Helplessly hoping her harlequin hovers nearby
Awaiting a word
Gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit he runs
Wishing he could fly
Only to trip at the sound of goodbye

Wordlessly watching he waits by the window and wonders
At the empty place inside
Heartlessly helping himself to her bad dreams he worries
Did he hear a good-bye?
Or even hello?

They are one person
They are two alone
They are three together
They are for each other

Stand by the stairway you'll see something certain to tell you
Confusion has its cost
Love isn't lying it's loose in a lady who lingers
Saying she is lost
And choking on hello

They are one person
They are two alone
They are three together
They are for each other


Lyrics submitted by DustinGC

Helplessly Hoping song meanings
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  • +8
    My InterpretationRemember, guys, it's all about Judy Collins. Think "Judy Blue Eyes" "Bluebird" etc. This is one of the songs Stills spat out during his "PLEEEZE marry me, Judy!" period. Harlequin was a Commedia dell'arte character of lowly rank, often shown with a lute, who sometimes pursued ladies above his class. Believe it or not, that would have been a fitting alter ego for Stephen in 1968, when he was far from being a superstar. Buffalo Springfield was coming apart, CSN was not on the radar yet, and he was making ends meet as a session guitarist for, among others, Judy the reigning queen of folk music. He falls for her "true gentle spirit", she says the word he's waiting for, and they begin a torrid affair. He decides that she's the one, endears himself to her son Clark (yes, I think that's the "three") and hopes for a future together. Judy's not so sure, however. The rest of the lyrics suggest Judy is doing a variant on the whole "it's not you, it's ME" thing (she is going through therapy around this time, and he thinks it's a bunch of BS). He wonders if she's about to dump him, or if he ever even had a chance with her in the first place. She eventually hooks up with Stacy Keach (Stills and Keach probably didn't meet in the stairwell, but that's a good metaphor for seeing that you have competition). Keach apparently gets along great with the kid, too, and poor Stephen is out of the picture.
    Pratfallon April 24, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThis tribute to literary elements is masterful as poetry in that within just a few lines it tells a surprisingly complex story in meter and heavy alliteration. It becomes very easy listening when sung with the haunting harmonics of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. It is the vocal harmonics that make the song impossible for an individual to sing and sound like all three voices plus the harmonics at once.

    You will understand the depth of these lyrics when you know that Stephen Stills had a tempestuous relationship with folk singer Judy Collins. That relationship inspired many of his lyrics including “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” It seems obvious but still we have to wonder if “Helplessly Hoping” is one more product inspired by that relationship.

    We also need to know what a harlequin is. A harlequin is the personified imagination of a character in a play. Dressed in bright diamondboard fabric, a harlequin stands out as imaginary in every sense. As such it might be the earliest form of special effects. The harlequin is an important character in a play because it indicates to the audience what the actor is thinking to him/her self. The harlequin can act out those thoughts in pantomime for the audience. Sometimes the harlequin is used to pass messages between characters. A harlequin may interact with a character but the character can never interact with the harlequin. And by standing or sitting on walls and tall props, a harlequin appears to hover above the action in a play.

    We enter these lyrics with the observations of a man in a broken relationship…

    Helplessly hoping her harlequin hovers nearby (He is hoping she has sent a messenger to contact him and talk. He knows it is impossible to contact the harlequin but is trying to pass the mental message.)
    Awaiting a word (…perhaps the word will come from a messenger, a mutual friend, either with a message or to take a message from him. As the lyrics progress we learn that this waiting situation has gone on far too long. At this point any word from her would be welcome to release the emotional tension between them. Also note that in the song, awaiting is pronounced “uh WAITING” to emphasize the consonance with ‘word.’ For an instrument it would be considered a “grace note.”)
    Gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit he runs
    Wishing he could fly ((he daydreams about her. He runs trying to catch the dreams thinking he could if he could fly.)
    Only to trip at the sound of goodbye (This is how we know the two know each other. She has said goodbye to him. In attempting to fly in his dreams he breaks his stride when the inevitable final thoughts of the dream come. Those last thoughts are of her saying her final goodbye.)

    Wordlessly watching he waits by the window (He waits for her to do something. He cannot chase her without looking desperate, which he truly is. He thinks that chasing after her would appear pathetic, which he truly is)
    and wonders
    At the empty place inside (He wonders if he will ever have a love that will completely fill the void she has left in him)
    Heartlessly helping himself to her bad dreams (By thinking of her all the time even the beautiful memories have become torturous bad dreams for him. Even knowing the eventual anguish will come every time he does it, he heartlessly continues to dream of her)
    he worries
    Did he hear a good-bye? (did she really mean ‘goodbye’ or…)
    Or even hello? (…did she want him to come for her?)

    The chorus phrases are sung with both of them in mind…

    They are one person (soul mates with identical interests)
    They are two alone (when they are apart they are individuals, not dependent on each other)
    They are three together (The concept of being more than the sum of parts is very important in music. Vocal and instrumental harmonies resonate to create more voices to the ear. Thus two voices could easily sound like three when both hit the notes that ring together. You can hear it in the CSN vocals. In this lyric it could be they are more than the sum of the parts or it could be that they cannot be happy together because they quarrel; and the quarrel is personified as the third “person.” A quarrel seems to be the cause of this rift. When they are not together (when they are “two alone”) they probably forget about this third person repeatedly getting in the way of their relationship. Common “third persons” getting in the way of relationships include careers, former love interests, and addictions.)
    They are for each other (Despite everything, they each have the best interests of the other in their hearts)

    Now the song shifts to observations and thoughts about the girl’s feelings. Note also the number of syllables changes for her lines. This subtle change indicates a different voice.

    Stand by the stairway you'll see something certain to tell you
    Confusion has its cost (The breakup is taking its toll on her, too. Perhaps her emotional escape is to turn toward or away from her career, food, alcohol, or drugs. In any case there is a visible change)
    Love isn't lying it's loose in a lady who lingers (If it isn’t lying then it is true love. If it is loose then it is a passionate love. Nevertheless she waits, longing, for him to call. If you’ve gotten this far, you gotta love poetry.)
    Saying she is lost (She is bewildered. She is afraid she has been abandoned and even more afraid to find that out for certain. She is devastated. If he loved her, why has he not called? Since he has not called, she assumes he does not love her. She has the same empty feeling inside her which is interpreted as being lost or helpless.)
    And choking on hello (She can’t contact him (even by messenger) because she fears confirmation of the rejection she suspects. Or perhaps she remembers that third person and is unwilling to rekindle the torment that is the romance. So she continues to linger and deteriorate both emotionally and physically.)
    dchall8on October 16, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentOnce upon a time there was a lady helplessly hoping her harlequin was hovering nearby because she felt rather stupid and scared being out on such a long limb. Gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit, he wished he could fly only to find she was already gone. Wordless he waited at the window, wondering at the empty place inside—helping himself to her bad dreams because they were hard to shake. No goodbye? Not the last time. Plenty of hellos—but not lately. She is one person but she is two. They are three once they get their act together—fat chance of that …
    Stand by any stairway to see confusion has its cost because love isn’t lying—it’s loose in a lady who lingers saying she is lost and choking on hello quite often. They are for each other …
    No happily ever after?
    Not so fast—how intriguing would that be?
    My man rain—at the window pane—knocks and listens and knocks again—my man rain …
    sillybunnyon August 18, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song describes my relationship pretty well. A man helping himself to a woman's bad dreams and he worries.

    One person trying to save another person's tattered life, and the other person trying to save their life by forcing them away.

    Just trying to save eachother's life.
    moeburnon December 11, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI always thought this was about a woman who wanted more from the guy she was with. "harlequin" meaning Harlequin romance novels... she's hoping that her "true love" is hovering somewhere nearby but she so scared that it's not true (a.k.a the bad dreams).

    He is "running" wishing he could "fly", or in other words, be the man she wants him to be (one of those amazing, unrealistic men from those harlequin romance novels.

    But in the end he knows hes not the man for her, and he is just keeping her to keep himself happy ("empty place inside", "helping himself to her bad dreams")

    The chorus is describing how they are together, but so alone, and seem to be diving themselves into 3 different people: one who is in love, one who is isn't, one who needs to get away.

    The comments on love are supposed to be an ironic twist on the fact that love isn't lying to them, its simply falling apart with the woman who should be leaving in the first place.

    Maybe I'm reading too much into it?
    tspenceron November 25, 2007   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationShe said goodbye and ran from the “relationship” that never was which is why the question asks was there really ever a “hello”? They were twin-flames – one person, two (twins) alone because they could not be together, three together (it was crowded with the spouse), for each other – always for each other.

    They met, and the intensity of the attraction was extraordinary. He was her hopeful Italian secret lover (Harlequin) that never was. She thinks about him daily hoping that he may send a word – maybe a text, an email, a phone call… anything. He gasps at the gentleness of her true spirit and all that he loved and adored about her. Oh how he wishes he could fly to her and be with her. But she said, “Good-bye”… good-bye to the chance to say hello to their desire to be together.

    He finds himself looking out the window and wondering why his heart is empty, and it aches for her when he never really “had” her. He knows her bad dreams are his. They love and adore each other and can only be together in their dreams. It’s a worry because they may never get over one another. He ponders if he feels so deeply, and she feels it so deeply too, did they really say good-bye if love is eternal and without boundaries? Still wanting to be together, and not being able to be together is the worst dream of all.

    In their dreams they are one person (twin flames reunited on this earth), two alone (in different places without the comfort of being together), three together (there is the “spouse”), but always for each other. They want each other to be happy. They want each other.

    Standing by the stairway, they can see the door. They can run through it to each other, but it can also keep them both locked into their current relationships. It’s confusing. They both feel lost without each other, and the love still lingers. The choking comes from the idea that they never really said “hello” to love, and yet… it still came. Two people who love each other so deeply with such a desire to be together and can’t would choke-up anyone. Never to say “hello” to an amazing love is so very sad.
    robinbirdsoaron September 22, 2019   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti don't know wat it means...she wants to leave even though it's in neither of their best interests...i just LOVE this song...but how are they three together? o well...
    ZinbobDanon April 03, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Commentoh, and it's been years since i head this song (since i lost the album :(...but i think the words go: "helplessly hoping her harlequin ~hovers~ nearby, ~awaiting~ a word...wishing he could fly..."

    yea, just those two words i think need to be corrected...that's it...someone else bitch at me if i'm wrong but that's the way i've been singning it since i was 6
    ZinbobDanon May 04, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Commentoh, and it's been years since i head this song (since i lost the album :(...but i think the words go: "helplessly hoping her harlequin ~hovers~ nearby, ~awaiting~ a word...wishing he could fly..."

    yea, just those two words i think need to be corrected...that's it...someone else bitch at me if i'm wrong but that's the way i've been singning it since i was 6
    ZinbobDanon May 04, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI don't think there's much meaning to this song. Stills was just having fun with alliteration. I recall somewhere that he dedicated this song to his high school English teacher.

    And ZinbobDan is right about the lyrics.
    zarumbaon June 12, 2003   Link

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