Woman King – Unveiling the Veiled Sovereignty in Song

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Iron & Wine's Woman King at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning
  4. The Echoes of Antiquity in Modern Verse
  5. The Metaphorical Majesty of ‘Wristwatch Time’
  6. Confronting Evil with ‘Sword in Hand’
  7. Deciphering the ‘Bloodshot Eye’ and Beginnings of Sorrow
  8. Unlocking the Hidden Meanings Beneath the Melody


Blackbird claw, raven wing
Under the red sunlight
Long clothesline, two shirtsleeves
Waving as we go by

Hundred years, hundred more
Someday we may see a
Woman king, wristwatch time
Slowing as she goes to sleep.

Black horse fly, lemonade
Jar on the red ant hill
Garden worm, cigarette
Ash on the window sill

Hundred years, hundred more
Someday we may see a
Woman king, sword I hand
Swing at some evil and bleed.

Black hoof mare, broken leg
Eye on the shot gun shell
Age old dog, hornet nest
Built in the big church bell

Hundred years, hundred more
Someday we may see a
Woman king, bloodshot eye
Thumb down and starting to weep.

Full Lyrics

The haunting melodies and poetic depth of Iron & Wine’s ‘Woman King’ reverberate with the spirit of folklore and the echoes of distant, timeless narratives. Sam Beam, the soul behind Iron & Wine, is known for his lush, whispery musical landscapes—and ‘Woman King’ is no exception. As we venture into this enigmatic composition, the convergence of allegory and raw emotion beckons us into a realm where the personal is political, and the mythical is profoundly human.

Much like an ancient tapestry, the fabric of ‘Woman King’ is woven with threads that shimmer with multiple interpretations, each listener drawing upon their own tapestry of experience to unlock the song’s layered meanings. As we analyze the song’s poetic device and thematic essence, we find a multifaceted gem, challenging the conventions of storytelling, power, and the very archetype of sovereignty itself.

The Echoes of Antiquity in Modern Verse

From the opening lines, ‘Blackbird claw, raven wing / Under the red sunlight,’ the aesthetic of ‘Woman King’ is steeped in the symbols and sensibilities of ancient folklore. The song’s fabric is rich with the natural world’s imagery, hinting at an Earth-bound narrative that carries the weight of old-world myths. The motif of birds and insects throughout the piece isn’t mere ornamental language—it’s a totemic invocation that breathes life into the song’s protagonist: the eponymous Woman King.

By weaving the natural with the supernatural, Iron & Wine sets the stage for an exploration of leadership, femininity, and the cyclical nature of time. ‘Hundred years, hundred more / Someday we may see a / Woman King,’ these lines don’t just speak of patience; they’re an affirmation that the emergence of a matriarchal figure is as inevitable as the changing seasons.

The Metaphorical Majesty of ‘Wristwatch Time’

One of the song’s more intriguing phrases, ‘Woman king, wristwatch time / Slowing as she goes to sleep,’ conjures an image rife with paradox. This juxtaposition of regency and the ordinary—of a king and a wristwatch—suddenly casts the role of the Woman King within the realm of the accessible, of the everyday. It’s as if Beam is urging listeners to see greatness and leadership not just in the grandiose, but in the deliberate and daily march of time itself.

Moreover, the idyllic ‘slowing’ of time speaks to moments of calm, perhaps the rest deserved by a leader burdened with the loneliness of command. Rather than bask in the incessant ticking of urgency, the Woman King’s repose suggests a deeper connection with the world’s rhythm, an ability to hear the heartbeat of the universe amid the cacophony of existence.

Confronting Evil with ‘Sword in Hand’

In a stark deviation from pastoral serenity, the verse ‘Woman king, sword in hand / Swing at some evil and bleed’ encapsulates the song’s fighting spirit. The image of the female monarch taking up arms against malice encapsulates a broader message of resilience and the internal battle against one’s demons. The bleeding—a metaphor for vulnerability and the cost of combat—hints that this figure is not immune to pain, yet steadfastly embraces her role as protector.

This duality of action—swinging the sword and enduring the wound—is suggestive of the continuous struggle of those who lead or aspire to lead. It speaks to the intersection of power and sacrifice, inviting listeners to ponder the personal toll leadership takes, particularly on women, who have historically fought for recognition in a patriarchal society.

Deciphering the ‘Bloodshot Eye’ and Beginnings of Sorrow

The closing visual of the song, ‘Woman king, bloodshot eye / Thumb down and starting to weep,’ paints a picture of a ruler worn by her trials. The bloodshot eye, a universal symbol of fatigue or anguish, implies a history of trials where the Woman King has borne witness to the cyclical nature of birth, death, and rebirth. The ‘thumb down,’ a gesture historically used to pass judgement, here is perhaps self-reflective—a leader’s own harsh critique upon their reign.

But within the weeping, there is a cleansing, a sense of release and renewal. The tears symbolize not just sorrow, but the capacity for empathy and the profound emotional range that leadership demands. It is Beam’s subtle nod to the feminine strength, often misjudged as weakness, which knows the power of vulnerability and renewal.

Unlocking the Hidden Meanings Beneath the Melody

Beyond the explicit metaphors and imagistic language, ‘Woman King’ operates on a bedrock of unspoken messages that reveal themselves in the spaces between lyrics. The cadences of the melody speak to the age-old dance between light and shadow, encapsulating the very essence of existence that cannot be captured in words alone. The tension in the strings and the breathy vocals encapsulate the intangible—a realm where emotions reign supreme.

Listeners are thus left to interpret the song in the context of their own experiences, finding personal resonance in its melody and metaphor. Whether one sees the Woman King as an archetype, a personal muse, or a rallying cry for societal change, the song is a testament to the enduring power of ambiguity and the evocative force of music to stir the soul and awaken the imagination.

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