly the smartest, deepest, and most emotional song Kurt wrote, besides maybe All Apologies. If you can’t tell, I’m pretty passionate about this song :P.
    Dimmon April 18, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think its about how Cobain was always bothered by his stomach pain, but it can also be interpreted as a song about abortion with the "distill the life thats inside of me" lyric
    treestumpon December 03, 2001   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt was also said to have been written by Courtney, but she probably said that since she never have written a good song in her life and preformed an anal rapeage of his songs.
    Fomaon May 13, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General Commentits kurdt kobain!...usually the most metaphorical answer is the most correct...never take kurt literally, hes a god damn poet!...-gonna cry-..
    dalatinkravenon March 05, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General Commentand by distilling that, and flushing it out of his system, it makes him anemic. his childhood made him who he is, and if he flushes it out of his system, he is plain.

    pain sucks, but it is also just how some people are defined. it made him beautiful.
    retrospekt92on January 12, 2012   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI'm on my time with everyone
    I have very bad posture

    (this first part is about the rise to celebrity mega-stardom. He is saying I have no time to myself anymore, my public identity is now fused with that which is projected. I'm not strong enough to endure it).

    Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
    Distill the life that's inside of me
    Sit and drink Pennyroyal Tea
    I'm anemic royalty

    (Everyone knows Pennyroyal Tea was given in old times to induce abortions. He is saying I've drunk the kool-aid poison willingly, and as a result my life's been changed, like the conversion process of alcohol, and a result he's sick royalty. Anemia means literally "lack of blood" or life force/energy/will. Kurt has sacrificed his true self for projected royalty).

    Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld
    So I can sigh eternally
    I'm so tired I can't sleep
    I'm a liar and a thief

    (Leonard is all about vulnerability, loss, helplessness, hope and God. When you combine those together you get what Dylan indicates in Knockin' on Heaven's door: I'm done, my illusions are finished, lay my guns in the ground, I'm too tired to keep fighting this war. This is what's meant by being too tired to sleep. It is an illusion to the Beatles song "I'm so tired." It reveals a weariness unfathomable. And at the same time Kurt feels fake, inauthentic. He knows his talent at writing songs does not surpass the phoniness he feels from stealing from others works, such as the pixies etc. But he is way too hard on himself. What he created was unique, and expressive of genius)

    I'm on warm milk and laxatives
    Cherry-flavored antacids

    (unfortunately, this must be a reference to heroin, like Trent Reznor's hurt and Leonard Cohen's "The Butcher," as well as a number of Beatles and Velvet Underground songs. Heroin, for many tortured, but successful, artists, is the drug of choice. It obliterates everything. Perhaps in the end, Kurt realized he's only turn out like Layne Stayley. He knew this, so he opted for self termination before the ultimate in pathetic abandon realized itself).
    solaris2013on October 01, 2013   Link

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