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A short history of fire in Joanna Newsom’s Ys

April 6, 2007

Fire—a thing that, of late, has been kind of a preoccupation of mine, for obvious reasons—is a big lyrical concern in Joanna Newsom’s latest album, Ys. The word, or some variation thereof, appears multiple times in four out of five songs on Ys.

From “Emily”:

that the meteorite is a source of the light
and the meteor’s just what we see
and the meteoroid is a stone that’s devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee

From “Sawdust and Diamonds”:

then the slow lip of fire moves across the prairie with precision

From “Only Skin”:

it was a dark dream, darlin’, it’s over
the firebreather is beneath the clover
beneath his breathing there is cold clay, forever
a toothless hound-dog choking on a feather


and when the fire moves away
fire moves away, son
why would you say
I was the last one?


through fire below, and fire above, and fire within
sleeped through the things that couldn’t have been if you hadn’t have been


clear the room! there’s a fire, a fire, a fire
get going, and I’m going to be right behind you
and if the love of a woman or two, dear,
couldn’t move you to such heights, then all I can do
is do, my darling, right by you

From “Cosmia”:

water were your limbs, and the fire was her hair
and then the moonlight caught your eye, and you rose through the air

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