"Hyena" as written by and Bill Berry Michael Mills....
Night time fell at the opening
In the final act of the beginning of time
Hyena, take your role, the stage is set
The town is safe again tonight

Hyena (I see the day ahead)
Hyena (and all that I've cried through)
Hyena (God knows you're doing that, don't you?)

Hyena, sister, look to your hand
Man, you serve communal interest
She'll tell you when and where and how and why you'd hurt
A beautiful young lady

Hyena (I see the day ahead)
Hyena (and all that I've cried through)
Hyena (God knows you're doing that, don't you?)
Oh

The only thing to fear is fearlessness
The bigger the weapon, the greater the fear
Hyena is ambassador to here
Nighttime fell like the closing
Meager pay, but recognition
Hyena crawls on his belly out
The town is safe again tonight, oh

Hyena (I see the changes, man)
Hyena (going on across the way)
Hyena (I see my road ahead)
Hyena (don't know if I should stay)

Hyena (I see you holding him)
Hyena (and all that i've cried through)
Hyena (God knows you're doing that, don't you?)
Oh


Lyrics submitted by xpankfrisst

"Hyena" as written by Bill Berry Michael Mills

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group

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Hyena song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentThis is a criticism of the nuclear arms race and the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction ("the bigger the weapon, the greater the fear"). While those on one side (eg, the West) feared the arsenal of the other side (eg, the USSR), this song asks them to examine their own arsenal, identically deadly ("hyena's sister look to your hand"), and points out the immorality of a weapon that would kill civilians ("why you'd hurt a beautiful young lady").

    A hyena (an ugly, aggressive animal) is chosen as a metaphor for one side... and the other.
    rikdadon August 22, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commentalso seems to be explicitly a representation of how the rules changed after WWII, specifically Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    "the only thing to fear is fearlessness" is a pretty good encapsulation of what we should learn from the M.A.D. doctrine. it's also a rewording of FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," which had been more relevant in a time when war was less technological (and huge numbers of soldiers were needed)
    foreverdroneon October 04, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationIn addition to everyone else, I feel this song is written from the point of view of a diplomat desperately trying to stop a nuclear war. He has temporary successes ("the town is safe again tonight") but can't get something more long-term.
    Some have alluded to the FDR quote ("The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.") In that quote, he was talking about taking actions to end the great depression; it has nothing to do with war.
    The hyena itself is a formidable foe, but has curious behaviors that are indicitave of being a dog/cat cross breed. They usually kill what they eat (although they're reputed to scavenge what they eat) and have been known to drive other predators away from kills. Hyenas usually hunt in packs
    I'm also reminded of a 17th century French story about a wild animal terrorizing a town, killing the people, mostly young women. It was said to be a demon. A local hunter asked that silver bullets be blessed by the catholic church and then went and hunted the creature down. After killing it, the creature was taken to Paris. It turned out to be a hyena.
    quampon August 20, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree totally with previous post, after 3 listens it's pretty obvious. Good job!
    jdelaneyon January 11, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Commentin the chorus, the third line of the backing vocals is easier to understand, if you add a bit of emphasis:

    *God* knows you're doing that. Don't *you*?

    I'm not sure this is what was intended, but I can't think of any other meaningful interpretation.
    foreverdroneon October 04, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationI guess I take this song (which is one of my favorites of REM) a little differently than everyone else. . . with "Hyena" as a particular character, you can almost apply the lyrics in a literal sense.
    With that said, "Hyena" is the moniker of a sniper. As i listen, I always tend to think of snipers laying in wait, in the ruins of a bombed out city in Bosnia, even though that conflict was actually in 1991 and Hyena was recorded around 1986; nonetheless it still fits my minds eye.
    There can be many similarities drawn between a Sniper and a Hyena, notwithstanding the simplest facts that they both are accomplished hunters, and can be very cunning in their quest for prey.

    The first Verse is literally the Hyenas time to come out to stand watch and perform the duties of sniping; to stand watch over the town and keep the people protected.

    Nighttime fell at the opening
    In the final act of the beginning of time
    Hyena, take your role, the stage is set
    The town is safe again tonight


    The chorus is a fairly simple few lines of reflection . . . thoughts that may be running through the mind of a sniper as they sit silently for hours and days on end, in a hide, not only hunting but waiting for their mission to be over. The thoughts of the daylight coming allude to that want of an end to it...maybe today will be the day of taking the shot that ends this mission. The tears show an effect on the psyche of actually killing people, and the God question addresses perhaps if there may be a divine approval or forgiveness for fighting a war.


    Hyena (I see the day ahead)
    Hyena (and all that I've cried through)
    Hyena (God knows you're doing that, don't you)

    The Second Verse is Hyena opening an envelope with orders in it... and finding there is an order to kill what seems to be an innocent girl. "Look to your hand" as the machine that pulls the trigger of an order given by an unknown person to kill another unknown person no matter WHO the LOOK to be, such as a "Beautiful young lady". Does a sniper as the machine really know who the enemy is? The Hyena serves the town, "the communal interest" and follows orders and the orders will make it clear "When and where and why to hurt...".
    What I haven't made my mind up on is why we have the word "Sister and She'll" in this verse, that makes 3 references to the female gender in 4 lines.


    Hyena, sister, look to your hand
    Man, you serve communal interest
    She'll tell you when and where and how and why you'd hurt
    A beautiful young lady

    Hyena (I see the day ahead)
    Hyena (and all that I've cried through)
    Hyena (God knows you're doing that, don't you)

    The third verse looks at the bigger picture for a moment. Although Hyena understands he is the "ambassador" of his town in the fact he represents they are willing to fight for their freedom, which he does in a very fearless way; he isn't truly fearless. He does fear the bigger weaponry... that of a nuclear proportion. Those weapons are the part of war in which he has no control. His weapon is small in the overall war and he is confident in his ability to accomplish missions and survive. He understands his role and accepts it as a duty to his people as well as a necessity of war.

    The last few lines are simple... He has taken the shot and done his duty by killing the target. He crawls out of the killing zone and takes cover until he can ultimately leave the area safely. Recognition from the town is what he thrives on, keeping his people safe, serves them proudly ... no matter the pay.


    The only thing to fear is fearlessness
    The bigger the weapon, the greater the fear
    Hyena is ambassador to here
    Nighttime fell like the closing
    Meager pay, but recognition
    Hyena crawls on his belly out
    The town is safe again tonight

    Hyena (I see the changes, man)
    Hyena (going on across the way)
    Hyena (I see my road ahead)
    Hyena (don't know if I should stay)
    g111599180on February 02, 2018   Link

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