I lost my heart
Under the bridge
To that little girl
So much to me
And now I moan
And now I holler
She'll never know
Just what I found
That blue eyed girl
She said "no more"
That blue eyed girl
Became blue eyed whore
Down by the water
I took her hand
Just like my daughter
I'll see her again

Oh help me Jesus
Come through this storm
I had to lose her
To do her harm
I heard her holler
I heard her moan
My lovely daughter
I took her home

Little fish, big fish, swimming in the water.
Come back here, man, gimme my daughter.
Little fish, big fish, swimming in the water.
Come back here, man, gimme my daughter.

Lyrics submitted by shut

"Down by the Water" as written by Polly Jean Harvey

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

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Down By The Water song meanings
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  • +7
    General Comment:I think a lot of you are on the right track with picking up on the imagery the song uses, but you're taking it very literally. Rarely does a songwriter of Polly's caliber tell a story for the sake of explaining a series of events. It's almost always a conduit for something else.

    I agree for the most part with idoubtthat. To take that another step further and discard as much literal translation as possible, I think it's reasonable to see the song with dualistic meanings. It could very well be about the tensions and conflicts of sexual maturation. From my standpoint, though, it's always partly been an anthem for difficult childhoods. I think that separate avenue of meaning might be where a lot of the connotations of rape and molestation people are picking up on come from.

    Growing up with a difficult, inflexible mother in specific, whose love and reliability are contingent on other things and who sees any assertion of independence as an affront and a betrayal, you learn that you have to lie and disguise yourself from a very early age. When it comes to maternal ineptitude and loading responsibilities on a child, you mature very quickly in order to cope, at the cost of your innocence. You become the mother to your mother. These dysfunctional dynamics in the mother-daughter relationship are very difficult to change once they've been established. It fucks you up and it follows you into your adult life. Most people who've been forced to revoke their childhood and act as adults when they're children end up later on being prone to immaturity and longing to make up for their childhoods as adults.

    There will always be some level of personal interpretation that differs from person to person, but I think we all seem to agree on the general framework that there's ambiguity and uncomfortable tension between the mother-daughter roles, this is a story about lost innocence in some form, and the loss is being lamented. From there, it's a Rorschach connect-the-dots blank canvas for ourselves, as most songs are. And who really wants to take that kind of purging self-projection away, anyhow?
    jaygealousyon February 28, 2012   Link
  • +4
    My Interpretation:I disagree with the people who are saying that maybe PJ had miscarried in the past. "Daughter" is symbolic as idoubtthat says. I think the daughter she is referring to is infact her younger self who was so innocent and perhaps upon losing her virginity she regrets it and yearns to return to her younger innocence ("That blue eyed girl became blue eyed whore")

    The mother/daughter theroy also fits.
    SMUSER17495735on January 31, 2012   Link
  • +3
    General Comment:"Some critics have taken my writing so literally to the point that they'll listen to 'Down by the Water' and believe I have actually given birth to a child and drowned her."
    bruisevioleton August 06, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:I didn't quite interpret this the same way. I think that this song isn't necessarily an allusion to her daughter loosing her virginity and the mother wanting her little girl back, but something more direct. I think that the disturbed narrator killed her daughter; the music itself and the strain in her voice supports this idea. Also, I think that the singer is moving in and out of reality; one minute she knows that she's killed her daughter, the next, she doesn't.

    "That blue-eyed girl/ Became blue-eyed whore"= This is what pushes the mother over the edge: she catches her daughter with a man.

    "Just like my daughter/ See her again"= The girl that she killed is no longer the same girl as her daughter; she's disassociated the two people in her mind (living, innocent daughter vs dead, non-virginal girl). She's disturbed enough to think that the dead body merely resembles her daughter, and she's wondering when she'll get to see her daughter again (she thinks that her daughter is gone, not dead).

    "I took her home"= A reference to the previous Jesus statement, she sent her daughter to heaven, away from her being a whore.

    "Little fish, big fish swimming in the water/ Come back here man gimme my daughter"= Since she killed her near the river, she's returned to it, or another river. I think that as she's saying this part, she is more detached from reality. She thinks that the fish is the one who stole her daughter and she's asking him for her back.

    When I hear this song, I picture PJ sitting dirty on a river bank in the dark, rocking and staring blankly into the water, muttering at the fish to return her daughter.
    Hemsueton June 15, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:I interpret it as being about the loss of innocence... particularly when losing her virginity (whether by force or consensual). The daughter (blue-eyed girl) is symbolic of the innocent version of herself; the Mother is symbolic of herself after she looses her innocence... The "Mother" then longs for her innocence/innocent-self back.

    It's really a brilliant song, and there can be many ways to interpret it, as with a lot of PJ's songs. She's a great songwriter.
    DivingUpon August 31, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:i think this is about a crazy woman who finds something out about her daughter and is angry at her. she gets so mad she kills her down by the water. she heard her daughter screaming and she was telling her to stop but she didn't. she takes the body home, then realises what she's done. she killed her in the water so she is askin for the fish to bring her daughter back
    raccoonon May 06, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:Yes,like she thinks her daughter is not pure anymore...something like Carrie's mother...it has a symbolic quality nonethless...like a fairytale.
    And she blames it on the "fish"=sex.
    dorareeveron June 18, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:all I know about this song is that it freaked me out when I was a kid. It always had a dark, Grimm-esque fairytale quality to me.
    honolulublueson August 10, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:This song is weird. I dont know what it means, I just like the buzz sound throughout the song.
    Necronicon January 23, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:This song is about how a woman who finds her daughter under a bridge. She had just lost her virginity and she's no longer the little girl her mother had known. She takes her home as an adult and the fish represent how she wishes she could have her little girl back.
    arcia500on February 25, 2005   Link

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