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Thread: SOTW: Kingfisher

  1. #1

    SOTW: Kingfisher

    "Honey, I am not sorry..."


    "Kingfisher" is (currently) my favorite song on Have One on Me. It's been ridiculously inspiring for me, and it convinced me to take on a particularly ambitious project that I'll gladly work on for the rest of my life. Rather than getting all misty-eyed about that, I did a quick bout of research into kingfishers.

    The Kingfisher and Greek Mythology
    The Greek name for "kingfisher," Halcyon, comes from the myth of Halcyone (also called Alcyone) and Ceyx. Halcyone was the wife of Ceyx, the king of Trachis, and after her husband left on a dangerous sea mission:

    ...Halcyone laid out clothes for her husband, believing that these would act as a talisman to bring her loved one home safely...

    Ceyx's ship had indeed been wrecked, but Halcyone had no way of knowing what had happened to her husband until Hera…took pity on her and sent Morpheus, the god of dreams, to tell her what had happened. He appeared to her in the guise of her husband, and when she awoke she rushed down to the shore to find the body of Ceyx washed up on the water's edge. The gods were so moved by her grief that they changed Ceyx and Halcyone into kingfishers to live forever by the waterside, eternally faithful, destined never to take another mate should one of the pair die.
    This account comes from Ovid's Metamorphosis, which differs from other retellings in which Halcyone and Ceyx are turned into a kingfisher and a gull (respectively) as punishment for the "sacrilege" of referring to each other as Zeus and Hera. Also, in other versions, Halcyone (which rhymes with Mrs. See, btw) actually jumps off a cliff and dies, and then is turned into a kingfisher.

    The story of Halcyone and Ceyx is also the origin of the phrase "the halcyon days," which means, "a period of peace and happiness; an idyllic time; also, a period of calm weather during the winter solstice."

    In short, the kingfisher is a symbol of love and devotion, and the myth particularly highlights the sacrifice and grief on the part of the woman. So, I see "Kingfisher" as a dirge for the halcyon days Joanna's character and her man shared, days that have been irreconcilably destroyed.

    The Kingfisher and Noah's Ark
    During the time of the Flood, Noah released the kingfisher in order for it to find land. The kingfisher, really fucking stoked to be out of that ark, flew so high in the sky that it stained its feathers blue. Then the kingfisher flew so close to the sun that the feathers on its breast turned orange, and it had to dive into the water to cool its burning chest. Afterwards, the kingfisher remembered its mission, but when it tried to find the ark, it couldn't; Noah had reached Mount Ararat, and had turned the ark into a house. Today, the kingfisher still flies low around water, "calling for its master."

    Here we have a different kingfisher myth, the almost complete opposite of the other. We have a selfish, not selfless, kingfisher. There could be a vague connection from this story to the verse beginning with, "We came by the boatload," with the Great Flood's tides of water replaced by the "tides of the earth." But I'd like to relate this story to the identity of the kingfisher in the song. Is it the one who was selfish, or the one who was selfless? Or is it someone else entirely?

    So, Who's the Kingfisher?
    Here are some possibilities:
    • God - But wouldn't that be boring?
    • The man (or rather, the man Joanna thought he was) - I like this thought quite a bit; Joanna's imagining the things she wished her companion "kingfisher" had said or done. At the end, she gives him a hearty, "fuck off and die" with the line, "kingfisher, lie with the lion."
    • An actual kingfisher (that doesn't represent anyone in particular)
    • Joanna's character – This one's a little shaky in regards to the verse about her love on the farm, but Joanna could very well be the kingfisher, herself. The lion referred to in the last line of the song could be the jackass she's finally getting away from, or it could represent how distraught she is and how willing she would be to "lie with the lion," a dangerous and suicidal act just like Halcyone's leap into the sea.
    • All of the above - Because that's Joanna-like!


    Other Thoughts for Discussion

    • Who is the "kind, unhurried man?" Is he different from the man Joanna is with?
    • Is Joanna playing with time here? Are the "drifting ashes" in the beginning of the song a result of the atom bomb in her dream?
    • How fucking awesome is the music? Seriously.

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Quote Originally Posted by Cuddlefish View Post
    At the end, she gives him a hearty, "fuck off and die" with the line, "kingfisher, lie with the lion."

    Great write up! I hadn't heard the Noah's Ark story about the Kingfisher before, it really paints the Kingfisher as a fairly distracted (and stupid) creature. Ultimately, I still have no idea what the song is really about, but I feel the same way about half of Ys. She probably didn't really intend for us to properly understand.

    I love the apocalyptic ending - the imagery is fantastic. The boatload of figures encased in ash, stationary with moving and blinking eyes, until the ash shrinks and they crack and collapse - It's like a film sequence. The movement from volcanic catastrophe to nuclear catastrophe is amazing too.

    Best piece of Joannic poetry ever:

    Such an important day for all of us. And what an amazing performance!
    Last edited by Andrew; 02-12-2012 at 08:50 PM.

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