Ophelia was a bride of God
A novice Carmelite
In sister cells
The cloister bells tolled on her wedding night

Ophelia was the rebel girl
A blue stocking suffragette
Who remedied society between her cigarettes
And Ophelia was the sweetheart

To a nation overnight
Curvaceous thighs
Vivacious eyes
Love was at first sight

Love was at first sight
Ophelia was a demigoddess in pre war Babylon
So statuesque a silhouette in black satin evening gowns
Ophelia was the mistress

To a Vegas gambling man
Signora Ophelia Maraschina
Mafia courtesan
Ophelia was the circus queen

The female cannonball
Projected through five flaming hoops
To wild and shocked applause
To wild and shocked applause

Ophelia was a tempest cyclone
A goddamn hurricane
Your common sense, your best defense
Lay wasted and in vain

For Ophelia'd know your every woe
And every pain you'd ever had
She'd sympathize and dry your eyes
And help you to forget

Help you to forget
And help you to forget
Ophelia's mind went wandering
You'd wonder where she'd gone

Through secret doors down corridors
She wanders them alone
All alone
fade to different spoken languages

Lyrics submitted by kevin

Ophelia Lyrics as written by Natalie A Merchant

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Downtown Music Publishing

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Ophelia song meanings
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  • +5
    General Commentwell it's long since the comments were posted but let me have a go here...

    Words have a tendency to provoke feelings and mental images. In this case the word is a name associated with Shakespeare's Hamlet. Any three syllable name works for the rhyme and rhythm, but Ophelia provokes a feeling that Jennifer, Ann-Marie, or (to use another of Shakespeare's women) Juliet cannot.

    On a comparative note, Ophelia and Juliet faced the same dilemma: they loved a man they shouldn't. Juliet disobeyed her duty to her father and followed her heart, Ophelia set aside her heart to follow the advice and direction of her brother and father. They both chose different paths, but their choice cost them their life.

    The reason Juliet does not provoke the same sense of sadness the Ophelia can is that Juliet takes her own life, Ophelia is driven to madness and abandoned.

    However, the song really has nothing to do with Shakespeare's Ophelia other than the sadness the name evokes.

    The ophelia the song names in each verse are all different women. Each a different person and different personality. Good, bad, kind, cutting, virtuous, a whore. But they are all women.

    From a feminist perspective, they cannot be judged simply as women, because they are first and foremost, people. The person they are is not determined by their gender, but rather by the person they are.

    That the music begins in sadness and is very pastoral... but changes during the break to give the Ophelia's she describes more depth than the Virginal Madonna figure we begin with which tends to be the romantic ideal.

    That's my nickel

    This sets the tone for the people the song describes... different people
    chesterfieldon September 07, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentOn a purely sonic form I love this song dearly, its such a whirlwind opening to an album that i think it was a brave decision to sequence the track in its track one slot, but no matter...

    However in regards to the actual meaning to the song I was (un)fortunate to have just bought it the week before i started my uni's course on feminism in media (more a tactical choice on my part rather than intellectual curiousity). So you can see how this following interpretation could be coloured in by my lectures rather than my mind just wandering about.
    Ophelia as a lass in hamlet is obedient, perhaps simple minded (though i don't think so) and directly controlled by two men, her father (think track 2) and her partner/twat-like main squeeze.
    The name of ophelia (to me) before this song always meant 'loopy fuckwit who can't get her bloody act together'. She is pushed and pulled, BETTER she ALLOWS herself to be pushed and pulled when she should be kicking booty a 'la buffy.
    Ophelia was pampered and kept so far away from this reality that most of us share, that she could not see that neither side were black and white. That without the skills to assimilate different sides of the coin she could only descend into her madness and ultimately leave the play dead.
    What came from all this when it reached my ears was that I got the sense that Natalie (god bless her boots) was 're-claiming' the name for all that women, the gender/species has become. That womenhood (or gurrrrls) has unburdened itself of the certain inevitability that ladies grow up to have babies and obey their fathers till the right guy comes along to tell them what to do. Not that women in Shakesphere's time where not capable of being independant; if anything they where more independant then than what became of them during the victorian age. However as a 'good' girl ophelia must follow her protocols until it results in emotional breakdown. Ophelia in the song is certainly not a good girl, but nor is she a bad one, she simply is, a women. She is a series of women (or a very multi faceted one) who have fulfilled one place or another. A nun, a socialite, a 'moll', a beauty queen, an idol, a circus preformer and of course a mother. All of these, and i mean all of these showing a strength of character and purpose of varying moral grades. That opehlia in this song is more than this notion that pop culture once embraced so ferverently of a glorified washing machine incapable of doing anything other than being mrs brady. That now someone like myself when i hear the name of ophelia I can remind myself of the wild and shocked applause.
    When i took my feminism class I was one of 5 men in a class of 150. And though sympathetic to the feminist movement I found that class to be orientated to dogma - and led by observing calculated trailers and talking about the most obvious and skimming over anything resembling genuine intellectual growth. I managed to absorb more about how i felt about the movement of women in the 4 minutes that this song takes than in the 12 hours that class put me through...truely a classic
    the_toolshedon May 04, 2003   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI can interpret this song in two ways, both with Ophelia referring specifically to the literary charcter in Hamlet. One of them is Ophelia>Everywoman, where I think the song is saying that all of these women, despite their differences and separate powers and abilities and convictions, all have a piece of complacent, hopeless Ophelia inside of them. The other is Ophelia Illogical_Toasteron February 11, 2009   Link
    I guess it doesn't like the "lesser than" symbol. Jesus. Well, the other is there's a part of these women in Ophelia, that she's isn;t inherently feeble, no-one is. She could've been any of these awesome women depending on how she was raised and encouraged.

    Don't you dare do it a third time, internet.
    Illogical_Toasteron February 15, 2009  
  • +1
    General CommentAnd Ophelia was the sweetheart
    To a nation overnight
    Curvaceous thighs
    Vivacious eyes
    Love was at first sight
    Love was at first sight

    this part of the song reminds of marilyn monroe.
    twiceon December 11, 2007   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationMy grandmother recently passed away and in the years preceding her death she suffered from dementia. At her funeral I was struck by what an amazing woman she had been before the dementia and when I listen to this song I get that feeling again, especially the end of the song, because that is unfortunately how I most remember my grandmother. To me, this song is about the loss of a personality that once shone brightly, and it's heartbreaking.
    micconon October 11, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this is Natalie's little commentary or reclaiming of the feminine sensibility in our period.

    I'm a Pacific Islander, and unfortunately, these dualistic concepts (masculine/feminine, Adam/Eve, positive/negative) are not inherent to more organic, abstract, spherical (as opposed to cubic) cultures. Hey, we don't even have an exact translation for "wife" or "husband", it's just spouse, ungendered.

    From a third party's point of view, there's a great divide between the masculine and the feminine in the West, having a long overdue power struggle causing imbalance to a much higher/greater sensibility (or God perhaps).

    I guess it is deeply rooted and it's just sad that the feminine sensibility has to transcend to the shadows ("Ophelia's mind went wandering/ You'd wonder where she'd gone/ Through secret doors down corridors/ She wanders them alone"), as a result of this struggle.

    But I think Natalie (or even Shakespeare) is hopeful. Otherwise, why bother with Ophelia or Hamlet, right?
    wolfphileon November 09, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOphelia is a character that holds great literary weight. She is one of the most used female symbols in art, and not just literary (which lyrics fall into that category). There are many, many songs and poems written about Ophelia that are not necessarily about Ophelia. For instance, in my intro to Lit class I had to memorize and recite a poem for the class, and I chose the poem Ophelia's Confession by Tracey Herd because I adore Ophelia as a symbol. The poem, in short, is of Ophelia confessing the kind of person she would have liked to be if she had been given a choice, wearing a dress far too tight showing lots of skin, a tattoo of flowers rather than the anchor that dragged her down (referring to not really the flowers but her love and grief), and being very sexual with men and women alike. In the last stanza she says that if she were alive today she would have had a very different final scene, and she is then painted as Princess Dianna, though not in name but in death, finally stating that that, at least, was an honest way to die.

    Most important though, is the shortest stanza in the poem, which is my favorite. "I didn't drown by accident. I was a suicide. - At least let me call my mind my own - even when my heart was gone beyond recall."

    What many people seem to forget is that Ophelia didn't die on accident, or at least the suggestion is heavy she didn't. In fact, a sexton in the play at her grave insists she had to have killed herself, which greatly upsets her brother of course because suicide is unforgivable and a one way ticket to Hell. I point out that she killed herself, that it was suicide, because it was not madness which killed her. Yes, she was torn and destroyed, broken inside and out over the death of her father and the supposed lost love of Hamlet. Yes, perhaps she was mad with grief (as suggested in the play) and distraught to the point of mad thoughts and speech. But what makes Ophelia's character so interesting, and why she and her name are used like in this song so much, is simply what she is. She is a woman, obedient to those she's loves, innocent, naive, optimistic, loyal, and loving. She is so loving that the loss of those she loved, her father and in a sense Hamlet, destroys her completely. Her heart has been shattered, her world has been left empty, the universe has been struck senseless and useless. Rather than wallow and become nothing but a shell of a person, Ophelia instead calls out those she feels has wronged her and her father. She gives people flowers, something her father was not given when he was buried, and then she gives Hamlet, and herself, rue, which is both a symbol of regret, and also a poisonous plant. To me this is a statement, "you will regret this Hamlet, because I will use this". After this, she is found drowned.

    Today, if a woman decided to kill herself instead of living without her father and the love of a man we would call her weak, stupid, a classic case of thinking women are the weaker sex. But, in the play, Ophelia made her decision, a very big one, and had the strength to go through with it. As far as symbolism goes, Ophelia in the moments before her death was a very, very strong woman. Distraught, destroyed, and broken-hearted, yes, but very strong.

    Back to this song. I have always heard this song as a description of various women, in various times, with very, very different lives. A nun, a 'demigoddess', a Marilyn Monroe type, a circus woman, a dark rebel girl (I always saw dark french brooding artist type), a mother, a mistress to a Vegas sleaze, the whole feminist movement, and a lost and broken woman (the last stanza). So very different, and yet still all holding one very important bit, which is part in the lyrics and part in the tone of how it's sung; they are all very powerful women. My favorite stanza is the Marilyn Monroe type one, depicting a very beautiful woman, and perhaps she has nothing else going for her, but she won the love of a nation overnight. Say what you will but that's power.

    In short (and in case you went TLDR), this song in my opinion is a depiction of all women everywhere, no matter how different. We all may seem very different, in some cases like all we have in common is our gender, but we are all Ophelia, and ultimately, we all hold the power to be who and what we want, and we have the strength to make whatever it is we want happen.
    waitingforgreenon December 12, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI'm a little late to this party so I guess consider this a journal entry to myself about a beautiful and terrifying song. To me, this song is about the spirit's journey, not necessarily through past lives, but perhaps the same spiritual energy in different people, whatever. Does it matter? Wandering through corridors, all alone, in a house with many rooms. Some full of glory and happiness, some filled with tragedy and suffering. Ophelia is the same being playing all of those roles, wearing those faces, wearing those facades.

    Don't we all want to be America's sweetheart, love at first sight? Nobody wants to be so lost and alone as the final Ophelia. I personally fear suffering and meaninglessness so much. Terrifies me, enough for me to seek mindless distraction. To try and forget even the thought of it. To help me to forget.

    Merchant poses such an eloquent and moving question. Now what is the answer?
    Sweaveron June 19, 2020   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI have no insights to offer... I believe this powerful song speaks for itself. And it gives me shivers down my spine.
    Heliamphoraon August 18, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commentit's about the play? duh?
    homesickforspaceon March 27, 2003   Link
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