Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Those To Come

This most mysterious Shins song has had me puzzled since I first heard it. However, it is not the kind puzzlement which is the result of a vagueness, or confusion. Rather it is the continual wonder at something gradually revealing itself. What are these “bearer’s of all good things,” and how could such benevolently named beings be capable of coldness and killing? In order to unravel the strange incantation at the end of the song we must look to the more mundane opening lines:

Eyeless in the morning sun you were
Pale and mild
A modern girl
Taken with thought still prone to care
Making tea
In your underwear
You went out in the yard to find
Something to eat
And clear your mind
And something bad inside me went away

Taken literally, this stanza seems to be the description of a girl waking up in a pool of morning light. That she is eyeless could refer to her eyes being closed, however, eyeless lends itself more to sightlessness than to eyes being closed. It would be a mistake to forget this peculiar description, considering that it is the first word of the song. She is “pale and mild, a modern girl.” Pale and mild could be complementary attributes of a beautiful girl, however this description is immediately followed by the carefully phrased line “a modern girl.” If we take this in the same way the Shins use “modern” in Young Pilgrims where “this modern thought can get the best of you,” this “pale and mild” girl may be a little bit more than just pretty. That she is “taken with thought {but} still prone to care, implies that, though overcome with thought, she does still care about other things. She can, for instance, go about making tea, (though still only wearing her underwear). Finally, the girl steps out into the yard to either find some fruit (or kill something?). Whatever her quarry, she is apparently hungry and feels confined by being inside. And at last, with the final line we are reminded all this is being described in the past tense by some other being at the scene.

And something bad inside me went away

This is undoubtedly an important line, both because of its placement directly before the major shift in the song, and because it introduces for the first time this second character. The intimacy of the scene would suggest a lover, though the means and vocabulary the narration chooses could be taken in multiple ways.

As we will see in the culmination of the song, the words, tone and mythic, incantational quality of the second half point to a sort of ancient vision of the world, one where myriad strange beings hurtle from the sky on a mission of death-inducing life. What part does this pale and mild, modern girl, or her troubled lover play in the story? At this point the song begins its second, most beautiful and mysterious part. But first there is a sort of introduction and final mention of both the modern girl and the speaker.

Quaking leaves and broken light
Shifting skin
The coming night
The bearers of all good things arrive
Climb inside us
Twist and cry
A kiss on your molten eye
Myriad lives
Like blades of grass
Yet to be realized
Bow as they pass

That “quaking leaves and broken light” herald the “coming night” flows into our understanding without even a second thought, however with “shifting skin” and “the bearers of all good things… climb inside us,” we begin to feel the strange magical power of this moment. Does “twist and cry” refer to the “bearers of all good things” or “us?” “A kiss on your molten eye” falls between two thoughts, as though an unconscious sign of affection for the girl, unplanned and immediately forgotten.

“Myriad lives like blades of grass yet to be realized bow” as these strange “bearers of all good things” pass. To refer to lives as “blades of grass” is to describe them as multitudinous and unnoticed, and yet these millions of lives have yet to be realized. These are the essences of beings yet to live on earth, and they revere the mystic “bearers.” The bearers of all good things themselves:

[]Are cold
Waiting in the
Ether to
Only to die

They are passionless beings without permanent bodies, which like a vapor hang in the “ether” waiting for the plummet towards earth to renew, drown and generate life,

Only to die
Dissolve magically
They'll end
Coldly and

The cyclical nature is here reinforced with these graceful lines. They point not just to the immutability of time and of our predetermined fate, but to the inexorable beauty of an absurd and magical process and of its value to us.

I am not sure I want to know if the modern girl is good or bad. I am content knowing that she “still care[s].” She and her lover are caught in the fight, not just for survival, but for a greater meaning. Though they can sense that fate and its inexorable pull, they can still find joy and accidental love.

To hear the song go to the player at the bottom of this page.