Focus on the Lyrics Friday: Photograph

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but Ed Sheeran is calling to me again.

And, yes, the ginger boy in these home videos is Sheeran himself. Pretty adorable.


Lyrics

Loving can hurt
Loving can hurt sometimes
But it’s the only thing that I know
When it gets hard
You know it can get hard sometimes
It is the only thing that makes us feel alive

We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
Times forever frozen still

So you can keep me
Inside the pocket
Of your ripped jeans
Holdin’ me closer
‘Til our eyes meet
You won’t ever be alone
Wait for me to come home

Loving can heal
Loving can mend your soul
And it’s the only thing that I know (know)
I swear it will get easier
Remember that with every piece of ya
And it’s the only thing we take with us when we die

We keep this love in this photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Our hearts were never broken
Times forever frozen still

So you can keep me
Inside the pocket
Of your ripped jeans
Holdin’ me closer
‘Til our eyes meet
You won’t ever be alone

And if you hurt me
That’s okay, baby, only words bleed
Inside these pages you just hold me
And I won’t ever let you go

Wait for me to come home [4x]

Oh you can fit me
Inside the necklace you got when you were 16
Next to your heartbeat
Where I should be
Keep it deep within your soul

And if you hurt me
Well, that’s okay, baby, only words bleed
Inside these pages you just hold me
And I won’t ever let you go

When I’m away
I will remember how you kissed me
Under the lamppost
Back on 6th street
Hearing you whisper through the phone,
“Wait for me to come home.”

Analysis

When I first heard this song, I thought it was about a soldier heading off to war and the importance of photographs to him and his beloved. While I think this romantic interpretation could still apply, Sheeran’s music video–a compilation of home videos from his childhood–brings to light a more familial interpretation.

1) “Loving can hurt / Loving can hurt sometimes / But it’s the only thing that I know / When it gets hard / You know it can get hard sometimes / It is the only thing that makes us feel alive”

Love isn’t limited to romance. So while these seem like straightforward I-love-you-even-though-it-hurts lines, they could apply to people outside a traditional romantic relationship. Take, for example, a mother and her son. Who, in a mother and son relationship, hasn’t had “hard” times? Who would also agree that, in this relationship, love is “the only thing”? Oh, sure, there can be the occasional feud and not all relationships are ideal, but for most people love is prevalent. On a separate note, the final line here reminds me of a Victor Hugo quote: “To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.”

2) “We keep this love in a photograph / We made these memories for ourselves / Where our eyes are never closing / Hearts are never broken / Times forever frozen still”

This is what initially brought about my soldier interpretation. I’ve often heard stories of people holding on to a photograph of their loved one oversees or at home, and I connected that with this song. What Sheeran’s saying here is basically that “this love”–be it romantic or familial–is kept in “a photograph” with all the memories they made. In the photograph, their “eyes are never closing, hearts are never broken, [and] time’s forever frozen still.” In the love the song centers around, things are different now than they were in the photograph. Now, they’re both hurt and “time’s forever frozen still” (which is a repetitive line but a beautiful one). “Broken hearts” doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship ended, though. Quite a few people seem to interpret it that way, but I disagree. “Broken hearts” can also be caused by long-term separation between a couple or a family.

3) “So you can keep me / Inside the pocket / Of your ripped jeans / Holdin’ me closer / ‘Til our eyes meet / You won’t ever be alone / Wait for me to come home”

The “me” of the first line here refers to the photograph, which temporarily serves as a representation of him. He encourages her, saying she should “[hold] me closer ’til our eyes meet.” He must be staring directly at the photographer for her eyes to meet his in a photograph. And the fact that their eyes can meet (when his eyes are really just a piece of paper) is unusual. It further confirms that the photograph is like a stand-in until the real thing returns. I also think it show’s that they still connect. They’re eyes meet; they’re equals; they miss each other. Why else would she be staring at his photograph? To reiterate, this could also be his mother staring at a photo of him (I’ve yet to meet a mother who wears “ripped jeans,” but I’m sure they exist). Whoever it is, despite the distance between them, he claims she “won’t ever be alone.” His photograph will keep her company until he can “come home.” As a singer now, I’m sure he’s on tour often, so his mother or sweetheart would be “alone” but for the photograph of him. Definitely not a break up.

4) “Loving can heal / Loving can mend your soul / And it’s the only thing that I know (know) / I swear it will get easier / Remember that with every piece of ya / And it’s the only thing we take with us when we die”

Just as “loving can hurt,” it can also “heal.” While their separation may hurt, their love can leap those bounds and still “mend your soul.” I think the “it” he refers to in the third line here is the obstruction in their relationship, which I believe is physical distance. He begs her to “remember” that “it will get easier.” The “it” of the final line goes back to the first line: “[Love is] the only thing we take with us when we die.” Which prompts the thought; what if the obstruction is death? What if this song is about loving someone who’s already gone? What if “coming home” means joining them in the afterlife? It doesn’t fit perfectly with the photograph motif, but I always like to consider other interpretations.

5) “And if you hurt me / That’s okay, baby, only words bleed / Inside these pages you just hold me / And I won’t ever let you go”

This section is a little confusing. As far as I can understand, he means that she can hurt him–the photograph representing him, perhaps. But “that’s okay” because “only words bleed;” only words can hurt him. This is an imperfect interpretation because he doesn’t say “only words make him bleed,” but this is how I’ve come to understand it. He also says that “inside these pages” she should “just hold [him].” I think “these pages” could refer to the photograph (perhaps it shows them hugging, so he “won’t ever let you go” or the many “words” and memories they share or even the “pages” of their dreams. In my initial interpretation, I heard “only words bleed” to mean that, even though he was going into dangerous territory, the only thing that could really hurt him was her words. In any case, I think he’s trying to reassure her.

6) “Oh you can fit me / Inside the necklace you got when you were 16 / Next to your / heartbeat / Where I should be / Keep it deep within your soul”

Admittedly, this section sounds much more like romantic love than familial love. But how else would you explain the music video? This section’s pretty simple, but it’s my favorite part of the song. He says she can “fit [him]”–his photograph, that is–inside a locket from when she was a teenager. Again, this reminds me of a soldier’s words to his beloved, since some of my friends and family were in serious relationships at a young age and had to deal with long distance as a result of war. The necklace lies near her heart, where Sheeran believes he “should be.” In other words, he thinks his photograph should be near to her heart because it represents him, and he should be near to her heart, as well. He wants her to keep the memories of him “deep within [her] soul,” where he will never be lost and forever be treasured.

7) “When I’m away / I will remember how you kissed me / Under the lamppost / Back on 6th street / Hearing you whisper through the phone, / ‘Wait for me to come home.'”

I really hope he’s not talking about his mom here. Though maybe he means a light kiss on the head farewell or something like that. In any case, while she has a photograph to remember him by these lines make it clear he’ll keep her in his memories, as well. The last two lines puzzle me. How could they be on the phone if she kissed him? Unless there are two “you”s or two different situations here. And why would she say “wait for me to come home?” He’s the one who left. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this, too; please comment below.

My conclusion? This would be an adorable song to play at the wedding of someone who’s about to leave for the military. Or to send to your mother when you’ve been away for a while.

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