"Catherine" as written by and Polly Jean Harvey....
Catherine De Barra, you've murdered my thinking
I gave you my heart, you left the thing stinking
I'd break from your spell if it weren't for my drinking
And the wind bites more bitter with each light of morning.

I envy the road, the ground you tread under,
I envy the wind, your hair riding over,
I envy the pillow your head rests and slumbers,
I envy to murderous envy your lover
'til the light shines on me
I damn to hell every second you breath

I envy
Oh my Catherine
For your eyes smiling
And your mouth singing
With time I'd have won you
With wile I'd have won you
For your mouth singing


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"Catherine" as written by Polly Jean Harvey

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

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Catherine song meanings
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  • +3
    Song MeaningThis is a copy/edit/paste from another website, but still very enlightening!---

    Both "The Wind" and "Catherine de Barra" are loosely based on the life of Saint Catherine.

    Catherine de Barra tells her story from the point of view of the Roman emperor Maxentius, who was in love with her and whom she spurned for God. So he eventually had her killed. When he envies the road she treads under, that is because she is buried; the pillow her head rests and slumbers is the pillow in her coffin; her lover is Christ. It is quite possible that the image of her head on the pillow also refers to the fact she was beheaded. Maxentius has just enough of an ego to think that he would have won her over with just a bit more time, but too bad, she spurned him too soon and he had to have her killed instead. Oh, well. He'll just spend his life being a drunk.

    In "The Wind", you get a bit of Catherine's history, mixed in with a little folklore appreciation of the story of Saint Catherine. The real St. Catherine came from a well off family, loved children, and was famous for the visions ("images on the wall") she saw. Of course, dreaming of torture on the wheel is a foreshadowing of her death, and refers to what is now known as St Catherine's Wheel. She ended up beheaded, after the torture on the wheel failed to kill her. She is also said to be buried on Mount Sinai, which could be the hill referred to in the song*; again, the celebration of St Catherine and her wheel is localised and the lyrics in this song sound as if they are coming from a folktale perspective, which often happens when Catholic saints are morphed into local legends.

    Another connection between the two songs is the use of the image of the wind; one of Catherine herself listening to the wind blow, and of her wanna-be lover waking up to a wind that bites more bitter with each light of morning. (Interesting play on words with that line as well, morning/mourning, which the song obviously is, a lament, a song of mourning even if it is from the perspective of the murderer.)

    The Legend of St Catherine (st-catherine.org.uk/…). If you want to find a husband, she's your woman, and this is the prayer you say -
    A husband, St Catherine
    A handsome one, St Catherine
    A rich one, St Catherine
    A nice one, St Catherine
    And soon, St Catherine

    Sound familiar?

    Abbotsbury, located in Dorset, has a hill-top chapel dedicated to St Catherine. PJ would have grown up knowing the myths and folklore surrounding this saint. The page linked above describes how PJ sang at the chapel. Another page on the site worth reading describes the legend of Saint Catherine (st-catherine.org.uk/…).

    According to the Abbotsbury website (st-catherine.org.uk/…), "St Catherine's chapel, Abbotsbury, was probably one of these. Her chapels are often on hills, perhaps as a reference to Mount Sinai. It is interesting that if one says 'Catherine' in Welsh, the word sounds very like 'Cader rhyn' or 'hill throne'. One can understand how merchants in the Roman period spread Christianity up the Altlantic seaboard, founding the Celtich Church in the process. Perhaps, when they mentioned 'Katerina', the pure one, to the Celts, their audience recognised the new goddess in an old one." So when PJ sings of a chapel built high up in the hills, this could be the place she has in mind. Again, there's a real pagan aspect to the way Catherine's story is told in the two songs, which is typical of the merger between Celtic folklore and Christian faith.
    stentorianon May 01, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is about rejection
    Riot Grrrlon March 25, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is so obsessive and creepy...the guy apparently "loves" Catherine but wants to harm her because she doesn't return his affections. The ending is beautiful, though - this is one of my favourite PJ songs.
    howmanyfateson April 07, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentPolly Jean often sings about Catherine - speculation about a lesbian affair rife however I believe that she is referring to Saint Catherine, in particular to the common prayer to Saint Catherine, that asks for a husband.
    Miss Messon October 21, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthe song talking about a guy who obsessed with a girl and kills her at the end because he couldn't have her
    the "For your eyes smiling
    And your mouth singing
    With time I'd have won you
    With wile I'd have won you
    For your mouth singing"
    that part really gives it away
    just think about it ;3
    Bambooon December 12, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthe song talking about a guy who obsessed with a girl and kills her at the end because he couldn't have her
    the "For your eyes smiling
    And your mouth singing
    With time I'd have won you
    With wile I'd have won you
    For your mouth singing"
    that part really gives it away
    just think about it ;3
    Bambooon December 12, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is about obsessive love and rejection, as said above, but apparently or so i've read its about her break up with Nick Cave. Beautiful sad song.
    JanuaryGirl25on July 22, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHer voice sounds quite different here, no? I can totally relate to the feeling of envying the smallest thing surrounding the "beloved" person (or rather the person you are addicted to) and at the same time wishing them all the worst...
    Bitterblue911on August 21, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe St. Catherine reference is a good one, and very clear, however (as I mentioned in a comment on "The Wind") I can't help but make connections between PJ's Catherine and the Catherine of Brönte's Wuthering Heights (with no explanation for the obscure "De Barra" name, but this is also not explained by St. Catherine). The longing and tumult and distress experienced by that Catherine in her relationship with Heathcliff seems to parallel nicely with the character and the story PJ has portrayed in this song as well as The Wind, but this one seems as if it could be from the male perspective (Heathcliff) and possibly an apocryphal (or alternative) ending, if you will, in relation to Wuthering Heights. There are many literary references in this album.
    foreignwordson April 23, 2009   Link

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