The meadowlark and the chim-choo-ree and the sparrow
Set to the sky in a flying spree,
for the sport over the pharaoh
A little while later the Pharisees dragged comb through the meadow
Do you remember what they called up to you and me, in our window?

There is a rusty light on the pines tonight
Sun pouring wine, lord, or marrow
Down into the bones of the birches
And the spires of the churches
Jutting out from the shadows
The yoke, and the axe, and the old smokestacks and the bale and the barrow
And everything sloped like it was dragged from a rope
In the mouth of the south below

We've seen those mountains kneeling, felten and grey
We thought our very hearts would up and melt away
From that snow in the night time
Just going
And going
And the stirring of wind chimes
In the morning
In the morning
Helps me find my way back in
From the place where I have been

And, Emily, I saw you last night by the river
I dreamed you were skipping little stones across the surface of the water
Frowning at the angle where they were lost, and slipped under forever,
In a mud-cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky'd been breathing on a mirror

Anyhow, I sat by your side, by the water
You taught me the names of the stars overhead that I wrote down in my ledger
Though all I knew of the rote universe were those pleiades loosed in December
I promised you I'd set them to verse so I'd always remember

That the meteorite is a source of the light
And the meteor's just what we see
And the meteoroid is a stone that's devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee

And the meteorite's just what causes the light
And the meteor's how it's perceived
And the meteoroid's a bone thrown from the void that lies quiet in offering to thee

You came and lay a cold compress upon the mess I'm in
Threw the window wide and cried, Amen! Amen! Amen!
The whole world stopped to hear you hollering
You looked down and saw now what was happening

The lines are fadin' in my kingdom
Though I have never known the way to border 'em in
So the muddy mouths of baboons and sows and the grouse and the horse and the hen
Grope at the gate of the looming lake that was once a tidy pen
And the mail is late and the great estates are not lit from within
The talk in town's becoming downright sickening

In due time we will see the far butte lit by a flare
I've seen your bravery, and I will follow you there
And row through the night time
So healthy
Gone healthy all of a sudden
In search of the midwife
Who could help me
Who could help me
Help me find my way back in
There are worries where I've been

Say, say, say in the lee of the bay, don't be bothered
Leave your troubles here where the tugboats shear the water from the water
Flanked by furrows, curling back, like a match held up to a newspaper
Emily, they'll follow your lead by the letter
And I make this claim, and I'm not ashamed to say I knew you better
What they've seen is just a beam of your sun that banishes winter

Let us go! though we know it's a hopeless endeavor
The ties that bind, they are barbed and spined and hold us close forever
Though there is nothing would help me come to grips with a sky that is gaping and yawning
There is a song I woke with on my lips as you sailed your great ship towards the morning

Come on home, the poppies are all grown knee-deep by now
Blossoms all have fallen, and the pollen ruins the plow
Peonies nod in the breeze and while they wetly bow, with
Hydrocephalitic listlessness ants mop up-a their brow

And everything with wings is restless, aimless, drunk and dour
The butterflies and birds collide at hot, ungodly hours
And my clay-colored motherlessness rangily reclines
Come on home, now! all my bones are dolorous with vines

Pa pointed out to me, for the hundredth time tonight
The way the ladle leads to a dirt-red bullet of light
Squint skyward and listen
Loving him, we move within his borders
Just asterisms in the stars' set order

We could stand for a century
With our heads cocked
In the broad daylight at this thing
In bodies that don't keep
Dumbstruck with the sweetness of being
Till we don't be
Told, take this
Eat this

Told, the meteorite is the source of the light
And the meteor's just what we see
And the meteoroid is a stone that's devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee

And the meteorite's just what causes the light
And the meteor's how it's perceived
And the meteoroid's a bone thrown from the void that lies quiet in offering to thee

Lyrics submitted by delial, edited by deadvirgo

Emily Lyrics as written by Joanna Newsom

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Emily song meanings
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  • +6
    General CommentThe song is indeed about two sisters. In an interview, Newsom said that the song is a deeply personal narrative to her sister:

    "Like every other song on this record, "Emily" is deeply biographical. The Emily in the song is my sister, who's an astrophysicist; the narrator is myself, who is not an astrophysicist. Emily is the wanderer; she lives in Argentina and sometimes New Zealand. I'm not a wanderer, which is funny because I'm on tour half the time. I'm a home, hearth and family kind of person. It's difficult for me to make too many intelligent comments about [the symbolism in this song] because the song really is a very personal reaction to real life."

    And in response to Shefik: Van Dyke Parks was only in collaboration for the production and recording, so it is unfair to call him "Joanna's producer". His task was mostly writing string parts for the orchestration, which he certainly did an excellent job of. And his role in Ys cannot be underestimated. However, the production was still mostly the work of Joanna, and the recording/mixing was headed by Jim O'Rourke, Steve Albini, and Tim Boyle (Albini recorded Joanna's vocals and harp, whereas Boyle recorded the orchestral additions. The mixing was done by O'Rourke).
    ikefoxon December 02, 2006   Link
  • +6
    General Commentshe has got meteorites and meteoroids mixed up
    Robindraon December 03, 2006   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI think valrus (who seems to be rather intelligent and insightful) hit the nail on the head with "Sometimes we forget even if we promise not to"... I believe that this idea works, and is probably the only meaning that maintains textual integrity.

    It's clearly not an unintended error, so don't let it bother you: you can tell because it's such a central part of the song that, firstly, she would have checked her definitions whilst writing; and secondly, if it were a mistake it would most likely have been picked up in the publishing process. Joanna Newsom is incredibly clever: she pays attention to detail and scrutinises her work laboriously. The simplicity of these two stanzas and the way they stand apart structurally/conceptually is also perfectly inclined towards a deliberate play with ideas: assuming that valrus' suggestion is correct, we have here an example of Joanna taking her concept, and wrapping it up neatly into a couple of lines of condensed metaphor. This is very characteristic of her poetry, and is therefore not surprising enough to be assumed a mistake.

    The idea itself also fits really well in its context, and I think is very clever, very deep, and brilliantly penned. The the speaker she is trying to hold onto her memory of her sister's closeness, but it slips away into the mists of memory and the distance caused by Joanna not having access to the depths of her sister's world. This is part of the "sky that is gaping and yawning", and echoes the ideas of loss, distance and desire that's just out of reach, which fill the entire song. This is redeemed by the fact that "the ties that bind, they are barbed and spined and hold [them] close forever", but nonetheless the intensity of the feeling is real.

    Anyway, ten gold stars for you Robindra, for picking it up! Not a great deal of the audience would, I assume... I'm pretty impressed :-)
    Anneliseon December 22, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThat's okay, she's not an astrophysicist. It wouldn't surprise me if it were intentional, following as it does the line "I promised you I'd set them to verse so I'd always remember." Sometimes we forget even if we promise not to.
    valruson December 05, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General CommentNo really, you don't need to pretend it... I'm very sure it was intentional :-)
    Anneliseon December 21, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General Commentdang, shot down by teh astrophysicists :(
    illiterature7on January 17, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIt seems odd to me how little comments this song has gotten.

    I read on a blog somewhere how the writer saw joanna at a party, and went to talk to her. All he said was "Youre joanna newsom... i love you." And then he left the party to go home.

    I didint really understand how anybody could do that at the time. After Emily though... i would have done the same thing. And give me the situation, i will do the same thing.
    butters227on October 03, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI made an account on SongMeanings with the singular purpose of saying that I have adored Joanna Newsom for a long time now, but she somehow has outdone herself. This is the sophomore trump that every songwriter wishes they could be so bold and so thoughtful to execute.

    Would that I could write a song with as much beauty and as beautifully nuanced imagery as Joanna Newsom's "Emily". The meteor chorus just kind of rips me apart a little bit. Thank you, Ms. Newsom, and I hope you'll be accepting my forthcoming marriage proposal.
    Shefikon October 04, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Commentikefox - thanks so much for making reference to that interview! I read it and am very glad.

    If people are interested, it can be found here:…
    Anneliseon December 08, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Commentshe definatly gets them wrong, meteorites are what theyre called once on earth and therefore 'devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee' or a 'bone thrown from the void' i.e. come from space, a meteroid is what travels through space and 'is the cause of the light' when they burn up in the atmospheres causing meteors wich she correctly says is what we percieve, shooting stars. Just seems weird she says she would set it in verse to her sister so she would remember and then get it wrong although it does suggest that she often got it wrong. Dunno it bothers me.
    Robindraon December 21, 2006   Link

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