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Old 03-11-2009, 02:21 PM   #106
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i know it's written "lamb," i also know that it sounds like "land" and that "land" in part of it makes sense -- particularly if we're talking about snow, which, as you know, covers the land, not so much the lambs.
I took his "lamb as white as snow" to be in a simile context, much like Mary's little lamb whose fleece was also white as snow.

I do think there could be a "lamb" and a "land" reference int he two verses. The first one seems to be talking about spiritual love, forgiveness, divinity, adn I think that in that one he's saying "lamb" and the "white as snow" is a simile for purity. The second reference is int he context of a geographic description, and that one could be "land" and the "white as snow" could be the literal, snow-covered land back home.

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Old 03-11-2009, 02:56 PM   #107
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i think that makes a lot of sense -- the movement from the metaphorical "lamb as white as snow" to the "land as white as snow" seems to echo the character's journey as laid out in the beginning of the song: "i knew there was a love divine / then it knew me not" (paraphrased).

there's another journey in this song, and to me, it sounds like one away from certainty and towards doubt, and i can't help but think that it really is a despairing song, especially with the lines about the "water it was icy / as it washed, over me" -- which also connects to the idea of being born again, only this time, the metaphorical baptism in these waters offers nothing to this dying soldier. there is no lamb, only the land, as white as snow.
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Old 03-11-2009, 03:26 PM   #108
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the movement from the metaphorical "lamb as white as snow" to the "land as white as snow" seems to echo the character's journey as laid out in the beginning of the song: "i knew there was a love divine / then it knew me not" (paraphrased).
But that paraphrase is telling, since the line is actually "there came a time when I thought it knew me not." Implication being that there are seasons ("there came a time") when we are far from the love, but that doesn't mean the love doesn't exist...merely that we think it is so.

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there's another journey in this song, and to me, it sounds like one away from certainty and towards doubt, and i can't help but think that it really is a despairing song, especially with the lines about the "water it was icy / as it washed, over me" -- which also connects to the idea of being born again, only this time, the metaphorical baptism in these waters offers nothing to this dying soldier. there is no lamb, only the land, as white as snow.
I don't know -- the last lines being "if only a heart could be as white as snow." Kind of reminds me of Denzel W's line from "Man on Fire" -- "Do you think God will forgive us for what we've done?" For me, this is the life of a soldier slouching towards death, weighed down both by what he's done as a soldier, but also reflecting on his own childhood, when he hunted with his brother -- an implication that he's only ever been after blood. (Note the contrast with his description of the faces of he and his brother as "pale as the dirty snow.") It seems like this is a moment when he realizes -- too late -- that there is something greater than him, purer than him, that he missed. ("Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not?/Only the lamb as white as snow.") He needs to be forgiven for what he's done, for the lives that he's taken -- and the only one who can offer solace or hope is the lamb...
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Old 03-11-2009, 03:42 PM   #109
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I agree with nathan1977. And I think the character is at that point where he's wanting forgiveness, but thinks he's past it. He thinks he's too far gone, which is terribly sad.


We're like a freaking Oprah book club with this song, aren't we?
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Old 03-11-2009, 03:48 PM   #110
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So if he thinks he's too far gone, does that mean he is? Or is that left ambiguous by the fact that the 'who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not/only the lamb as white as snow' recognition(?) is in there at all. I agree that the character himself appears to be more haunted by that thought than comforted by it.
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Old 03-11-2009, 04:07 PM   #111
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But that paraphrase is telling, since the line is actually "there came a time when I thought it knew me not." Implication being that there are seasons ("there came a time") when we are far from the love, but that doesn't mean the love doesn't exist...merely that we think it is so.



I don't know -- the last lines being "if only a heart could be as white as snow." Kind of reminds me of Denzel W's line from "Man on Fire" -- "Do you think God will forgive us for what we've done?" For me, this is the life of a soldier slouching towards death, weighed down both by what he's done as a soldier, but also reflecting on his own childhood, when he hunted with his brother -- an implication that he's only ever been after blood. (Note the contrast with his description of the faces of he and his brother as "pale as the dirty snow.") It seems like this is a moment when he realizes -- too late -- that there is something greater than him, purer than him, that he missed. ("Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not?/Only the lamb as white as snow.") He needs to be forgiven for what he's done, for the lives that he's taken -- and the only one who can offer solace or hope is the lamb...



interesting, and i've been thinking about this all day, and i think this is where we're coming at with different interpretations because we have a different fundamental assumption.

i think you and coemgen are working under the assumption that there always is and always was a "love divine." that it's timeless and it exists, and it's the narrator who has fallen away from that love, and at the moment of death he's bemoaning his own journey away from love and towards ... sin? i don't want to make it too specific, but that's probably what we could call it.

for me, i find it more that the assumption is that there's not necessarily anything there to begin with. he does say, specifically, "once i knew there was a love divine" and then over time he feels betrayed by this live, "it knew me not." it points to the comfort that it once gave -- the "forgiveness" -- but how the experience has revealed that the former thoughts, that he once knew the Love and that the Love once knew him, have abandoned him as the icy waters rush over him.

i think we have to look at the "water / it was icy" line as the most important moment in the song. it stands out, musically, from the rest of the song. it's a clear line that's drawn between the two halves, and it's arguably the most beautiful part of the song. it seems to climax there. now, after this icy baptism, the word is empty ("bears no fruit") and cruel ("road refuses strangers"), and as yolland says, he seems haunted that this belief in the Love Divine in the beginning isn't there for him. strangers are wolves (which does bring back the lamb, doesn't it), and faces cannot be known. so when you die, you die alone.

all that there is is flesh, land, death ... and the final lines are despairing, that the human heart can't be as pure as the lamb, or the snow-covered land (which is only pure for a moment after the freshly fallen snow, then it's dirtied by human activity).
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Old 03-11-2009, 04:14 PM   #112
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^ Although, when I asked that I was partly thinking about how the last words recorded of Jesus in a couple of the gospels have him quoting psalm 22--Eli Eli lama azavtani, 'My God, my God, to what have you abandoned me?'

(Incidentally, and granted Bono wouldn't know this presumably , but in the psalm that line is immediately followed by an angry rachoq mi yeshua'thi--'How far you are from saving me!'--so I can't imagine the symbolic irony of someone named 'yeshua' crying out the preceding line upon death would've been lost on anyone familiar with the Hebrew psalms at the time.)
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Old 03-11-2009, 04:18 PM   #113
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So if he thinks he's too far gone, does that mean he is? Or is that left ambiguous by the fact that the 'who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not/only the lamb as white as snow' recognition(?) is in there at all. I agree that the character himself appears to be more haunted by that thought than comforted by it.
No, it doesn't. From the Christian perspective, our salvation isn't based on how we feel, it's based on the work of the cross and how we respond to it. (He may not feel like he's responded to it sincerely, but again, there's no way to tell if he truly has.) The only unforgivable sin is if we reach a point where we fully reject the work of the holy spirit. It's not a single act or series of acts, but an ongoing rejection without concern and even a promotion of such a rejection. If you fear you've committed the ultimate sin, you haven't. That's how entrenched it is.

Matthew 12:31-32
"And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
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Old 03-11-2009, 04:22 PM   #114
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^ Although, when I asked that I was partly thinking about how the last words recorded of Jesus in a couple of the gospels have him quoting psalm 22--Eli Eli lama azavtani, 'My God, my God, to what have you abandoned me?' (Incidentally, and granted Bono wouldn't know this presumably , but in the psalm that line is immediately followed by an angry rachoq mi yeshua'thi--'How far you are from saving me!'--so I can't imagine the symbolic irony of someone named 'yeshua' crying out the preceding line upon death would've been lost on anyone familiar with the Hebrew psalms at the time.)
I always heard it was Eli Eli lama sabachthani. (Why have you forsaken me.)
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Old 03-11-2009, 04:44 PM   #115
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Right, it's an Aramaic pronunciation of the same word. (Or more correctly, Aramaic šabaqtanî is cognate for Hebrew azavtani; just looked it up.) To abandon is to forsake, 'to what' implies 'to what end? why?'; that's just a question of how you translate it.

ETA: Also, I just checked the KJV translation and indeed it translates that line from psalm 22 as 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?', exactly as it translates Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.
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Old 03-11-2009, 05:02 PM   #116
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interesting, and i've been thinking about this all day, and i think this is where we're coming at with different interpretations because we have a different fundamental assumption.

i think you and coemgen are working under the assumption that there always is and always was a "love divine." that it's timeless and it exists, and it's the narrator who has fallen away from that love, and at the moment of death he's bemoaning his own journey away from love and towards ... sin? i don't want to make it too specific, but that's probably what we could call it.
Yes. This is what I'm partly thinking, at least.

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for me, i find it more that the assumption is that there's not necessarily anything there to begin with. he does say, specifically, "once i knew there was a love divine" and then over time he feels betrayed by this live, "it knew me not." it points to the comfort that it once gave -- the "forgiveness" -- but how the experience has revealed that the former thoughts, that he once knew the Love and that the Love once knew him, have abandoned him as the icy waters rush over him.
But he acknowledges only the lamb as white as snow can forgive. He's acknowledging something's there. Also, he doesn't say "It knew me not," he says "then came a time I thought it knew me not." I think, in it's full context, he's still acknowledging it's there, he's just saying he didn't feel it or he felt distant from it by what he's done — because the next line is about forgiveness and then the lamb.

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i think we have to look at the "water / it was icy" line as the most important moment in the song. it stands out, musically, from the rest of the song. it's a clear line that's drawn between the two halves, and it's arguably the most beautiful part of the song. it seems to climax there. now, after this icy baptism, the word is empty ("bears no fruit") and cruel ("road refuses strangers"), and as yolland says, he seems haunted that this belief in the Love Divine in the beginning isn't there for him. strangers are wolves (which does bring back the lamb, doesn't it), and faces cannot be known. so when you die, you die alone.
I do love that part of the song. It is terribly beautiful. I honestly don't know what to think of it yet. Maybe he was baptized, but didn't fully mean it. Maybe it has nothing to do with baptism. I do, however, think it's disconnected from the next few lines because of the word "now." I think the part about the dry land and and everything is setting the tone for Afghanistan and there is no sign of Christ. Just poppies (which, of course, are used to make drugs) and then there's the symbolism of the Crescent moon (Islam). Yet, he asks "Where might we find the lamb as white as snow."

Then you have:
As boys we would go hunting in the woods
To sleep the night shooting out the stars
Now the wolves are every passing stranger
Every face we cannot know
If only a heart could be as white as snow
If only a heart could be as white as snow

I kind of see this as "when we were young, we'd go hunting in the woods, now as a soldier, the hunted could be anyone around me. And I can't know them as a human being because of my role as a soldier." The enemy is among everyone around him and he almost has to assume everyone is the enemy. He can't really know them as a person. So again, there's impurity in his heart by labeling everyone as an enemy and having this view that the enemy needs to be killed. I don't know. The more I look at this the more I see.
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Old 03-11-2009, 05:11 PM   #117
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Right, it's an Aramaic pronunciation of the same word. (Or more correctly, Aramaic šabaqtanî is cognate for Hebrew azavtani; just looked it up.) To abandon is to forsake, 'to what' implies 'to what end? why?'; that's just a question of how you translate it.

ETA: Also, I just checked the KJV translation and indeed it translates that line from psalm 22 as 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?', exactly as it translates Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.
Interesting. I know abandon and forsake are close in definition, I just hadn't heard the Hebrew word, azavtani, in that phrase.
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Old 03-11-2009, 05:32 PM   #118
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Irvine's thoughts are interesting; I agree that our thoughts on the song underline a fundamental difference in worldview.

The question at hand seems to be whether this is a song about regret or doubt, and I can't see this song as being one of doubt. The line "There came a time I thought it (love divine) knew me not" is not an implication that the Love doesn't exist; rather, it is that Love has passed him by (or perhaps that he has passed Love by). A lifetime of taking life has cost him what is most dear. The bridge, having to do with baptism, for me is a tragic moment, because it is clearly a contrast -- he remembers when his faith was fervent, and it has since chilled by a lifetime of taking life. I know plenty of people who had a faith in Love at one point, who walked away. It feels like this song is the story of a man who walked away, but who struggles not with doubt of the truth of what he once believed, but with the fear of whether it is still available to him. He is about to see the lamb that is as white as snow, and the one thing he hopes is that forgiveness may somehow still be available to him, despite where he has wandered.

This is all kind of underlined by Bono's definition of Grace as "God never running out of patience."
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Old 03-11-2009, 05:42 PM   #119
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Irvine's thoughts are interesting; I agree that our thoughts on the song underline a fundamental difference in worldview.

The question at hand seems to be whether this is a song about regret or doubt, and I can't see this song as being one of doubt. The line "There came a time I thought it (love divine) knew me not" is not an implication that the Love doesn't exist; rather, it is that Love has passed him by (or perhaps that he has passed Love by). A lifetime of taking life has cost him what is most dear. The bridge, having to do with baptism, for me is a tragic moment, because it is clearly a contrast -- he remembers when his faith was fervent, and it has since chilled by a lifetime of taking life. I know plenty of people who had a faith in Love at one point, who walked away. It feels like this song is the story of a man who walked away, but who struggles not with doubt of the truth of what he once believed, but with the fear of whether it is still available to him. He is about to see the lamb that is as white as snow, and the one thing he hopes is that forgiveness may somehow still be available to him, despite where he has wandered.

This is all kind of underlined by Bono's definition of Grace as "God never running out of patience."
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Old 03-11-2009, 05:54 PM   #120
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i'm not sure that the soldier is upset about anything that he, himself, has done. there's no sense of regret for any of his actions. he talks in pastoral tones about the past and about being a hunter, but i don't think that there's any sort of implied violence in his past or that there was something unusual or depraved about his hunting or being a hunter, or being a soldier for that matter.

it seems to me that he felt abandoned by this Love Divine -- "it knew me not -- and now, at the end, it's not there. i think we have to keep in mind that we know that these are dying thoughts. i think the poppies and the crescent moon are more of a means of setting a stage rather than implying that drugs and Islam are no substitute (or are empty roads) in comparison to this Love Divine.

i think, though, on the whole of it, the images we're given are ones of loss and abandonment and isolation.

i've also thought back to a class i took on "whiteness" and i'm reminded of (if memory serves) the chapter on the whiteness of the whale, and how the intense purity of the color is actually quite sinister.

ah, i've found it on Google:


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Nor, in some things, does the common, hereditary experience of all mankind fail to bear witness to the supernaturalism of this hue. It cannot well be doubted, that the one visible quality in the aspect of the dead which most appals the gazer, is the marble pallor lingering there; as if indeed that pallor were as much like the badge of consternation in the other world, as of mortal trepidation here. And from that pallor of the dead, we borrow the expressive hue of the shroud in which we wrap them. Nor even in our superstitions do we fail to throw the same snowy mantle round our phantoms; all ghosts rising in a milk-white fog--Yea, while these terrors seize us, let us add, that even the king of terrors, when personified by the evangelist, rides on his pallid horse.

Therefore, in his other moods, symbolize whatever grand or gracious thing he will by whiteness, no man can deny that in its profoundest idealized significance it calls up a peculiar apparition to the soul.

But though without dissent this point be fixed, how is mortal man to account for it? To analyse it, would seem impossible. Can we, then, by the citation of some of those instances wherein this thing of whiteness--though for the time either wholly or in great part stripped of all direct associations calculated to impart to it aught fearful, but nevertheless, is found to exert over us the same sorcery, however modified;--can we thus hope to light upon some chance clue to conduct us to the hidden cause we seek?

[...]

But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous--why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian's Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind.

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour; and at the same time the concrete of all colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows--a colourless, all-colour of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues--every stately or lovely emblazoning--the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colourless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge--pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear coloured and colouring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?


Melville, Herman - Moby Dick -- or The Whale
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