"Cinder and Smoke" as written by and Samuel Ervin Beam....
Give me your hand
The dog in the garden row is covered in mud
And dragging your mother's clothes
Cinder and smoke
The snake in the basement
Found the juniper shade
The farmhouse is burning down

Give me your hand
And take what you will tonight, I'll give it as fast
And high as the flame will rise
Cinder and smoke
Some whispers around the trees
The juniper bends
As if you were listening

Give me your hand
Your mother is drunk as all the firemen shake
A photo from father's arms
Cinder and smoke
You'll ask me to pray for rain
With ash in your mouth
You'll ask it to burn again


Lyrics submitted by floydeye

"Cinder And Smoke" as written by Samuel Ervin Beam

Lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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Cinder and Smoke song meanings
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  • +5
    General CommentAh, lovely song! Just a few restrained and enigmatic images, and yet they somehow pack this huge emotional punch... I agree that loss and bitterness comes through very clearly, and strong and conflicting emotions: "You'll ask me to pray for rain, with ash in your mouth, you'll ask it to burn again". I can see why it could make you think of a toubled end of a relationship, but I don't know...the beginning of the second verse suggests to me someone desperately trying to offer relief or refuge to another.

    And think of the farmhouse, representative to me of something stable and unchanging. Home and family. But it's burning down, and the world of your childhood seems to be falling apart, with the dog dragging your mother's clothes through the mud, your mother drunk, your father pathetically trying to cling to something from another life. Notice that while this chaos is going on all around, the narrator's attention is all on the person whose life in undergoing this upheaval, he speaks directly and intimately to her, and each verse begins with "Give me your hand". For me, this isn't a relationship that's ending, but one that's just now taking off amid the wreckage of something that was once of central importance to this person's life. Maybe that's the contradiction in the last two lines: terrible loss, which somehow brings with it a kind of intoxicating freedom...
    chrisferon June 23, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI agree with the idea that it's about the end of a relationship. A very sad, yet peaceful, song. The line "Give me your hand" is repeated three times (along with "Cinder and Smoke"), and it seems to suggest that the singer desparately wants the other person to trust him again. "Cinder and smoke" I think refers to the charred remains to the relationship, so each stanze starts off optimistic, but then he realizes how things won't be the same again.

    In the first stanza, the dog and the snake are symbols of loyalty and dishonesty. Since the dog is mentioned in the first half and the snake in the second half, it reinforces the idea that the first half of each stanze is more optimistic than the second. The dog is trying to salvage the mother's clothes from the fire, while the snake is just waiting in the shade. Also, the way that the song is phrased gives a dual meaning to "The snake in the basement found/the juniper shade." Since it sounds like the snake was found in the basement, it could refer to some sort of dishonesty found by one of the partners that caused the breakup.

    The second stanza shows once again the singer's willingness to do anything to continue the relationship, saying that he will give her anything as fast as their relationship is ending, possibly trying to quench the flames. Flames could also be referring to passion, suggesting a slightly sexual theme to this part. But in the second half, he hears the whispers, and "The juniper bends/as if you were listening." This line tells us what the juniper symbolizes: it's the singer's partner, meaning that in the first stanza, the snake, or the disloyalty, was accepted by her. Since the dog was dragging the singer's partner's mother's clothes, it is safe to assume that the dishonesty was on the part of the partner, and since she is giving it shade, she accepts it and doesn't wish to change it. The whispers could just be rumors about them (I'm not sure), maybe she has a history of doing this sort of thing.

    In the last stanza, the mother is drunk, and chances are the father is unconscious or somehow dead. As was said by someone before, the family could be so distraught because their daughter was dishonest, causing rumors to go around like in the last stanze. In the small community that I'm guessing this takes place in, such a scandal could mean ruin for a family. If you've ever read "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets," you'll get what I'm talking about. Since the mother is drunk and the father was caught in the blaze, the father possibly could have started the fire himself (or told the singer about his partner's infidelity) but been caught up in the fire somehow (I'm no god of lyrical analysis, I just think it's fun, feel free to disagree/help me out), while the mother is upset both about her husband's role in the breakup (maybe she liked the singer) and upset that her daughter would be so dishonest.

    The final three lines are the singer's misgivings about what he should do. If he approaches her again, maybe she'll ask him to "pray for rain," or forgive her, let the fire start down, and begin anew. But he's also afraid that after that, he won't be able to trust her. The ash in her mouth is her responsibility, the fact that she will never be able to escape the past and what she did, and that she might do it again, ending the relationship and "ask it to burn again."

    This is sort of long...I hope nobody minds. I just happen to really like this song.
    Tronfoon June 11, 2006   Link
  • +2
    My InterpretationI think you'll all overshooting its meaning as being deeper than it is. I love this song, but I think its more of a storytelling than a complete metaphor. I don't think it has anything to do with a love relationship in the sense others are seeing. It, to me, has to do with family relationships and the past. Obviously the snake bit and the juniper bending are metaphors, but I digress. The point is as a whole its a story of an event, and the emotions surrounding it. It definitely isn't about sex.

    Its about his girlfriend (or just friend, sister or wife or what-have you; not a crucial detail), and she lives (or is visiting maybe?) in a farm house with the mother and father. The line "Cinder and smoke, You'll ask me to pray for rain, With ash in your mouth, You'll ask it to burn again" is the most crucial verse of the song- I'll explain in a minute.

    The mother was drunk, and accidentally started a fire on a stormy night. The dog was panicked and ran through the muddy garden, accidentally bringing the laundry through it. He's calling to the girl to take his hand so they can escape (physically the burning house, metaphorically the family).

    The metaphorical aspect is the family's life in the house (and the drama with it). At first the girl says to pray for rain to help with the fire, but then after that thought realizes she doesn't care if this house and its family are saved. They want to leave the alcoholic mother and the poor farm house with all that it resembles behind. At the end the firefighters try to remove an important picture the father saved, possibly one of happier days for the family- that is what he clings to; he doesn't want to let it go. The girl wants to let it go, or at least the song is emphasizing the internal crisis of her feelings and her love for her parent, but her hatred for them at the same time.

    The sex idea seems to stem from the verse "Give me your hand and take what you will tonight, I'll give it as fast and high as the flame will rise" I can see the sex idea, but I think its more about the rage the girl feels. Its more about the singers love for the girl in that he's saying he'll do anything for her in either direction. He wants her to be happy. The singer will fully support her in wanting to take anything from her past, or to let it go in the flames. Its about love, but not really sex, as no woman would feel like having sex during an event like this.

    As a storytelling, this song has great details; enough to really help you envision the house, the chaos, and the emotion.
    Kero351on January 16, 2012   Link
  • +2
    My InterpretationAfter listening countless times to this song, I've come to realize that, to me, this song sounds as though it is sung by someone whose partner is going through depression or some other kind of turmoil in his/her life right now. Whether the singer's partner has set the fire or not, it represents some sort of low point or peak of the depression/trouble. The singer is saying "give me your hand" because he is going to do all he can to keep his partner safe. He's willing to do whatever it takes- "take what you will tonight, I'll give it as fast/ And high as the flames will rise"- in order for him to be there for his partner. The whispering snake, traditionally a symbol of the Devil, is the darkness that is still present in his/her mind, despite being guarded by a loved one. The way the house burned down affected his/her parents is similar to how a child's depression would affect them. The father's picture that he refuses to let go of is most likely a picture of his son or daughter, the singer' s partner, from a time before the depression/trouble.

    The entire song has a feeling of acceptance, of understanding that the depression is a fact right now but that the singer will help to the best of his abilities. The beautiful, mellow music is complemented nicely by the quiet crackling-fire noise in the background.

    The subject of the song could be the singer's sibling, cousin, or friend, not necessarily his lover.
    laughingandgriefon April 30, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General Commentoh. my. god.
    this is... so intense and beautiful i can't even begin to describe it. the lyrics are wonderful, but the actual music is bringing tears to my eyes.
    Barking Sparrowson September 19, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti think it has to do with loss, and then someone tries to make someone's loss better but in the end the person is just used over and over for their ability to make things better.
    tactforwiton June 09, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis songs so peaceful in a saddish way. its beautiful, and i agree about it being about loss
    molarbearon June 15, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMy God, what a fucking beautiful song. Best one that they've released by a long mile.
    -jess
    jessepenceon December 27, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is so awesome, it's so beautiful. I think it's about a family whose house is on fire, but I'm not sure and it probably goes beyond just that. I love it. This is the only song I've ever heard by Iron and Wine.
    SweetBlondieon February 14, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI like how you can hear the fire crackling in the background. I like the tone and the way it can overtake your thoguths by mere suggestion. There is a wary restraint on the words but its more than that. It's a loss but not a regret.
    CatInTheRainon February 18, 2005   Link

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