Big River – Unraveling the Depths of Heartache and Longing


You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Johnny Cash's Big River at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning
  4. The Eternal Cry of the Weeping Willow: An Ode to Nature’s Witness
  5. Sailing Down the Mississippi: A Journey of Heartbreak
  6. Unveiling ‘Big River’s’ Hidden Meaning: The Emblem of the River
  7. The Words that Wrench the Soul: ‘She loves you, Big River, more than me.’
  8. Memorable Lines that Flow with Emotion: Johnny Cash’s Poetic Mastery

Lyrics

Now I taught the weeping willow how to cry,
And I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky.
And the tears that I cried for that woman are gonna flood you Big River.
Then I’m gonna sit right here until I die.

I met her accidentally in St. Paul (Minnesota).
And it tore me up every time I heard her drawl, Southern drawl.
Then I heard my dream was back Downstream cavortin’ in Davenport,
And I followed you, Big River, when you called.

Then you took me to St. Louis later on (down the river).
A freighter said she’s been here but she’s gone, boy, she’s gone.
I found her trail in Memphis, but she just walked up the block.
She raised a few eyebrows and then she went on down alone.

Now, won’t you batter down by Baton Rouge, River Queen, roll it on.
Take that woman on down to New Orleans, New Orleans.
Go on, I’ve had enough, dump my blues down in the gulf.
She loves you, Big River, more than me.

Now I taught the weeping willow how to cry, cry, cry
And I showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky.
And the tears that I cried for that woman are gonna flood you Big River.
Then I’m gonna sit right here until I die.

Full Lyrics

It is a song that captures the essence of the human experience – love, loss, and the relentless pursuit of what slips away. Against the backdrop of America’s flowing lifeblood, its mighty rivers, Johnny Cash’s ‘Big River’ isn’t just a song; it’s an odyssey of the heart. As Cash’s baritone voice chases the specter of a lost love down the Mississippi, we feel the current of his sorrow woven into the very melody that drives the tune.

Yet, beneath the mournful recounting of a love lapsed, there lies a richer undercurrent, a complex web of emotion and symbolism that transcends the personal. ‘Big River’ is more than a tale of unrequited love; it is a tapestry of American folklore and cultural narrative, a reflection in the waters that define the human soul’s ebb and flow.

The Eternal Cry of the Weeping Willow: An Ode to Nature’s Witness

The weeping willow, known for its sorrowful posture, becomes an apt metaphor for the storyteller’s own despair. Cash charges the natural world with his personal grief, teaching the so-called stoic entities of nature—willows and clouds—how to express the profound sadness he cannot reconcile. This intimate kinship with nature marks the song as a declaration of profound emotional release.

Moreover, the imposition of human emotion on to the environment draws a parallel between the man’s internal tempest and the external world, suggesting a unity between the character’s heartbreak and the natural cycles of rain and river, of growth, decay, and the inevitable passage of time.

Sailing Down the Mississippi: A Journey of Heartbreak

Cash’s pilgrimage alongside the omnipresent Big River mirrors the meandering path of love – unpredictable and uncontrollable. As the story unfolds from St. Paul to Davenport, down to St. Louis and Memphis, each locale marks not just a physical tracing of the river, but an emotional waypoint in the narrator’s journey.

It is as if with each bend in the river, with each town that whispers tales of the elusive woman, a piece of his hope erodes, carried away by the same waters he uses to tailor his pursuit. This chase, while literal, emphasizes a psychological pursuit—a chase for closure, for understanding, and for a peace that remains as elusive as the woman he seeks.

Unveiling ‘Big River’s’ Hidden Meaning: The Emblem of the River

One could argue that the Big River itself is no mere setting, but a character entwined in the narrative—a symbol of life’s intransigence and the impermanence of love. It stands indifferent, mighty and continuous, as human dramas play out on its shores.

In fact, Cash personifies the river, accusing it of complicity in the woman’s departure, and ultimately, in his own heartbreak. As the river rolls on, unconcerned and undiminished, it metaphorically represents the unrelenting passage of time that respects no man’s sorrow or plea.

The Words that Wrench the Soul: ‘She loves you, Big River, more than me.’

In these crestfallen words, we pierce the heart of the song’s pathos. The recognition that the woman he loves harbors a deeper affection for the call of freedom and adventure—embodied by the river—than for him, is the ultimate surrender to his forlorn state.

This line reveals the crux of the song’s message: the agony of understanding that one’s love is not paramount, not the anchor, but rather just a fleeting encounter in the grand stream of life. These words resonate with anyone who has ever felt overshadowed, outmatched by something grander in the eyes of someone they loved.

Memorable Lines that Flow with Emotion: Johnny Cash’s Poetic Mastery

In ‘Big River,’ every line drips with the mastery of Cash’s simple yet potent lyrics. They tell the tale of his emotional journey while painting vivid pictures of the American South’s geography, blending personal narrative with regional identity.

Sentences such as, ‘And the tears that I cried for that woman are gonna flood you Big River,’ not only evoke the impassioned depths of his sadness but also conjure images of the mighty Mississippi overflowing its banks. Here, Cash aligns his personal deluge with the river itself—a metaphorical and literal flooding, melding heart with landscape.

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