"Oliver James" as written by and Robin Pecknold....
On the way to your brother's house in the valley, dear,
By the river bridge a cradle floating beside me.
In the whitest water on the banks against the stone
You will lift his body from the shore and bring him home

Oliver James washed in the rain no longer
Oliver James washed in the rain no longer

On the kitchen table that your grandfather did make
You and your delicate way will slowly clean his fate
And you will remember when you rehearsed the actions of
A innocent and anxious mother full of anxious love


Walk with me down the beach and through the valley floor
Love for the one you know more
Love for the one you know more

Back we go to your brother's house emptier my dear
The sound of ancient voices ringing soft upon your ear


Lyrics submitted by chickenflicker, edited by tobiasiv, dianaodd, Eebster, caleb10897

"Oliver James" as written by Robin Pecknold

Lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

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Oliver James song meanings
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  • +2
    General Commentthis song is about a couple who have never had a baby before who find a baby in the river. the husband is watching the wife while she cleans the babies face so beautifully. then they go for a walk on the beach to find peace about the situation. they go back to her brothers house emptier (without their worries) and feeling calmer.

    oliver james is the name of the baby.
    guest33on December 09, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWell, if Ruby Beach is in Washington, it would fit. These guys are from Seattle, right?

    I think this song changed my life, it's so, so, so good.
    Spongetasticon July 09, 2008   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationThis song is clearly about two lovers who come upon a drowning child and save it: "Oliver James washed in the rain no longer." One of the lovers in their "delicate way will slowly clean his face," acting like an "innocent and anxious mother, full of anxious love." This lover takes the maternal role in the young child, Oliver James', life. Jealous of the attention newly found child, Oliver James, is getting; the other lover begs his or her lover to walk them "down Ruby beach and through the valley floor," and to "the one you know more." The song concludes with the couple heading forward "emptier my dear," and the maternal lover hearing "the sound of ancient voices ringing soft upon your ear." Perhaps feeling a bit of regret/guilt/fear? I think so.

    I think this song is really beautiful and I listen to it a lot. I think it's probably an analogy for something that's really open to the listener's interpretation and what perspective they take on the song. It's a really direct yet versatile, as far as the mood it can provoke is concerned.

    lazyactivist124on August 09, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"On the way to your brother's house in the valley, dear,"

    Song's protagonist & a woman (his wife or lover we assume b/c of later lines about motherhood) walk to her brother's house. They find a cradle in the river, the child inside is dead (larger context of the song suggests the child is dead).

    The woman takes the child home, the song's protagonist looks on as she washes him.

    "you will remember when you rehearse the actions of
    An innocent and anxious mother full of anxious love"

    Possible that the woman has lost a baby in the past (i.e. miscarriage or ), there are quite a few allusions to loss and the past throughout the song, and the woman is not merely carrying out the action of bathing the child, she's 'rehearsing', another indication the child is dead, and her act of lovingly bathing the child alludes to i) that the child was once alive, ii) that the woman is performing the role of mother, acting out the part, there's a sense of a double reality, that the child is dead yet her actions are as if it were alive, and the double reality of her having once cared for a child in the past. She 'remembers' these actions from the past, and an innocence from the past (her first child--also the innocence of Oliver James, the baby that has died)

    That the baby, Oliver James, was washed in the rain, and found in a cradle in the river, seems to suggest he didn't fall into the river, he was sent floating down the river. The contrast between neglect that led to the death of the child, left to the elements, is symbolized by the rain washing him, VS the maternal care of this woman, who washes him by hand, as love, as a mother.

    "Walk with me down Ruby beach and through the valley floor
    Love for the one you know more"

    I'm confused by this line 'love for the one you know more', it sounds almost like the writer wanted the pun / double meaning in the limited syllables of: 'love for the one you know NO more", i.e., love for someone who has died.

    "Back we go to your brother's house emptier my dear
    The sound of ancient voices ringing soft upon your ear"

    Again, sense of the past, loss, death, and 'ancient voices' suggest people who have died, perhaps children who have died. The subject of the song is unusual in talking about discovering a dead baby, but the larger idea of an infant's death and a mother's mourning, are captured in these lines, that evokes a sense of history, human history stretching back and the many, many infants that have died while still babies. Very tragic song, but it's a human reality that's always been with us.

    "Oliver James washed in the rain no longer
    Oliver James washed in the rain no longer"

    Essentially the struggle to deal with the death of infants, who symbolise life & care of baby, a role which has long defined womanhood. So a song from a man's perspective about a woman with a kind of 'surplus' of mother's love, she cares lovingly for a dead child who died from neglect.
    dianaoddon July 02, 2013   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationAt this time, my interpretation of the song lyrics of Oliver James is that my family will find our missing black and white boxer dog whom I lost on a noon hike on New Year's Eve in Nashville TN. I was babysitting Oliver James for my son, Hayes who was on vacation in Florida with his girlfriend and friends.

    Oliver bolted after a squirrel in west Nashville, near Hillsboro Village and we've been searching for him in the rain, sleet, snow and sunshine.

    Our Oliver James was named after this song by Fleet Foxes. This was his lullaby song at my house (his grandmother here - Bree) as he would go to sleep without his Dad (my son, Oliver's owner/master). This song gives me hope that we will #FindOliverJames . (even though it has been almost two months since he went missing...the fireworks on the river on new year's eve night sent over 100 dogs missing to add chaos to more chaos). Everyone is on the lookout...so I know we will find him.... helpinglostpets.com/petdetail/…
    or facebook.com/FindOliverJames/ for sharing with others on FB.
    Thank you, Bree Buchanan (aka Deb Buchanan)
    Bajinganlangiton February 20, 2016   Link
  • 0
    General Commentyou in your delicate way will slowly clean his face
    walk with me down through the beach(maybe)
    emptier my dear

    good job otherwise

    i really dont know that mine are right but you didnt have a guess and they sound right to me
    tumultbeingon April 06, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment... walk with me down Ruby beach?
    It's a famous remote coastal beach in Washington state.
    Sad song and hauntingly beautiful. At first I thought it was just about disappointment, but it's clearly about a drowning, having peered into the lyrics.
    Great band!
    gadzooxon April 20, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHaha, two posts on one song.

    The Guardian said this song's about a child drowning. I guess it's make sense.
    Spongetasticon August 06, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song has made me cry.
    mithgilon February 09, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's definitely "clean his face," not his faith.

    And this song does seem to be about a child drowning. When, looked at with that interpretation it's pretty sad and dark. I think he's the father trying to console the mother in the "Walk with me..." part saying, "love for the one you know more." Maybe a strange way of saying, "At least we still have each other," and she knows him more. But, they are still "emptier."
    ToWhateverEndon February 17, 2009   Link

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