Poetry And Music Are Not Dead

Lay Me Downby Sam Smith, James Napier, and Elvin Smith

(1)   Yes,

(2)   I do,

(3)   I believe

(4)   That one day I will be

(5)   Where I was,

(6)   Right there,

(7)   Right next to you.

(8)   And it’s hard

(9)   The days just seem so dark

(10) The moon,

(11) And the stars,

(12) Are nothing without you.

(13) Your touch,

(14) Your skin,

(15) Where do I begin,

(16) No words

(17) Can explain

(18) The ways

(19) I’m missing you.

(20) Deny

(21) This emptiness, this hole I have inside

(22) These tears

(23) They tell their own story

(24) You told me not to cry when you were gone

(25) But the feeling’s overwhelming, it’s much too strong

Chorus

(26) Can I lay by your side?

(27) Next to you, you.

(28) And make sure you’re alright.

(29) I’ll take care of you

(30) And I don’t want to be here if I can’t be with you tonight.

(31) I’m reaching out to you.

(32) Can you hear my call?

(33) The hurt that I’ve been through…

(34) I’m missing you,

(35) I’m missing you like crazy.

(Chorus)

(36) Lay me down tonight.

(37) Lay me by your side. (both lines, x2)

(38) Can I lay by your side?

(39) Next to you, you.

This song is a profound poem about love, life, and loss. I didn’t truly appreciate this song until recently. Nevertheless, I’m moved by this song and I want to share my thoughts; I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, which, to me, means that the need to get my thoughts down is too great to ignore.

To begin, this song is clearly about the singer’s loss of love. We don’t initially know what that loss entails: did they leave them[1]? Move away? Move on? We eventually find out that they’ve passed on, tellingly in the chorus. Up to the pre-chorus (lines 24-25) we only know that they’ve left; however, the chorus implies a permanent separation: death. Lines 26-27 are the singer pleading to crawl into the coffin with their lover. The depthless sadness that would invoke this desire is staggering; it is not a whimpering thought but a wail, reflected in the long, suspended high G throughout most of the solo of line 26. This particular musical line is smooth, composed mainly of half notes, mirroring the constancy of both sorrowful wailing and of a mind infatuated, entrapped by their lost love.

These competing emotions of sadness and love are evident throughout the song. In just the first two verses and pre-chorus: lines 8-12 reveal the singer’s pain in living without their lover; lines 13-14 recall fond physical attributes; lines 16-19 demonstrate devastating loss in the inability to physically speak and the inability to understand the grief with language; lines 20-23 both utilize metaphors and similes of lost love; and lines 24-25 show intense grief, the abandonment of control. Importantly, the intense imagery is both physically real- the feeling and visuals of tears streaming down your face- and metaphorical- an empty hole where their lover once was. This captures the complex nature of love and loss as both intensely real but unable to be fully understood or described by simple words.

Furthermore, it is not a sexual love: it is deeply intimate. The singer does not want to passionately embrace their love, but, simply, make sure their lover is alright (line 28). This timeless, gentle concern for their lover’s wellbeing, whether in a sense of heaven or hell or in the sense of bodily decomposition, reveals a form of love beyond physical lust. The singer, even in their lover’s death, wants only to take care of them (line 29). This is such a simple thought that reflects, in reality, a much more complex idea: caring for a dying person involves immense physical and emotional labor. However, having gone through the process once, the singer’s ultimate torture comes from not being able to care for their lover once more; they would rather face being belabored by the physical demands of death and the emotional demands of knowing that your lover is going to die than actually be without them.

Listeners can also understand the temporality and ephemerality of the love through the song’s intense imagery. As mentioned, the lover’s temporality is cemented in their skin and touch and comparison to decidedly ‘real’ objects of the moon and stars. However, the skin and touch are now gone, and the moon and stars are present but unreachable, alluding both to the timelessness and ephemerality of love. To overcome this sense of physical loss, the singer implores to lay with their lover in their coffin, right by their side where they had promised in the marriage vows to be in life and, perhaps, in death. Of course, this cannot be. The very real line between the living and the dead precludes the singer from ever seeing their lover’s body again, leaving only fleeting, fading memories.

Furthermore, line 31 shows that the singer is reaching out to his deceased love, both literally in the desire to lay in the coffin and figuratively in singing a song of remembrance. Blurring the lines of temporality and ephemerality further, he asks the non-rhetorical question “Can you hear my call?” Of course, in this case there is no response. Also, his literal tears implied in lines 24-25 reflect the tangible effects of intangible feelings of sorrow. Tears eventually dry, blurring and delineating reality and memory, temporality and ephemerality.

Let us now return to the framework of death. The very first few lines of the song is not sung “Yes, I do, I believe” but with distinct pauses: “Yes. I do. I believe.” The music pauses after each of these lines, giving the lyrics additional function. Viewed as separate thoughts, they become clear: the lover agreeing to a marriage proposal, and the iconic agreement in the marriage ceremony. The irony is that during life, the love is presumed to last forever; during death, however, the love is seen as forever lost. It is also interesting that we piece together their life and death retroactively, only seeing the first lines as moments of life after figuring out that the singer’s lover has died. The lyricist is playing with time, emphasizing both its temporal linearity in our ability to understand the added meaning of the line and the inevitable degradation of our memories, the inevitable degradation of the past.

The lyricist brilliantly incorporates these key moments of their love- temporal time capsules of a time and place- into a longer sentence that questions when the singer will rejoin their lover. This playfully inverts the idea that love is timeless and forever by making the exemplars of love- proposal and marriage- finite and questioning at what single moment they will be rejoined. There is hope in this thought, however, and this positivity is reflected at the beginning of all three verses. The latter half of all the verses and the rest of the song is not as positive, though; this fighting of positivity and negativity ends after the 3rd verse, only halfway through the song.

It is at this point that the song shifts dramatically starting at line 36. The background switches to a jaunty, sharp, staccato march, very different from the soft and flowing verses or the imploring, sorrowful chorus. The march- reminiscent of a march of soldiers rushing toward their swift demise, of the Trail of Tears or the walk to the guillotine, of a beginning and ending point- is the background of the singer’s suicide attempt. They no longer ask to lay by their lover’s side, they utter an imperative, a command: lay me down tonight. The two imperatives repeat, perhaps their mustering of courage or their two attempts.

The song, staying true to its blurring of life and death, of reality and memory, of temporality and ephemerality, does not tell us if the singer lives or dies. The march ends, and the song quickly after it, perhaps signaling the few moments before poison or a noose ends the singer’s life. Or perhaps line 38 implies a failed attempt: the singer no longer commands to be by their lover’s side, but once again in the throes of sorrow pleads for, but does not, cannot bring themselves to initiate, death.

I believe that the attempt is successful. Beyond being the title of the song, the song’s positivity in the former half of the verses reflects the emotional rollercoaster of fond memories being overcome by grief and transitioning to trying to kill yourself. It also reflects the greater structure of positivity in the song: the hopeful beginning is replaced by the brisk bridge and ends in sorrow, representing the fondness being replaced by death. The starting point of both lines of positivity is the ephemeral, memories; however, the ending of both is temporal, suicide. This alludes to the singer’s death just as the song itself never explicitly mentions or describes the lover’s death. This is an existential position, however: if only life can be described, what is death? The existentialism further reinforces the idea of the suicide as successful, because if life is meaningless then so is its end.

This poem reflects the tragedy of both the realness and inevitable degradation of memory; the blurring of real temporality and fleeting ephemerality; the cyclicality of time and retroactive building of meaning and importance; and concurrent intensity of love and loss. Modern music often lacks this depth; however, Lay Me Down is a refreshing, if tragic, reminder not only that music can be meaningful but that life and loss are meaningful as well.

[1] Please note, I use the third person neutral pronoun purposefully to preserve the neutrality of the song itself (i.e. it’s gender-neutral language). I believe that this was purposeful to make any audience able to empathize with its meaning.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s