When I was a child I heard voices,
Some would sing and some would scream,
You soon find you have few choices,
I learned the voices died with me.

When I was a child I'd sit for hours,
Staring into open flame,
Something in it had a power,
Could barely tear my eyes away.

All you have is your fire,
And the place you need to reach,
Don't you ever tame your demons,
But always keep them on a leash.

When I was sixteen my senses fooled me,
Thought gasoline was on my clothes,
I knew that something would always rule me,
I knew the scent was mine alone.

All you have is your fire,
And the place you need to reach,
Don't you ever tame your demons,
But always keep them on a leash.

When I was a man I thought it ended
When I knew love's perfect ache,
But my peace has always depended
On all the ashes in my wake.


Lyrics submitted by basser, edited by teaspill

Arsonist's Lullaby song meanings
Add Your Thoughts

14 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +11
    Song Meaning

    I think this song is about battling but also embracing personal demons. It's about taking those terrible things that may have happened and creating strength.

    When I was a child I heard voices, Some would sing and some would scream, You soon find you have few choices, I learned the voices died with me. -- I think this part indicated that something tragic may have happened when this person was a child. This event was impactful. He indicated that some things were good "singing" , and some were not "screaming", inthis event or series of events. We could be hearing the description of an abused child. He has no escape, no choices, as he is just a child. The abuse goes on long enough to "kill" his soul and the voices "die" because good or bad no longer make a difference.

    When I was a child I'd sit for hours, Staring into open flame, Something in it had a power, Could barely tear my eyes away. -- I believe the flame represents what was tragic. He is trapped experience the impactful event. It is apart of his life. Something he has to deal with all the time. Again if we look at the flame as abuse, it is something that he sees all the time, something powerful in it. However, it could be anything negatively eventful.

    When I was sixteen my senses fooled me, Thought gasoline was on my clothes, I knew that something would always rule me, I knew the scent was mine alone. -- Teenage years are often a time when people have an emerging sense of who they are and who they may be. I think that he is saying that at 16 he felt as if he may be allowing his fire to spread out of control due to his own actions (gasoline). However, he realizes that it is something that will always be apart of him, something that would dictate certain decisions and courses of actions. It wasn't that he was actually creating "fire", he was just recognizing what was inside of him.

    All you have is your fire, And the place you need to reach, Don't you ever tame your demons, But always keep them on a leash. -- I think the use of fire here is very meaningful. As I stated above, I think the flame was the impactful event. Since it was impactful, it is not hard to believe that it left residual damage to him. He has a bit of that flame in him, as flames and fire can spread. However, he is using what happened to him, his fire to push him forward. It is referring to the fact that things happen to everyone and those things change us, inspire us, etc. and we should use it to move forward and be where we need to be. We should never get rid of what can drive us, even if it stems from something bad, Just contain it don't allow it to control us (ie-keep it on a leash)

    When I was a man I thought it ended When I knew love's perfect ache, But my peace has always depended On all the ashes in my wake. -- I think as he becomes an adult it is easier for him to come to terms with what happened to him. He is in control of this demons, or he thinks he is. However, since he is using that "fire" as a drive forward it is inevitable that there are going to be times when he is not in compete control of it. His peace is depends on how he controls that fire. If this is a story of an abused child, love(a wife) could be wonderful and fulfilling for him. However, he knows that the fire is still inside if him, and his peach is dictated by his control of that..

    Orion510on January 19, 2015   Link
  • +8
    My Interpretation

    He's referencing Plato again.

    First some background, so I can talk about it more easily:

    Socrates was kind of a problem. Prior to his lifetime, Greek life was relatively straightforward. Gods told you what was right and wrong in an unabashedly arbitrary manner. In obeying one, you were almost certain to piss off another, and it would probably bite you at some point. But that was how things worked: You picked your allegiance and listened to one of many conflicting branches of morality that were determined by various gods in the sky (or people who spoke for them). That was virtue.

    Kinda like with modern religions, or any system presented to govern human behavior, like laws.

    Socrates came in and started asking questions, encouraging people to think about their points of view and form their own moral conscience, divorced from the arbitrariness of the prior system. He corrupted the youth by encouraging them to think and make up their own minds about the nature of right and wrong, rather than blindly following any of the accepted, previously extant paths.

    So they killed him, quite logically, for blasphemy.

    Plato wrote about Socrates' defense against these charges in The Apology. Within it, you can find him speaking of his daemon:

    "I have a divine or spiritual sign which Meletus has ridiculed in his deposition. This began when I was a child. It is a voice, and whenever it speaks it turns me away from something I am about to do, but it never encourages me to do anything." (31d)

    And later:

    "At all previous times my familiar prophetic power, my spiritual manifestation, frequently opposed me, even in small matters, when I was about to do something wrong" (40a)

    And again:

    "it is impossible that my familiar sign did not oppose me if I was not about to do what was right." (40c)

    Calling it a conscience is, in my opinion, modernizing the concept too much, but it is essentially an internal, inborn voice that allows someone to perform behaviors that are just, right, and beneficial, by dissuading destructive or even incidentally harmful actions.

    In light of all of that, I think this song is being written from a literal arsonist's perspective.

    The first verse very clearly references a Socratic daemon. A voice that sang of good things and works, and screamed at bad ones, but still allowed the child to choose to do whatever he liked. It was just a warning. Unlike for Socrates, that voice died for the speaker. Without the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, he could not genuinely choose to perform either right or wrong actions. (It's demonstrably absurd to imagine that a man can choose to Do Good when he has no way of seeing what Good is.) He was, instead, compelled by whatever moved him most.

    The second verse introduces what moved him most: Fire. This could've been anything, but I find the choice especially interesting given that fire is the fundamental foundation of society (just like Socrates is the foundation of Western philosophy and even, to a large degree, religion). Human beings have always gathered around it, watched it burn, exchanged stories next to it. And that's not even mentioning the practical benefits of facilitating warmth, light, and cooked food. It's actually a sensible choice of worship, a decent barometer for right and wrong, in spite of its ability to destroy.

    The third verse is interesting, and harder in a lot of ways. Gasoline, obviously, accelerates a fire, and an arsonist would use it to light other things on fire. In this case, he mistakenly thinks the gasoline is on him. This could be implying two different things: First, that he fears he's going to light himself on fire, destroy himself. Second, that he mistakenly think others would be able to smell the gasoline and discover he's a criminal. Maybe both are intended. In either case, "something would always rule" the arsonist -- even if he destroys himself, he cannot stop. Even if others detect his illegal and destructive acts, he cannot stop. And at least as a sixteen-year-old, he hasn't actually gotten gasoline on him, so he does not yet have to worry about those consequences.

    In the fourth verse he finds something that he thinks will transfix him more than fire, and get him to stop lighting them, but the shift from fire to romance was not accomplished successfully. He couldn't feel peace without burning things down, so he burnt the romance away as well.

    The chorus can be read however one likes, really. The arsonist has accepted his fire, both its beauty and its destruction. He knows it's all that he has, because nothing else to guide him has felt true since he lost his daemon. Now he only has a demon, a criminal compulsion. And because he can't and won't leave it, he seeks only to minimize the destruction it causes.

    Relating a criminal, an arsonist, to Socrates, also a criminal, and poking at what it means to know goodness and be good is absolutely brilliant. This song really pointedly questions whether law and religion have any value, or whether we should instead be motivated by what genuinely moves us. It asks whether a man should be blamed for doing things generally considered evil, partially by appealing to the frequency with which institutionalized thought makes errors in its own determinations of what it means to be good or evil.

    And then there's the title: Arsonist's Lullaby. Why is it a lullaby? Because it's how the arsonist gets himself to sleep at night. It's the perspective that excuses behavior that destroys not only the world around him, but himself. The lyric justifies destructive behavior, the title calls out the lies.

    How is this guy on the radio?

    teaspillon February 13, 2015   Link
  • +3
    Song Meaning

    I've listened to this song countless times and what I've come up with is that the fire is a dream. A dream that people dream as kids and as they grow older forget about or realize that it is unrealistic.

    When I was a child I'd sit for hours Staring into open flames

    As a child you have no thought boundaries that prevent your dream from evolving.

    Don't you ever tame your demons But always keep em on a leash

    Never lay your dreams to rest but keep them from becoming unobtainable.

    Emilygalvon January 04, 2015   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    I’m going out on a limb here, but I think this song is a fabulous example of allegory. Hozier describes the arsonist and generalizes about such addictions to violence or destruction. He characterizes the things that we are drawn to do, such as arson, or our tendencies toward destruction as “your fire.” He says that this is your demon. And the place you have to reach is the only one that will satisfy you. So he urges us to get there by keeping our demons on a leash. I’m dumbfounded that anyone would miss that.

    Kanchanon April 24, 2023   Link
  • +1
    Song Meaning

    For me this song has a religious meaning. As a child he was torn between good and bad because he was spoken to by angels and demons 'Some would sing and some would scream'. Feel that the fire refers to your free will 'All you have is your fire' and that the 'place you need to reach' is heaven; and to get to heaven you must refuse temptation from the devil 'Don't you ever tame your demons, But always keep them on a leash.' 'When I was a child I'd sit for hours, Staring into open flame, Something in it had a power, Could barely tear my eyes away.' This verse refers to the temptation of the devil being hard to resist. 'When I was sixteen my senses fooled me, Thought gasoline was on my clothes, I knew that something would always rule me, I knew the scent was mine alone.' This verse says that he gave into temptation and did something bad and that the thing he did will stay with him just like the smell of gasoline which is hard to get rid of. 'When I was a man I thought it ended When I knew love's perfect ache, But my peace has always depended On all the ashes in my wake.' When he was grown up he thought he was past it and he found the love of The Lord 'when I knew loves perfect ache' but he can never truly move on and is worried that no matter what he does from there he will go to hell anyway because of what he's done in the past 'But my peace has always depended, On all the ashes in my wake.' He can never be at peace because he will never forget what be did. I think this is a really powerful song about the choice between good and evil.

    MrHal2116on March 20, 2015   Link
  • +1
    Song Meaning

    I think the song is talking to someone. When he says "Don't you ever tame your demons but keep 'em on a leash" I think he means that you shouldn't try to hold yourself to a standard that virtually impossible of doing everything perfect, but "keep 'em on a leash", meaning don't let them run free and cause you to do horrible stuff.

    "You soon find you have few choices"- meaning that you soon in life realize that there's good and bad.

    "I learned the voices died with me"- Your thoughts never can leave you.

    "When I was a child, I'd sit for hours, Staring into open flame" - He'd debate with himself what path or life he wanted to take and who he wanted to be.

    "Something in it had a power, Could barely tear my eyes away" - He always wanted to do what was right, and the sight of doing something "right" always lingered in his mind (cause his voice always stayed with him), causing him to always questions himself as to if he was doing things right.

    "All you have is your fire, And the place you need to reach" - All he has is himself, his thoughts, and his dreams/goals.

    "When I was 16, my senses fooled me, Thought gasoline was on my clothes" - He thought he was doing something terribly wrong.

    "I knew that something would always rule me, I knew the scent was mine alone" - And through that depression overruled him, but deep down he knew it was all himself and "voices" making him unhappy.

    "When I was a man I thought it ended, When I knew love's perfect ache" - When he was older he thought his depression was over, that he'd moved on and was doing things right. But he knew deep down he was still aching because he felt like he was doing something wrong, causing people not to like or love him as much and that he deserved it because of his actions.

    "But my peace has always depended, On all the ashes in my wake" - Yet through all of this he knew that being happy depended on if he was doing everything right through others eyes

    All in all I believe the song means, don't let your aspiration of being perfect or having everything perfect get the best of you, cause you'll never enjoy life, but don't care to little about aspiration or everyday things because then you're just not making the best of your life; you need a balance the way you look at things.

    This is just my interpretation so please no hate!

    Muncaon March 23, 2016   Link
  • +1
    My Interpretation

    When I was a child I heard voices, Some would sing and some would scream, You soon find you have few choices, I learned the voices died with me. -when we are little there are somethings we love(some would sing) and some things we hate or we are afraid of(some would scream). Soon we find out there are very few things that we really like(few choices) only things we would like to go after. But both the voices I.e. both the kind of things are ours they define us. They die and live with us.

    When I was a child, I'd sit for hours Staring into open flame Something in it had a power Could barely tear my eyes away -- As children we constantly think about our dreams. They had a unique power we couldn't stop dreaming.

    All you have is your fire And the place you need to reach Don't you ever tame your demons But always keep 'em on a leash -- All you have are your desires your dreams and your destination or the destiny that you choose for yourself. You have your fears and weaknesses(demons). You should accept your weaknesses it will only make you stronger. Your fears, you should never forget for they will always keep you alert and help you make the right choices. Your demons and your dreams both are your own they both guide you to your destiny to what you want.

    When I was 16, my senses fooled me Thought gasoline was on my clothes I knew that something would always rule me I knew the scent was mine alone -- At 16 many of us think that there is something wrong with us. We don't like the way we are(thought gasoline was on my clothes). But then we realize that this who we are that this scent belongs to us. This only males us stronger pushes us in the right direction.

    When I was a man I thought it ended When I knew love's perfect ache But my peace has always depended On all the ashes in my wake -- When you grow up there are things maybe love maybe other things that distract you from your dreams and make you feel satisfied and good for a brief amount of time. But as soon as the effect fades away you realize that the only peace you will ever find is by chasing your dreams your passion all you have is your fire and the place you need to reach :-)

    This song is about accepting your strengths and weaknesses accepting who you are making peace with it and going after what you want going after what you desire. Beautiful song.

    arguan992on October 22, 2016   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    It's a song about destruction for sure, but I think it's up for interpretation if it's self-destruction or destruction of people around him.

    I knew that something would always ruin me I knew the scent was mine alone

    He feels guilty about the bad things he's done, likely in anger.

    When I was a man I thought it ended When I knew love's perfect ache But my peace has always depended On all the ashes in my wake

    He found love and then he ruined it because he could never feel peace when he was happy. It's the classic self-destructive relationship scenario where someone feels like they don't deserve the happiness.

    tobiinon December 25, 2014   Link
  • 0
    Song Meaning

    All about "DESIRE" the lyrics was Don't you ever tame your demons But (it should be "OR") always keep 'em on a leash Don't you ever tame your demons OR always keep 'em on a leash. that is why there is "BURNING DESIRE." WE SHOULD CONTROL IT

    lester1020on April 20, 2016   Link
  • 0
    Song Meaning

    The song means so much to me because it Almost hits home to me and my life.

    Orion510on says alot of close to home thoughts.

    Madman1on August 07, 2023   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

More Featured Meanings

Album art
Standing On The Edge Of Summer
Thursday
In regards to the meaning of this song: Before a live performance on the EP Five Stories Falling, Geoff states “It’s about the last time I went to visit my grandmother in Columbus, and I saw that she was dying and it was the last time I was going to see her. It is about realizing how young you are, but how quickly you can go.” That’s the thing about Geoff and his sublime poetry, you think it’s about one thing, but really it’s about something entirely different. But the lyrics are still universal and omnipresent, ubiquitous, even. So relatable. That’s one thing I love about this band. I also love their live performances, raw energy and Geoff’s beautiful, imperfectly perfect vocals. His voice soothes my aching soul.
Album art
Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Led Zeppelin
This is about bronies. They communicate by stomping.
Album art
Gentle Hour
Yo La Tengo
This song was originally written by a guy called Peter Gutteridge. He was one of the founders of the "Dunedin Sound" a musical scene in the south of New Zealand in the early 80s. From there it was covered by "The Clean" one of the early bands of that scene (he had originally been a member of in it's early days, writing a couple of their best early songs). The Dunedin sound, and the Clean became popular on american college radio in the mid to late 80s. I guess Yo La Tengo heard that version. Great version of a great song,
Album art
Just A Little Lovin'
Dusty Springfield
I don't think it's necessarily about sex. It's about wanting to start the day with some love and affection. Maybe a warm cuddle. I'm not alone in interpreting it that way! For example: "'Just a Little Lovin’ is a timeless country song originally recorded by Eddy Arnold in 1954. The song, written by Eddie Miller and Jimmy Campbell, explores the delicate nuances of love and showcases Arnold’s emotive vocals. It delves into the universal theme of love and how even the smallest gesture of affection can have a profound impact on our lives." https://oldtimemusic.com/the-meaning-behind-the-song-just-a-little-lovin-by-eddy-arnold/
Album art
Punchline
Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran sings about missing his former partner and learning important life lessons in the process on “Punchline.” This track tells a story of battling to get rid of emotions for a former lover, whom he now realized might not have loved him the same way. He’s now caught between accepting that fact and learning life lessons from it and going back to beg her for another chance.