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stillorbiting
11-28-2010, 09:48 PM
I'm posting this a day early, as I doubt I'll be online tomorrow.

Here are the lyrics, first off:

when you ate I saw your eyelashes
saw them shake like wind on rushes
in the corn field when she called me
moths surround me - thought they'd drown me

and I miss your precious heart

dried rose petal, redbrown circles
framed your eyes and stained your knuckles

and all those lonely nights down by the river
brought me bread and water (water, in)
but though I tried so hard my little darling
I couldn't keep the night from coming in

and all those lonely nights down by the river
I was brought my bread and water by the kith and the kin
now in the quiet hour when I am sleepin'
I cannot keep the night from comin' in

why've you gone away?
gone away again?
I'll sleep through the rest of my days
if you've gone away again

sleep through the rest of my days

why've you gone away, away
seven suns, seven suns
away, away, away, away

can you hear me? will you listen?
don't come near me, don't go missing
in the lissome light of evening:
help me, Cosmia; I'm grieving

and all those lonely nights down by the river
brought me bread and water (water, in)
but though I tried so hard my little darling
I couldn't keep the night from coming in

and all those lonely nights down by the river
I was brought my bread and water by the kith and the kin
now in the quiet hour when I am sleepin'
I cannot keep the night from comin' in

beneath the porch light we've all been circling
beat our dust hearts, singe our flour wings
but in the corner, something is happening!
wild Cosmia, what have you seen?

water were your limbs, and the fire was her hair
and then the moonlight caught your eye, and you rose through the air
well, if you've seen true light, then this is my prayer:
will you call me when you get there?

and I miss your precious heart;
and miss, and miss, and miss,
& miss, & miss, & miss, & miss, & miss your heart
but release your precious heart
to its feast, for precious hearts

Who or what is Cosmia? For a long time, I thought Cosmia was merely an altered form of the word cosmic, or cosmos, and so it conjured up images of the starry night sky, of the unknowable universe. Also, given Emily's strong astronomical themes, I thought it was a reference to that as well. I still think all of this is true and intentional, but now I also know that Cosmia is a genus of moth. This, to me, simply has to be the pinned and framed (or rather, dead) moth on the cover of Ys. The life and spirit of the moth is gone, but the memory remains.

Here are some relevant quotes.


Towards the end of high school, when she was eighteen, Newsom went down alone to a wild spot along the river. After asking their assistance, she arranged some stones into a circle, and then sat down within the ring. She stayed in the circle for three days, fasting, facing the river. Her best friend and some pals camped a few miles away, bringing her water and small portions of rice while she slept. She had assigned herself things to do but abandoned them all. She just sat there and watched the river, and, even more, she listened to it.

'I was a completely different person before I went to the river, and a completely different person after,' Newsom says. When she first got back the girl was a total wreck. She would start crying when she woke up and not quit until she slept. She stopped going to school. She'd pick up the local paper, and read a headline like 'Man Dies in Car Crash,' and then the crash would be in her mind, and the man's bloody crumbled body, and his pain and dread and fearful exit from this world. 'None of the calluses or borders or walls we put up to protect ourselves from going absolutely insane while experiencing life -- none of those stood anymore. They had been worn completely away. I was like infantile and dysfunctional, a weepy, drunk mess.'

And she also has this to say about it:


The thing that I was experiencing and dwelling on the entire time is that there are so many things that are not OK and that will never be OK again. But there’s also so many things that are OK and good that sometimes it makes you crumple over with being alive. We are allowed such an insane depth of beauty and enjoyment in this lifetime. It’s what my dad talks about sometimes. He says the only way that he knows there’s a God is that there’s so much gratuitous joy in this life. And that’s his only proof. There’s so many joys that do not assist in the propagation of the race or self-preservation. There’s no point whatsoever. They are so excessively, mind-bogglingly joy-producing that they distract from the very functions that are supposed to promote human life. They can leave you stupefied, monastic, not productive in any way, shape or form. And those joys are there and they are unflagging and they are ever-growing. And still there are these things that you will never be able to feel OK about–unbearably awful, sad, ugly, unfair things.

Again, I am reminded SO strongly of Emily: "we could stand for a century, starin' with our heads cocked in the broad daylight at this thing, joy, landlocked in bodies that don't keep, dumbstruck with the sweetness of being, till we don't be told; take this, eat this." Between that and the references to the river, I can't think of Cosmia as anything but an extremely fitting Part II to Emily.

It's pretty clear to me that Cosmia is supposed to represent the friend she lost. And she could have chosen any number of names for a moth, but I do think the connection to the universe and the stars conjured by the name Cosmia is intentional, as I said. It's about not knowing where someone goes when they leave this world. Once they've left our Earth, what could we possibly presume to know about what's next?

"But though I tried so hard, my little darling, I couldn't keep the night from coming in." This is about realizing that we are powerless when it comes to fighting the dark things in this life. We can't stop them. And she accepts that in the very next line: the word "couldn't" changes to "cannot."

"Don't come near me, don't go missing." The mixed feelings that come with loss. She both wants to completely stop thinking about this person, and also doesn't want them to leave her.

To me, these are the most important lines:


beneath the porch light we've all been circling
beat our dust hearts, singe our flour wings
but in the corner, something is happening!
wild Cosmia, what have you seen?

water were your limbs, and the fire was her hair
and then the moonlight caught your eye, and you rose through the air
well, if you've seen true light, then this is my prayer:
will you call me when you get there?

Of course, the classic story of the moth is that it craves the light, but when it gets too close, it gets burned and dies. But look at the contrast she sets up here between "porch light" and "true light." The porch light is artificial. We're all moths, and we all fly too close to the light. But in our mortal lives, we never get near true light. It's beyond our access. (This reminds me strongly of Tori's "Muhammad My Friend": "I've never seen light, but I sure have seen gold." Sorry, couldn't resist!)

Through death, Cosmia transcends the human experience. Instead of talking about death like it's something horrific and ugly, Joanna sees it as her friend experiencing something entirely new and maybe even beautiful. But at the same time, she doesn't romanticize the pain of her loss. She ends the song with frantic, aching cries for her friend's precious heart, which she has now lost access to for the rest of her life. And miss, and miss, and miss, and miss. The missing doesn't stop.

"But release your precious heart to its feast for precious hearts." Everyone else who has passed on is also a precious heart to somebody. And maybe, hopefully, wherever it is they all go, there are innumerable boons waiting for them all. The only thing we can do is let them go find out, and keep right on missing them as they go. It doesn't make it okay, and it doesn't make it better. But that, in its own way, is okay.

Talk about the perfect catharsis at the end of Ys. And I think the (very) extended instrumental outro on the Ys Street Band EP is supposed to represent life going on after the acceptance of loss.

talkingtadpole
11-29-2010, 01:49 AM
I connected with this song in a huge way after experiencing the loss of a loved one and it is, along with Emily, my favorite on Ys. I love the catharsis at the end. The emotion is so genuine and pure. It is even more incredible live!

Owen
11-29-2010, 07:00 AM
This was the song that made it impossible for me to resist buying Ys. It is incredible...

JHV
11-29-2010, 09:37 AM
The repeated "and miss, and miss"es that close the song are one of the most powerful and moving moments by any artist. There's so much longing and pain in the vocal, while the instrumentation conveys the urgency of it perfectly, and it's only made more devastating by the sadness and acceptance in the following lines.

My interpretation of the song has always been very wrapped up in some personal stuff (which is true for Sawdust and Diamonds and Only Skin as well), so its nice to read a different interpretation, and I don't recall reading those quotes before. Thanks for a great post, stillorbiting.

dimshala
12-02-2010, 06:20 PM
This popped into my head while reading this thread. From eHow.com, How Does a Moth Fly? (http://www.ehow.com/how-does_4743029_a-moth-fly.html)

Why Do Moths Fly Toward Lights?
Moths fly by using the moon to navigate. Since they come out at night, they judge where they are going by what relationship the moon's light is to them. Since the moon is so far away, they can use it to judge if they are flying in a straight line or not. When a strong light source, such as a porch light, is turned on, the moth's sense of direction is confused. Since the light is so close, they can't figure out which way to fly. They end up flying into the light and zooming around it. They are trying to relocate themselves, but since they are not following the moon, they continue to get confused until the light is turned off and they can follow the moon's light again.

Adam
12-03-2010, 05:58 AM
WOW. Just read your post and then re-read those lyrics. Simply amazing!!!!!!! They just got 10 million times more awesome than they already were!

menju56
12-05-2010, 12:43 AM
Excellent post, stillorbiting.

Cosmia is one of my very favourite Joanna songs. Very emotional and beautiful, and that melodic change into "sleep through the rest of my days" and then the instrumental bit and into "seven suns" is simply gorgeous. Oh and the accordion! I really love it, along with Emily perhaps my favourite from Ys. Really interesting to read about the moths information and ideas about death. And like Kari I love how she can go from these wonderfully poetic lines to something so simple like "call me when you get there." I feel like she does that quite a bit on Have One On Me too, and the balance is part of why I think she's so good as a lyricist. The images she comes up with are often quite astounding.