We’re at our third blog for the Poetry Lessons series, which focuses on “Clocks,” written by Chris Martin et al. / performed by ColdPlay. This song presents the power of inference, everything we can understand by bringing our personal knowledge to the bits and pieces that the poets reveal. If you are not familiar with the song, please visit this link: Go on. I’ll wait.
Verse I ~ Inferring with Images of Trouble
The poem opens with images of trouble, letting us know immediately that the relationship is on the verge of break-up. No lights can guide him back. The tide is taking him out, away. and no amount of begging on his knees will stop the break-up.
What started the break-up? “Things unsaid. . . . A trouble that can’t be named.” What did he neglect to say? What trouble can’t be named? Oh, that kind of trouble, the one that someone never wants to name: a sin he is responsible for but enjoyed too much to avoid it at the time. And now it’s there, between them, not mentioned but still festering.
How do I know he’s the one responsible for the sin? It’s in the allusion of “Shoot an apple off my head”: He’s the boy in the William Tell story: the apple of desire / of lies is on his head, placed there by himself, waiting for it to be shot off. But she hasn’t shot it off. Instead, she refuses to talk about it. It’s still there for both of them to see, because neither of them will mention it and get it out of the way.
That’s the tiger, the thing that needs to be tamed, but it won’t be. They refuse to acknowledge it, even though it has thousands of stripes. The stripes are all based on the same sin, in variations every time his sin comes between them. Black. Obvious. With claws and fangs that rip them apart.
Chorus ~ Inferring an Argument / an Accusation / What?
Such a simple chorus, repeating the words “You are”. Is it an accusation? Is it her accusation of him–unfinished because it can’t be named? Is it a wish? We don’t know at this point.
Verse II ~ Inferring the Cause of Cracks in the Relationship
Part one of this stanza shows his reversed thinking: he’s taking actions too late. He’s knowing what to do too late. He’s suffering the consequences not that she’s gone, too late to stop her leaving.
So we begin with the last line of the first part of Stanza II: “I could not stop that you now know” although he obviously wanted to.
But she’s gone now, and he wants to bring her back to the home they were supposed to be creating: “Gonna come back and take you home”.
When he walks through the place they lived, the place that he wanted to call “home”, he feels oppressed, claustrophic (closing walls) and time passes so slowly (“ticking clocks”). He has no escape now from what he’s done. He has to live with it. Nothing to distract him. His thoughts, in constant revolution like a clock. His actions, putting him in the cage of his own making.
Could he have stopped it? That must be his constant question without an answer: “Confusion never stops.”
His “seas”, the ones that have the “tides that [he] tried to swim against”, are drowning him. He can’t escape that what he did broke them up. Now he curses “missed opportunities”. Now he realizes what he should have done, every step along the way. The words he should have said. The little details of life that he could have helped with. The tasks he could have taken on. The devotion he should have given.
The verse concludes with an antithesis: “Am I a part of the cure? / Or am I part of the disease?” Can he get her back? Can he “cure” their relationship? Or is there something inherently wrong with him? Has he a cancerous sin that infects him and prevents him from succeeding at a relationship?
Chorus ~ Inferences becoming Clearer
Again “you are”. This time, we know what it is: he misses her. She was everything, but he realized it to late. “Nothing else compares” to her and to the life they were trying to build together.
How do I know? She represented “home” to him: “home, home where I wanted to go.” That was his dream for the relationship: together they would make a home.
Not now. So he sings his lament with its obsessive repetition. Too late. She is gone. The dream is gone. And he is alone in that echoing house.
Questions? Trouble with your own poetry? Check out Discovering Sentence Craft, covering ideas both figurative and interpretive as well as structures like inversion, opposition, repetition, and sequencing. Find it here: