"Language Or the Kiss" as written by and Emily Ann Saliers....
I don't know if it was real or in a dream
Lately waking up I'm not sure where I've been
There was a table set for six and five were there
I stood outside and kept my eyes upon that empty chair
And there was steam on the windows from the kitchen
Laughter like a language I once spoke with ease
But I'm made mute by the virtue of decision
And I choose most of your life goes on without me
Oh the fear I've known
That I might reap the praise of strangers
And end up on my own
All I've sown was a song
But maybe I was wrong

I said to you the one gift which I'd adore
The package of the next 10 years unfolding
But you told me if I had my way I'd be bored
Right then I knew I loved you best born of your scolding
When we last talked we were lying on our backs
Looking at the sky through the ceiling
I used to lie like that alone out on the driveway
Trying to read the Greek upon the stars
The alphabet of feeling
Oh I knew back then
It was a calling that said if joy then pain
The sound of the voice these years later
Is still the same

I am alone in a hotel room tonight
I squeeze the sky out but there's not a star appears
Begin my studies with this paper and this pencil
And I'm working through the grammar of my fears
Oh mercy what I won't give
To have the things that mean the most
Not to mean the things I miss
Unforgiving the choice still is
The language or the kiss


Lyrics submitted by aur0ra

"Language or the Kiss" as written by Emily Ann Saliers

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

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Language Or the Kiss song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentThis song is about a person choosing to follow her dream but giving up being with the person she loves (in this case, it's a musician choosing the life of music/touring/fame over her chance for love, but the song could be interpreted more generally about giving up love to follow a dream).

    The first verse describes the moment she made her decision: she was supposed to meet her love at a restaurant, but she stood outside and looked at the empty chair and chose not to go inside: "I choose most of your life goes on without me." she feels torn by this difficult decision and fears that she might "reap the praise of strangers and end up on [her] own." in other words, she will receive the glory of being a musician/singer, but what if she ends up alone in the end? "all I've sown was a song, maybe I was wrong." the tension between these two choices and whether she made the right decision is what drives the beauty and tender sadness of the lyrics.

    The second verse is about how she wishes for certainty in her life and wants to know how things will unfold, but that is the one thing she cannot have. This verse is also her memories of the person she left behind to follow her dream. She recalls being with the person and talking. She also recalls being alone and how she can figure things out better that way: "I used to lie like that alone out on the driveway. I was trying to read the greek upon the stars, the alphabet of feeling." she felt a calling in that moment to be a musician/songwriter and to follow her dream. This calling said, "if joy, then pain." she realizes it probably will not be possible to stay with her lover and have access to the reservoirs of feeling and language she has when she is alone. Years later, she feels the exact same calling: "the sound of the voice these years later is still the same."

    Fittingly, the final verse begins with "I am alone." she is alone in a hotel room. She is trying to write a song. She is "working through the grammar of her fears." writing songs is her "study." she writes songs best and has a bigger reservoir of feeling and language when she is alone. But this is what hurts the most: "mercy, what I won't give to have the things that mean the most not to mean the things I miss." she loves her former life and especially the love she left behind, but she realizes she can write about these things best from afar. Her choice remains the same after all these years: the language or the kiss. She chose the language, which symbolizes her role as a musician/songwriter and her ability to bring depth of emotion and clarity of thought and feeling to her fans and listeners. She left behind the kiss, which symbolizes what she could have had in a lover, intimacy and closeness with a partner but she would have had to give up the language. She remains torn about the decision, but she can never go back and she will always have to live with that decision.
    melizabethwoodon February 03, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is a beautiful, beautiful song, and I can't believe no one has commented on it. Swamp Ophelia is a great cd.
    brokenspoonson January 18, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAn absolutely touching song that has so much pain and suffering in it. "Oh Mercy, what i won't give to have the things that mean the most not to mean the things I miss."
    If people could just focus on what they have as opposed to what they have lost or no longer have, then happiness would be everywhere. I love this song, and the way Emily and Amy's voices work together to make you feel the longing and desire is absolutely perfect.
    carebear21on February 15, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is mind-blowing, emotionally and technically. I think it has to do with coming out, but I could be wrong. At any rate, it's about choosing between family and all of it's baggage (good and bad) and making your own way in life. The "language" represents the familial bond while "the kiss" is choosing the passion of life, and the two seem to be mutually exclusive. Each choice has its rewards and consequences: "It was a calling that said if joy, then pain".
    I love all the imagery about language, especially "trying to read the Greek upon the stars, the alphabet of feeling". And then the last verse, when she has chosen "the kiss", she is trying to create a new language of her own.
    God, Emily Saliers is a brilliant writer.
    colum1225on June 09, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI just wanted to comment on the lyric "Laughter like a language I once spoke with ease" It's so true about so many different areas of your life...isn't it true it was eaiser to laugh when you were young, or at the beginning of new things? (meeting someone for the first time, for example) It makes me happy and sad at the same time, thinking that once we lose our ignorance we are less able to laugh freely. Anyhoo, something that definiteyl made me think. And that's just one line!
    ilovelucy_02on January 04, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is about someone who is missing from a gathering (there was a table set for six, and five were there). The singer is standing in the kitchen contemplating and also listening to her guests in the other room (laughter like a language I once spoke with ease). The singer has accepted that their lover has a separate life but is afraid that they might end up alone if they let themselves go away from the relationship. They wrote a song for their lover, a love song, but now they are not so sure. (All I've sown was a song but maybe I was wrong).
    makebusy7on January 26, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think Emily is lamenting about her life as an existentialist. The first verse is about the life she could be living, something of an orthodox life where right and wrong were set in stone and there wasn't a need to wonder. This is a life laid out to her by her father, a minister and in my mind the second person (the 'you') in the song. But she cannot live like he wants her to, so she leaves the comfort of certainty into a life of introspection.

    The second verse starts with a warning from what she is leaving behind, but she admits she cannot avoid her thoughts and her questions even if she wants to, she must 'read the greek...'. The third verse cinches the song, where she confides how afraid she is that she won't succeed and her life will be fruitless. That's what makes the last few lines so meaningful, she knows she is risking everything and might have made a stupid decision to leave the happy little family at the table. 'To have the things that mean the most...' she wishes she could somehow hedge her bets, or find some sort of safety net because she knows what she has to lose. Unforgiving ... my favorite word of the song (just listen to how she says it) so perfectly describes how final her decision is and drives home how much of a risk she is taking by being who she must.

    What can I say ... I'm glad she made the decision she did because she never would have written all her wonderful music as a mindless drone. I don't see anywhere in the song about her homosexuality but I none the less like what Colum1225 had to say. I'm pretty sure it isn't a love song, but I could be way off. Either way, its one of Emily Sailiers' best.
    EZEebson January 31, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentits about the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Gresham...if you know the story behind the couple you will completely understand the meaning of the song
    rjblack11on May 24, 2008   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationWhen I first heard this song, I was running the gambit of long distance relationships. Somewhere between going off one or heading into one. This spoke volumes to that turmoil. How you could know what it was like to be a part of relationship that would be completely normal - and see yourself on the outside of it looking in (like through the window at the empty chair). How you find yourself choosing the physical relation in those few times together, and the emotional relationship happening in other ways, like by phone or letters -- and finding in those moments the things you love the most are the things you miss.

    Worst of all is those moments when you realize how lonely a relationship can be. Sitting alone in a hotel room working through the grammar of our fears.
    abesimpsonon October 03, 2013   Link
  • -1
    General CommentThis song is about someone who is missing from a gathering (there was a table set for six, and five were there). The singer is standing in the kitchen contemplating and also listening to her guests in the other room (laughter like a language I once spoke with ease). The singer has accepted that their lover has a separate life but is afraid that they might end up alone if they let themselves go away from the relationship. They wrote a song for their lover, a love song, but now they are not so sure. (All I've sown was a song but maybe I was wrong).
    makebusy7on January 26, 2007   Link

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