Focus on the Lyrics Friday: I See Fire

I’m terribly sorry for not posting last weekend. I didn’t skip out for anything fun; in fact, my weekend was spent doing homework. The highlight of last weekend was a tough call between the thesis workshop for the Honors Program and the dumpster fire for which my dorm was evacuated at 3 AM. We’re all okay, though a bit tired.

If nothing else, seeing the fire inspired me to take a closer look at Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” for this week’s column.


Lyrics

Oh, misty eye of the mountain below
Keep careful watch of my brother’s souls
And should the sky be filled with fire and smoke
Keep watching over Durin’s sons

If this is to end in fire
Then we should all burn together
Watch the flames climb high into the night
Calling out “father, oh, stand by and we will
Watch the flames burn auburn on
The mountain side high”

And if we should die tonight
We should all die together
Raise a glass of wine for the last time
Calling out “father, oh,
Prepare as we will
Watch the flames burn auburn on
The mountain side”

Desolation comes upon the sky

Now I see fire
Inside the mountain
I see fire
Burning the trees
And I see fire
Hollowing souls
I see fire
Blood in the breeze
And I hope that you’ll remember me

Oh, should my people fall then
Surely I’ll do the same
Confined in mountain halls
We got too close to the flame
Calling out father oh
Hold fast and we will
Watch the flames burn auburn on
The mountain side

Desolation comes upon the sky

Now I see fire
Inside the mountains
I see fire
Burning the trees
And I see fire
Hollowing souls
I see fire
Blood in the breeze
And I hope that you’ll remember me

And if the night is burning
I will cover my eyes
For if the dark returns then
My brothers will die
And as the sky is falling down
It crashed into this lonely town
And with that shadow upon the ground
I hear my people screaming out

And I see fire
Inside the mountains
I see fire
Burning the trees
I see fire
Hollowing souls
I see fire
Blood in the breeze

I see fire (fire)
Oh, you know I saw a city burning out
And I see fire (fire)
Feel the heat upon my skin
And I see fire (fire)
Uhhhhhhhhh
And I see fire
Burn auburn on the mountain side

Analysis

Sheeran’s song is based on Peter Jackson’s film “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” but there’s more to the song than just the description of fire. I may give away one or two spoilers about the book/film, so be aware if you haven’t yet read/seen it but intend to.

1) “Oh, misty eye of the mountain below / Keep careful watch of my brother’s souls / And should the sky be filled with fire and smoke / Keep watching over Durin’s sons”

I actually read this song as a sort of prayer. The “misty eye of the mountain below” is the “god” Sheeran addresses. The mountain has a heart (the Arkenstone), so why shouldn’t it have an eye, as well? Throughout The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, eyes are a fairly important symbol. Both Sauron and Smaug, the primary villains of the two tales, have noteable flame-colored eyes. The Lonely Mountain to which this song refers does not have a fiery eye, but a “misty” one. While the other eyes’ ability (Sauron’s in particular) to see all is a reason for fear, the singer of this song calls for the mountain’s eye to see all and draws hope from it. It’s interesting that Sheeran would have the words “misty” and “mountain” in the same line, since there is a range called Misty Mountains in Middle Earth, but if I recall correctly, that’s the range where Bilbo finds the ring, not where Smaug lives. I don’t really know why he says the eye of the mountain is “below,” so any thoughts on that are welcome.

Also, I believe this part of the song is from the perspective of Bard, the eventual leader of Lake-town. He asks the mountain to “keep careful watch of [his] brother’s souls,” his brothers being the people of Laketown. If Smaug poses a threat to them or the dwarves, Bard also hopes the mountain will “keep watching over Durin’s sons,” or protecting the dwarves. While Bard and Thorin have their disagreements, they’re both willing to do anything for the people they lead. Both Lake-town and the dwarves (plus one hobbit) unite against the fire.

2) “If this is to end in fire / Then we should all burn together / Watch the flames climb high into the night / Calling out ‘father,’ oh, stand by and we will / Watch the flames burn auburn on / The mountain side high”

As I said before, a major theme of this song is how trials prompt unity. If the fire comes for them, they will all “burn together.” The song is a sort of disheartening battle cry. They will “watch the flames,” bravely standing together in the face of certain death. The idea of them calling out “father” also implies that their hope centers around a god of some sort, reinforcing my belief that the song is a prayer, much like a psalm. The “auburn” color of the flames is also important, as it paints them as beautiful, albeit destructive. Auburn is a reddish-brown color. I think the color is normally too brown to associate with flames, but the film was so dark in lighting and mood, it works in this case. Sheeran may also be playing with the word a little bit, since it has the word “burn” in it. Before looking up the lyrics, I actually thought the line was “watch the flames burn on, burn on” rather than “burn auburn on.” In any case, it sounds beautiful, particularly when sung by Sheeran.

3) “And if we should die tonight / We should all die together / Raise a glass of wine for the last time / Calling out ‘father,’ oh, / Prepare as we will / Watch the flames burn auburn on / The mountain side”

Yet again there’s a sense of camaraderie in that they plan to “die together.” In drinking “a glass of wine for the last time,” I associate them with Jesus and his disciples at The Last Supper, where they ate before Jesus parted. This time, though, all of them prepare to die. Again they call out “father” and instruct him to “prepare,” perhaps meaning for him to prepare a place in the afterlife as they “watch the flames.”

4) “Desolation comes upon the sky”

Desolation is defined both as a state of complete destruction and a state of anguish, misery, or loneliness. The word refers to the destruction–both physical and emotional–Smaug can cause. It’s particularly powerful in this context because the film off which Sheeran based the lyrics is the second in the series, titled “The Desolation of Smaug.”

5) “Now I see fire / Inside the mountain / I see fire / Burning the trees / And I see fire / Hollowing souls / I see fire / Blood in the breeze / And I hope that you’ll remember me”

The fire of Smaug is visible “inside the mountain” and “burning the trees,” but the other two images are a little more difficult to decipher. At the end of the film, Smaug declares, “I am fire. I am death.” He isn’t just an instrument for fire; he is fire. The fire the singer sees could very well be Smaug himself. In burning everything and everyone, Smaug is “hollowing souls,” stripping the people of Lake-town of everything they hold dear, leaving them empty and without purpose. Both fire and blood are dark red and associated with death, so the “blood in the breeze” could be fire itself. It could also be actual blood; dragons have teeth, too, after all. Not only do the lyrics teach physical unity in hard times by standing together; they also teach emotional unity by encouraging people to hold onto the memory of those lost. As the speaker claims, “I hope that you’ll remember me.” In the end, you can only hope you’ve done something to save someone before passing.

6) “Oh, should my people fall then / Surely I’ll do the same / Confined in mountain halls / We got too close to the flame”

The responsibility of a leader over his people is particularly clear in these first two lines. Because this mentions being “confined in mountain halls,” I’m beginning to think the song is actually from Thorin’s perspective. That doesn’t make total sense to me, but it has to be true of this part, at least. In the mountain, the group had a couple close run-ins with Smaug, “the flame.” If flame represents hardship or potential destruction, there are other flames, too. The madness of greed to which Thorin succumbed also led them “too close” to destruction.

7) “And if the night is burning / I will cover my eyes / For if the dark returns then / My brothers will die / And as the sky is falling down / It crashed into this lonely town / And with that shadow upon the ground / I hear my people screaming out”

Honestly, I think the first four lines here contradict each other. Basically, he says there are flames all around, so he’ll cover his eyes because when the flames go away his brothers will die. Maybe I’m misreading something? Because it seems like the flames would kill his brothers, not the darkness. Perhaps he means a metaphorical darkness, as in something evil? The image of the “sky…falling down” when Smaug sweeps over Lake-town with his flames is beautifully put for something so horrific. I like how Sheeran calls “this” town “lonely,” since it subtly links it to The Lonely Mountain. The “shadow” to which he refers is the shadow of Smaug raking fire across the town, causing Bard’s people to begin “screaming out.” It’s interesting how something so horrifying can be described so beautifully. I think part of that is due to the fact that the song is based off a film in which the special effects and scenery are stunning, even in scenes of desolation.

I think I’ve made it fairly clear by now that I’m a fan of Ed Sheeran and Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The final movie of the Hobbit series was released on DVD recently, and while I believe the movies should have been condensed into one or two films rather than spread out over three, I suggest watching them. And if you’ve already seen them, I suggest watching them again!

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Focus on the Lyrics Friday: I See Fire

  1. I think that what Sheeran actually means by “for if the dark returns then my brothers will die” refers to the ash that comes after fire that is most often black/dark and is most likely the ashes of “my brothers”

    Like

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