Lyric of the Day: Rise To Me

Well, for the third Lyric of the Day installment in a row, the theme that grabbed me is Love.

The source of today’s lyric, Rise To Me, from The Decemberists‘ most recent album, The King Is Dead, is just about the most beautiful song I’ve heard in a long, long time. From a musical perspective alone, the song has a lovely, simple chord progression and verse-chorus-verse-chorus-etc. composition; and the arrangement, rooted in acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica, Chris Funk‘s gorgeous, pining pedal steel guitar, and Gillian Welch‘s perfectly placed harmony vocals, provides a lush canvass for Colin Meloy‘s characteristically poetic lyrics.

So, let’s dig into those lyrics and see what’s going on here. I think you’ll agree that Rise To Me is a very powerful expression of love.

Big mountain, wide river
There’s an ancient pull
These tree trunks, these stream beds
Leave our bellies full

In this first verse, Meloy sets up an image of a maternal natural world that lovingly sustains us. And while the mountain is big and the river wide, the first chorus that follows speaks of challenges and threats.

They sing out:
I am gonna stand my ground
You rise to me and I’ll blow you down
I am gonna stand my ground
You rise to me and I’ll blow you down

The photo I’ve included above seemed to capture something of nature’s stubborn determination to stand fast in the face of challenges. While the tree may have been shaped by the wind and receding glaciers may have moved those boulders around tens of thousands of years ago, the boulders now seem unmovable, the tree still stands, green with life, and the green grass, too, seems to have decided that it will stick around as well.

With this image of steadfastness established, Meloy turns to the subject of his son Henry, who has high-functioning autism.

Hey Henry can you hear me?
Let me see those eyes
This distance between us
Can seem a mountain size

As a father of a son myself, this is the part of the song that first caught my attention. There may be nothing more painful, emotionally, than to witness your child suffer, and so it’s only natural that a parent, out of pure, primal love, might desire that their child learn from the example set by the unyielding force of nature in the first verse, so that he may be as prepared as possible for the many challenges that life will bring.

But boy:
You are gonna stand your ground
They rise to you, you blow them down
Let me see you stand your ground
If they rise to you, you blow them down

Finally, Meloy adresses his wife, wishing for her the same kind of strength and resiliency. And I can’t help speculating that there’s recognition here too that the strain of raising a child with autism can lead to strain in their marriage, and that on top of all the usual challenges most couples face, there’s hope that their relationship can stand firm.

My darling, my sweetheart
I am in your sway
To cold climes comes springtime
So let me hear you say

My love:
I am gonna stand my ground
They rise to me and I’ll blow them down
I am gonna stand my ground
They rise to me and I’ll blow them down

Reminds me, in a beautiful way, of a line from the famous sonnet:

[Love] looks on tempests and is never shaken

–William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Anyway, enough analysis. Here’s the band, sans Gillian Welch unfortunately, performing Rise To Me live.

2 thoughts on “Lyric of the Day: Rise To Me

    1. It really is a beautiful song, and if there’s a songwriter working today for whom it makes perfect sense to have used the phrase I am in your sway, it’s Colin Meloy.

      Thanks for the comment and for visiting Fish & Bicycles!

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