After years of listening to music I can say, unequivocally, that the best lyricist I’ve ever heard is Aaron Weiss of the band mewithoutyou. To exhibit his genius, we will break down the lyrics of their song, “C-Minor”.
C-Minor – Lyrics by Aaron Weiss – performed by mewithoutyou
Our house wrapped in disrepair,
A small mouse peeked out from a hole beneath the stairs
Nearby to where my dad sat in his favorite chair,
Thinking about the gov’t and muttering a prayer
So I scattered some oats in hopes she’d stay
And sat still to stop from scaring her away-
But she hurried on her little way
And scurried around my mind
Open wide my door, my door, my Lord
(open wide my door)
To whatever makes me love You more
(open wide my door)
While there’s still light to run towards
Like water on the dry wood
Equal parts misguided and misunderstood
But all the neighborhood
Watched a fire burn from where they stood
As the smoke said
“We’re not half as bad as G-d is good”
Still there’s a whisper in my ear,
The voice of loneliness and fear, so I say:
I’m still (ehh… technically…) a virgin
After 27 years-
Which never bothered me before,
What’s maybe 50 more?”
She came back for the oats
But she brought along a “friend”
(this never ends)
The harder the rain,
The lower the flowers in the garden bend
(this never ends)
I’d rather never talk again
Than to continue to pretend
That this never ends
Listen to it here if you wish:
In order to succinctly discuss the lyrics of a poem, or song, I find it useful to break down the technical form of the work and discuss the themes in depth in a separate category.
- Rhyme Scheme – On the surface, a fairly simple scheme. The first stanza follows an AAAABBBCCB pattern, though when we listen to the song, the end of the stanza feels more like BBBB. I think the CC portion of the stanza was written for more emphasis on “ever since / every day.” In any case, we see this scheme repeat itself in the other verses, stanza’s 3 and 4. In the chorus it’s very straightforward: DDD. But lets break this down even further. When we break down each line, we can see that theres a rhyme scheme within the rhyme scheme (And this is part of what makes Weiss masterful.)Stanza 1 line 2 – a slant rhyme of “mouse” and “out”
Stanza 1 line 2/3 – “stairs” and “to where” pairs with “chair” and “prayer”
Stanza 1 line 4 – “oats” and “hopes”
Stanza 1 line 5/6 slant rhyme of “scattered” and “sat”
Stanza 1 line 7/8 “scurried” and “hurried”So within just the first stanza we can see a much more complex scheme taking shape. Not only are the rhymes happening at the end of the line, but are, in some cases, finding themselves within the line themselves. So if we were to break the lines into halves, the scheme would more resemble A/BB/AA/ACA/DE/DE/FE/FE. Craziness! The sophisticated use of rhyme within the opening stanza sets up and pairs well with the fantastic meter. Weiss can’t sing (or chooses not to), so its imperative that this structure help carry the audience through the poetic word structure.
- Meter – Very complex meter (or syllabic rhythm) exists here, but its incredibly tangible. We can hear it, see it. It took me a bit of time to try and understand how this song worked as far as meter, because I knew it was very much there, but nothing was adding up to a pattern, until I broke it down even further, much like what we did with the rhyme scheme.For the sake of time, we will look at the first stanza again. Because of the rhyming scheme and stresses that Weiss puts on certain syllables, we can ascertain that he has divided certain lines into two sections. So that’s what we will do. Check out the syllables for each half of each line and see if you can find a pattern.
Line 1 – 7 syl
Line 2 – 5 + 7 syl
Line 3 – 5 +8 syl
Line 4 – 5 +9 syl
Line 5 – 6 +4 syl
Line 6 – 5 +6 syl
Line 7 – 5 +4 syl
Line 8/9/10 – 5 +8 syl
This might look like a jumbled mess but it might help us understand why these words sound very rhythmic in nature. The first halves of these lines hover around 5 and 6 while the second halves of the lines range from 4 to 9. But do you see it? Lines 1-4 end with about 8 syllables then lines 5-7 have an average of 5 syllables when in the last combination of lines 8,9 and 10 add up to 8 syllables. It’s similar to the pattern we see in music when we see an established theme, a departure, then a return. It’s not perfect, but the pattern is certainly there. And with Weiss’ style of vocals, its very easy for him to merge certain words into less syllables. All this helps us conclude that Weiss is a genius and I am a nerd.
- Devices and Diction – One of the biggest literary devices that Weiss uses in C-Minor is alliteration. “…sat still to stop from scaring…” and “…scattered some oats in hopes she’d stay,” are the obvious ones, but smaller apparent ones include “…misguided and misunderstood…” and “Devil disappear!”However, metephors and personification shine brightly in the piece. They communicate Weiss’ inner struggle with desire, and how he might be idolizing companionship with a woman. He does this through a picture of trying to lure a mouse with some oats. We can tell that this mouse represents a woman because of the surrounding context. He calls the mouse a “she” and he later states that “she came back for the oats but she brought along a ‘friend,'” which is evidence that this mouse represents a being, a person, a woman.But outside of desire for companionship, he paints a peculiar picture of water, wood, smoke, and a neighborhood of people watching this fire in stanza 3. Weiss is a christian, so we can extrapolate a few lines to explain certain christian tenants. One of which is that God is good and people are sinful. I believe that he’s describing the christian church as a divided group of people who are “misguided and misunderstood” much like water on dry wood. The neighborhood seems to be those outside the church. They watch a fire burn, which I take to mean that they’re watching the sinful hypocrisy of the church going up in flames and providing a smoke. But the beautiful end to this metephor is an admition of depravity and a praise of the goodness of God.”The smoke said ‘We’re not half as bad as God is good!'”A gorgeous line, one of my favorites.
- Sinful Desire: Part of the appeal to Weiss’ lyrics is his incredible vulnerability. He lays it all out there with pure honesty and seemingly has no qualms about sharing his shortcomings. A common theme in much of his music is the confession of sinful desire. In C-minor, he confesses a fear of loneliness. He shares how he has tried to lure someone into romantic a relationship only to be hurt and left thinking of the “what-if’s.” Between the first stanza of setting the story of the mouse and the third stanza of the portrait of the sinful church, he opens up the choral refrain, “open wide my door, my lord, to whatever makes me love you more.” It’s as if he knows that the desire for a relationship should not supersede the love he has for God. So he’s stuck in this tug of war between what he desires, and what he knows he should desire. How human is that?
- Suffering: Weiss is someone who has dealt with a temptation of suicide and had at one time taken a vow of poverty. So it’s of no surprise that suffering would be an important issue for him to talk about. C-Minor shows a different kind of suffering, one he had spoken about before but not in this sort of light. He views suffering, in this case the desire for relationship and the real presence of loneliness, as a way for him to love God more. He also tries to show the macro version of this in Stanza 3. What I believe to be the church in discord, suffering and painfully creating a fire that the world sees, sets up the wonderful “We’re not half as bad as God as good,” line. He states that the sufferings and shortcomings of the people of God are not even worth comparing to the glory of God himself. He laments in C-minor, but not without a solid hope.In stanza 4, Weiss admits the temptation to think a certain way as a result of his suffering. That he can succomb to loneliness and fear, but he knows that he’s made it this far while being a virgin (how vulnerable to admit that!) so what’s going the rest of my life doing that? How could that make me love God less? Poignant lyrics indeed.Also, the refrain of “This never ends” clearly states the vicious cycle that suffering can lend to ones thinking. When will this anguish end? Will it ever? The refrain (perhaps the greek chorus?) states that it will never end, which sets up the last line.
- The Need for God: Between the verses, Weiss prays to God to lead him to whatever makes him love God more. He comes back from each verse knowing full well what is most important, what’s at the base of his being: The love of God. He needs it.I don’t think there’s a better line that expresses this than perhaps the best metaphor in the song “The harder the rain, the lower the flowers in the garden bend.” The picture of hardship and suffering as hard rain causing the flowers to bend, signifying worship is a beautiful picture of the christian view of suffering. It creates a dependence, a need for God. The harder the suffering, the more christians cling to God.He struggles between desiring a relationship more than desiring God, but he knows that perhaps this suffering has led him to, in fact, love God more. He admits that it’s trying, and sometimes feels like it will never end, but he knows that he can’t go on pretending like it will not end. Because, well, It will end.
C-Minor is a prayer, a confession, a plea. He wants God to lead him wherever he will love him more, because he knows that’s what he needs. And if it leads through suffering, all the better. It will cause more worship. What a song.