Allelu, allelu:
I have died happy,
and lived to tell the tale to you.
I have slept for forty years,
and woke to find me gone.
I woke safe and warm in your arms.

Not informed of the natural law,
squatting, lordly, on a stool, in a stall,
we spun gold clear out of straw.
And, when our bales of bullion
were stored,
you burned me like a barn.
I burned safe and warm in your arms.

I'm afraid of the Big Return.
There's a certain conversation lost,
and that loss incurred
with nobody remaining,
to register who had passed this way,
in the night,
in the middle of the night
(negating their grace and their sight),
till only I remember, or mark,
how we had our talk:

We took our ride,
so that there was no-one home,
and the lights of Rome
flickered and died.
And, what's more,
I believe that you knew it, too;
I think you saw their flares,
and kept me safely unawares,
in your arms.

The grass was tall, and strung with burrs,
I essayed that high sashay which,
in my mind, was my way;
you hung behind, in yours.
Anyhow, she did not neigh.
I do not know
what drew our eyes to hers;
that little black mare did not stir,
till I lay down in your arms.

Poor old dirty little dog-size horse!--
swaying and wheezing,
as a matter of course;
swaying and wheezing,
as a matter of pride.
That poor old nag, not four palms wide,
had waited a long time,
coated in salt,
buckled like a ship run foul of the fence.
In the middle of the night,
she'd sprung up,
no provenance,
bearing the whites of her eyes.

And you, with your
'arrangement' with Fate,
nodded sadly at her lame assault
on that steady old gate,
her faultlessly etiolated fishbelly-face;
the muzzle of a ghost.

And, pretty Johnny Appleseed,
via satellite feed,
tell us, who was it
that you then loved the most?
Pretty Johnny Appleseed,
leave a trail that leads
straight back down to the farm.
Lay me down
safe and warm in your arms.

Lyrics submitted by animalcollector

No Provenance song meanings
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  • +3
    My InterpretationThis song is both really cryptic and seems to be receiving the least amount of attention and love out of all of Have One On Me.

    There are whole stanzas that I just don't get, but I believe the general theme can be made clear.

    I believe the narrator (Joanna, I suppose) is in a sort of relationship where she is protected and shielded and sort of hidden from the world. She yearns for the safety and the warmth of his arms, but it's not as good as she'd like to believe, because even though, "the grass was tall," it was, "strung with burrs."

    There are three scenes that I've unwound. The first refers to the couple spinning straw into gold. I take this to mean that the two of them (or perhaps only the narrator) believed that they, together, could make the impossible happen. And it seems they did. But when the gold was shaped back into bales (maybe not gold after all?) the narrator is "burned" by the other. Yet she revels in it. (Note that someone is also "burned" in Does Not Suffice.)

    Later, a whole civilization is left alone because the two go off together, until it dissolves. This recalls this quote from the Arthur interview Joanna did: "In some ways [Emily] is a tribute to her, and in other ways it was like a plea, a letter to her about some stuff that’s happening close to home, and a reference to the fact that a lot of the little structures and kingdoms and plans we built when we were younger are just falling to fucking pieces.” In the song, even though people are calling for help with flares, the narrator doesn't even see them, because she is hidden and protected by his arms.

    The horse scene is the most sprawling, most beautiful, and the most important. I believe that the horse is meant to represent a part of the narrator. This part is stubborn and feisty and doesn't like being locked away -- like the narrator currently is. But this part of her has been so strongly repressed that it takes the form of a pathetic horse. It is small, sickly and pale, but it still tries as hard as it can to escape. The gate holds fast. Neither the narrator nor her partner seem to feel a whole lot of a sympathy for this struggling animal. He seems to accept it, while she launches into a question (knowing the answer) of what part of her he loves more? She follows with that answer, and asks to be led -- because she certainly couldn't find her own way -- back to the farm so she can resume the safety of his arms.

    This song reminds me of the theme in Easy. In Easy the narrator is trying so hard to convince herself and her man of something that is merely not true, ignoring all the signs. Again, she's entirely ignoring a part of herself that is warning her, bucking and rearing against the entrapments. She knows, in a way, that's she cannot sustain life this way, the horse will soon die, and a whole part of her will be missing, but she pushes that thought aside, unwilling, and sinks back into him, in this man that has had her so enamored she can't seem to make herself leave.
    littlelifegiveron March 07, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI am still working on some of the references but I think none of you have picked up on this being about Jesus, two of his disciples, and the donkey on which he rode into Jerusalem. It seems to me that the perspective changes at different points in the song. She takes liberty in elaborating on a rather brief story in the Bible.
    kmdanaon May 06, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentLots of interesting allusions here, but I'm still trying to put the pieces together. Spinning straw into gold is a feature of the folk tale of Rumpelstiltskin, but I see few other parallels between that story and this song. The mentions of the horse seem tied to You and Me, Bess, though when I read about Johnny Appleseed in wikipedia, there are mentions of his kindness to horses and his life-long bachelorhood.

    I love the oboe and bassoon here and how her voice twists on the line "your 'arrangement' with Fate." And you have to admire the audacity of a songwriter who writes the line "her faultlessly etiolated fishbelly-face" -- "etiolated" = pale from lack of light.
    rickterpon March 06, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Commentlittlelifegiver definitely has some good points here.

    I find it interesting that several songs on the first disc refer to being held (Easy, HOOM, Good Intentions Paving Co., and this one), and this one keeps returning to the line "in your arms" as a touchstone. In the narrative arc of HOOM, this feels like the final moment when she seems to be able to convince herself that this relationship can endure, even though there a tons of warning signs.

    Any ideas on what the Big Return is? I wonder it's the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about because havoc will ensue, but the elephant is still there. This reminds me of the line "we're blessed and sustained by what is not said" in Easy.
    rickterpon March 07, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMy thought for the "big return" is that it might be referring to Nietzsche
    Mr. Fahrenheiton October 22, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General Commentonce again, this is part of my play-by-play interpretation of every song as one complete story. i don't think it's fair to assume that the narrator is joanna herself, as she's a gifted storyteller and storytellers usually make up characters. i believe that this is completely fictional, but of course peppered with inspiration joanna has drawn from her own life. this is only my interpretation-- i'm not saying that i'm "right," by any means. i've joined the forum specifically to do this, so i'd greatly appreciate any input as this is the first album for which i have provided commentary.

    in the previous song, "good intentions paving company," the narrator tells of taking a trip to her hometown with her lover. the mere idea of the trip was enough to make her want to shout out for him to stop and turn around. however, she knew it was important for their relationship. the song ended with the lines "...when i only want for you to pull over and hold me 'til i can't remember my own name." i feel that this is an important lead-in to "no provenance," as the main idea of the song is the narrator's wanting to feel "safe and warm" while held in her lover's arms.

    it is clear by now that our narrator tends toward dream-like descriptions. later, in "go long", she says "last night, AGAIN, you were in my dreams." i place emphasis on "again" because perhaps all these hard-to-make-sense-of verses are really descriptions of her vivid and strange dreams about the man.

    in keeping with my interpretation, it makes perfect sense that this song would be about a sequence of dreams the narrator has had about her lover. no matter what strange situation they find themselves in, she feels safe in his arms and longs to remain there.
    ericaruthon September 20, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think that the song is about the narrator(who is not necessarily Joanna Newsom) being shielded from the outside world( which would explain why the lyric "in your arms" is repeated so many times).
    The song starts out with "I have died happy and lived to tell the tail to you" which could mean I lived a good life (by being protected from danger) and am ready to share it (the "tail" is the song).
    They(the narrator and someone else, possibly the one who is protecting her) start out by "spinning gold clear out of straw" which I'm not quite sure the meaning for is. Then it says "and when our bales of bullion were stored you burned me like a barn, I burned safe and warm in your arms" like I said, the line "in your arms" could be him protecting her. Later on she mentions the "Big return". This could be wrong but I've always thought of this as being her returning to the outside world without anyone to help or protect her when she is faced with danger. This would make sense because it says she is afraid of it. Next it says "there is a certain conversation lost, and that loss has incurred" this "conversation" could be
    Him telling her that it's time for her to be on her own. She ignores it and it becomes lost but as it is brought up again she has trouble pushing it away. As for the horse I think that instead of it being an "actual horse" I think it was meant to be a part of her that she had forgotten about. "Poor old dirty little dog sized horse" this could mean that since this part of her was forgotten for so long that it had started to become weak and fade away. Although at one point I think she has suddenly remembered the part of her and doesn't know why. "Anyhow she did not neigh, I do not know what drew our eyes to hers" the "horse" did not "neigh" meaning that she did not express this side of herself and is confused about why she's thinking about it. I'm not sure about the rest of the song but that's my interpretation for the first part. Hope it made some sense.
    Tacconeon May 31, 2013   Link

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