The lights turned on and the curtain fell down,
And when it was over it felt like a dream,
They stood at the stage door and begged for a scream,
The agents had paid for the black limousine
That waited outside in the rain.
Did you see them, did you see them?
Did you see them in the river?
They were there to wave to you.
Could you tell that the empty quivered,
Brown skinned Indian on the banks
That were crowded and narrow,
Held a broken arrow?

Eighteen years of American dream,
He saw that his brother had sworn on the wall.
He hung up his eyelids and ran down the hall,
His mother had told him a trip was a fall,
And don't mention babies at all.
Did you see him, did you see him?
Did you see him in the river?
He were there to wave to you.
Could you tell that the empty quivered,
Brown skinned Indian on the banks
That were crowded and narrow,
Held a broken arrow?

The streets were lined for the wedding parade,
The Queen wore the white gloves, the county of song,
The black covered caisson her horses had drawn
Protected her King from the sun rays of dawn.
They married for peace and were gone.
Did you see them, did you see them?
Did you see them in the river?
They were there to wave to you.
Could you tell that the empty quivered,
Brown skinned Indian on the banks
That were crowded and narrow,
Held a broken arrow?


Lyrics submitted by planetearth

"Broken Arrow" as written by Neil Young

Lyrics © Broken Arrow Music, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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Broken Arrow song meanings
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11 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentAt least part of the song is actually about the Kennedy assasination. With the first verse being Neil's perspective on being a rock star, the key to the rest of the song is the line from the second verse "Eighteen years of american dream" . This line is the only concrete line in a song full of imagery and allegory. If is to be taken seriously (there is no reason to think otherwise) then the obvious 18 years would be the ones immediately after WW2, where the USA took on its role of dominant power of the democratic world: 1945-1963. I don't really understand the rest of that verse, but it does end with the line "Did you see HIM?" not "them" as in the 1st and 3rd verses. The third verse is ostensibly about a wedding. But caissons are used in funeral processions not wedding processions. So if you transpose funeral for wedding and black for white then the rest sort of follows. Coincidentally, sufferers of Addison's Disease of which Kennedy was one, tend to have darkened (brown) skin due to a hormone disorder.
    frednurk100on November 15, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe verses are split in half. The first half of each verse sings about the crowds and the fame and the sensations of being in the music business. The first verse this deals with the ending of a show, and the exhilaration you feel when they call your name. The second verse deals with the feelings of what you miss while on the road, falling in love and marriage and babies. The second half of each verse deals with his feelings of being so distracted with following his own dream that he never noticed the way Native Americans only have broken dreams these days, while the other Americans are too distracted by glitz and such. The song expresses his guilt at being an American who got everything he thought he wanted, while giving little back to anyone else.
    ndoon February 16, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI actualy read this in a book called "don't be denied"
    which is a bio on neil. it says he wrote this song for his bassist in his very old band. They were called the "squires". Neil felt bad because he needed to move on with his musical career and this left his old bassist behind. it says:

    Did you see him, did you see him?
    Did you see him in the river?
    He were there to wave to you.

    the waving part shows that the bassist knew neil have to move on and he supported him no matter what he did.

    "This is what i read in the book." and i think this a great song and i always listen to this when I put on some music
    expectingtoflyon August 20, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis is just one of those songs that lives in a time that we are not in.
    we had to be in the moment to define it.
    but we aren't. so just enjoy the emotion it portrays.
    ShakeyFan2on January 29, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Commentmaybe YOU weren't around then...
    tennisluvr71on February 25, 2012   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationThe part about "Don't mention babies at all" refers to how the American people called our soldiers "Baby Killers" so it is a touchy subject to his brother who probably just returned home from Vietnam
    stevend1354on March 25, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentFrom what I read in Shakey, which was Neil's authorized biography and featured many quotes from the author's many interviews with Neil, its about several things.

    Verse one is about the music industry. Neil was caught off guard by the success that Buffalo Springfield was having and actually recorded this song without the band after quitting. He recorded it with Jack Nitchke (spelling?) and it was supposed to be a solo album, but Neil rejoined the band and Richie Furay's background vocals where overdubbed and added later. But "it felt like a dream, they stood and the stage door and begged for a scream" is about the masses of fans that were suddenly at the exits waiting for the band and they tried to get to the "black limousine".

    Verse two is about growing up and teenage angst. "18 years of American dream" means the first 18 years of life before you're a legal adult in the US. "His mother had told him a trip was a fall" is a reference to an acid trip and "don't mention babies at all" meaning teenage pregnancy, don't get a girl pregnant. If it was about a American GI returning from Vietnam, he would've been older than 18 unless he lied about his age. The swearing on the wall and hanging up his eyelids I don't remember what they were supposed to mean, sorry...

    Verse 3 is a slight reference to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain who "married for peace" and united the Spanish. In reality, like many have already posted, it is a veiled reference to Kennedy's presidency and assassination.

    Again, I read this in Shakey.
    twarn85on January 10, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentBroken Arrow and Expecting To Fly are shocking to me considering NY’s age at the time of writing/recording...I get the feeling of Neil just testing the limits of his talent, seeing what he’s capable of.
    force263on June 14, 2018   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYou really understand the song. Great post. Although your comment about JFK’s Addison’s disease is a bit superfluous, as it’s not something Neil would have necessarily known, nor commented about. ~L~
    Laylah77on September 02, 2018   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think the second verse is about one brother being drafted and sent to Vietnam while the other brother was part of the peace movement which also involved drugs. Hung up his eyelids and ran down the hall could be about acid but also about not wanting to see the horrors of war. Could you tell that the empty quivered brown skin Indian on the bank that was crowded and narrow held a broken arrow is the key to the song. The last arrow taken from the quiver was broken. Signal of peace. End to the war. The Native people were slaughtered by "Americans" The history of war and death being called the American dream. The river bank is crowded and narrow. Americans have taken over all the land and leave nothing for the original people. This song, to me, is as important now as it was then. It runs through my memory often. Maybe one day we will come together and put an end to the fighting.
    old lady blueon March 16, 2019   Link

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