Gather jewels from graveyards, when I get home bury them again
Wonder if you'll ever get the chance to ask me why I turned you in
I saved my own skin but I live to fight, I live to fight another day
Still remember how brave you were when they came to take you away

And I feel guilty but I can't feel ashamed
Prowl through empty fields, great Cain

Thought I'd seen the ghost up on the boulevard, between the broken bits
It's hard to tell gifts of the spirit from clever counterfeits.
Sleepwalk through my days and mark the hours until these dark times fade
Like a caterpillar crawling out along the surface of the blade

And I feel guilty but I can't feel ashamed
Prowl through empty fields, great Cain

Rummage through the gutted storehouse now
And lick the sweat from my brow
Saw the trucks roll out this morning, not sure when they're coming back again
Feel the prickings of my conscience in my chest ever now and then

Sometimes a great wave of forgetfulness rises up and blesses me
And other times the sickness howls and I despair of any remedy

And I feel guilty but I can't feel ashamed
Prowl through empty fields, great Cain

Lyrics submitted by mossushi

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Prowl Great Cain song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentOkay, Cambodia in 1979 was seeing the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the brutal regime of the infamous Pol Pot. This would suggest something much more serious happening with the "you" in this song, perhaps even a Pol Pot supporting communist being turned in to the Vietnamese by another communist, which would give weight to the notion of living to fight another day.

    In this context, marking the hours until these dark times fade could mean seeing out the immediate routing of the Khmer Rouge or dealing with the small fighting kept up by the remains of the Khmer Rouge for many years after the immediate deposition. I lean towards the immediate aftermath option because the imagery of gutted warehouses and trucks rolling out for indeterminate amounts of time suggests a total lack of current stability.

    The jewels from a graveyard could be a reference to the many giant graveyards caused by the Khmer Rouge regime and the desperation of the times.

    And finally, I think Great Cain is meant to be the idea of the beast of shame finding no prey in the field of the narrator's heart.
    SilentCaimon August 03, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"Like a caterpillar crawling out along the surface of the blade" is a reference to a line from Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now: "I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream; that's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor... and surviving."
    alia612on September 19, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"The evil one is always alone", right?

    He might have won again, he might have gotten away with it; he always does. But he's lost another friend, and now there aren't any left. Guilty but never ashamed, always on the move, and there is no rest for the wicked.
    infinityontrialon April 01, 2011   Link
  • 0
    Song MeaningDuring a recent live show, a girl in the audience yelled out "My boyfriend loves you!", to which John replied somewhere along the lines of: "Well, I love him back! Does he still remember that time in Cambodia when I sold him out to the enemy to save my own skin? I still feel bad about that." Then he launched into this song.

    Obviously a song about betrayal and guilt, it's just the Cambodia comment adds more context for me.
    avoidperilon May 28, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIn Houston a couple of weeks ago, JD opened the song with:
    "Like so many good songs, this takes place in Cambodia in 1979."
    I have no idea what (if anything) that means in relation to the song itself but it's kind of funny.
    cellopantson February 01, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIf not for JDs concert song intros, there would be nothing here at all to connect this song to Cambodia. Which is why I'm grateful for those who post them, and why reading Mountain Goats pages is slightly less of a waste of time then reading other pages where the meaning is all there in the lyrics - however open to interpreatation they may be.
    nathan1149on May 15, 2018   Link
  • -1
    General Commentone of my favorite songs from the new album!

    the singer turns in someone he claimed to love, maybe does love, for a crime they committed together. And he gets off free. And now hes alone again. "Prowl through empty fields great cain"
    fallsaddleson April 03, 2011   Link

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