I strongly recommend listening to the song before reading any further.
Watch this video.
So, today we’re gonna talk about a more widely known song, authored by an Irish artist (not Bono, sorry). I’m talking about Enya’s ‘Only Time’.
I’m not sure when or where I first heard this song. It could’ve been the radio or the TV (obviously not MTV though). Hell, I’m not even certain if I remembered it as a song in the first place. But the faint melody did manage to creep inside my mind cozy up there. But it was like an incomplete painting. Just the outline, and ever since, it had been demanding to be completed.
Now, I don’t know Enya as much as I think I know some other artists (well, I couldn’t have sound humbler than that). I haven’t even listened to those many of her songs. I can’t vouch for anything that I presume might’ve been going on in that niche of her mind (or heart, for the more cheesy of you lot) while writing this piece. I have no idea whether it has been dedicated to someone or if it ties in with another song from the album… So, I may fail to deduce the bigger plot (if there is one, that is). However, this post is about what made my train of thought change rails after examining Enya’s ‘painting’… And of course, it will contain the usual lyrical analysis too.
Sorry about that pseudo-disclaimer.
Before getting into the crux of the matter, let’s discuss a little about the music that animates and flavors the lyrics of this song.
Maybe I’m just wired in this way, but everytime I listen to a track for the first time, only the music enters my head (if it is an instrumental, well and good). The case was no different with ‘Only Time’. This happens not because the vocals aren’t captivating or too delayed or something. They just melt straight into the flowy euphony. It’s almost as if Enya’s voice graph, which I picture to look like the shapely sineθ/cosineθ graph (come on people, high school Math!) watermarked itself into the sheet music.
The music sounds very orchestral on the surface, but surprisingly the only instruments used are the piano and the guitar (and we’re well aware of the wonders they can do if coupled properly). The basic foundation is simple. It’s three strokes of the string, with each triad separated by that cave-water droplet effect (I still don’t know what you call it, sorry). The notes reside mostly on the low end (I did not want to use the word ‘bass’ because it would deviate our attention to EDM and that’s what kids listen to nowadays, isn’t it? Jeez.) but there is the occasional jump in frequency to equilibrize the ride.
It’s wonderful how the music evolves from this seemingly haunted requiem to an enchanting tonal masterpiece that, you know for a fact will remain resonant even years later.
“Who can say where the road goes? Where the day flows? Only time.”
So Enya’s univocal message in the the above lines (damn, it’s like reference to context school English all over again), is pretty universal: The simple message that Time has the answer to everything.
Let us summon my metaphorical paintbrush to help add a spiritual edge to our little quest.
We have ourselves a water color painted stream amidst some lush wilderness, which depicts the vastness of the universe. This is the stream of Time and it is pretty much eonial. We belong to a school of fish swimming in it. Up to an extent, we are the masters of our fate and captains of our soul (H.G. Wells style!) and can control where we’re headed. But there are things that aren’t in our hands…. Sorry, fins. (I can swear my paintbrush slapped my face to correct me). For example, there could be rocks right in the middle after a distance. There could be some unfriendly predators waiting to make us breakfast. Rapid currents can do no good for us little Lebistes reticulatus (guppies of course, come on, were you guys snoozing during Bio class?). Hell there could be a waterfall for all we know. But if we can’t know, then who does? Only the stream, right? ‘Only Time’.
Enya says that at a given instant, we can’t tell how a day is going to shape itself. There could be fun filled romps or there could be let downs. We may become darlings of Lady Luck or alternatively, the victims of the Devil. There could be life changing meadows of fruitful achievement or (equally life changing) pits of tragedy.
The only way to find out what lies in store for us is to live through the day and face all the ups and downs as they come.
These first set of lines speak for the whole song, beautifully capturing its essence and reminding us just how powerful of an entity Time can be.
THE UNSTOPPABLE FORCE:
“Who can say if your love grows, as your heart chose?
“Who can say why your heart sighs, when your love flies?
And who can say why your heart cries, when your love lies?
These next set of lines are based on the same semantic blueprint of the first set, only they feel a lot more personal. Since we’ve drilled deep enough to understand the Time aspect, this gives us some space to explore another powerful entity that has been introduced in the song: Love.
Part of the reason why I chose ‘Only Time’ to write about, is the opportunity to give my opinion on such beautiful topics.
So, Love. My metaphorical paintbrush can go crazy painting a fast watercolor dash of a mother’s eyes filled with Love as she kisses her child goodnight, a music fan’s face as it melts under the heat of admiration and Love as he watches his favorite guitarist fly through a solo or a Kung Fu disciple remembering the Love and respect he holds for his teacher (Sigh… Still haven’t watched Kung Fu Panda 3). But of course, we’re talking about couples’ love.
What is true Love? It’s a word we throw around so often…
We love to tell ourselves that we’re in Love. Are we? I’m afraid we’re not. I used to be under that illusion too. The ones that truly feel Love, don’t have to tell themselves anything. They just know it’s there. Moreover, their minds and hearts don’t celebrate this realization. They are at peace.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Love is unquantifiable.
Under most circumstances, human behavior is predictable. Bring Love into the equation, and you’ll see a philosophical singularity. Nothing makes sense. Crazy patterns emerge.
However, there are a few conditions that do make sense. Popular to contrary belief, Love isn’t just emotion. Sure, strong feelings follow, but most of it is defined by devotion, commitment and a set of actions. Love is patient. It doesn’t happen overnight, opposed to what the world has been preached by the plethora of movies, TV shows, young adult novels and the worst of all, the abominations that are under the guise of ‘pop’ songs of today (ugh).
This also means that there is no such thing as ‘Love at first sight ‘. Nope, there isn’t. Believing that it does is one of the lowest nadirs of my intelligence.
When you look at a person for the first time or second, or third, your knees may feel weak, your stomach funny, your insides may feel like they’ve melted and have gone berserk all over your system like nitro glycerine and you may be cloud walking (yes, I’ve felt it all) but my dear friend, that isn’t Love. That is merely infatuation.
When you see a person for the first time, you don’t know anything about them. You only see how they look and (apparently) behave. Basically, you’re only physically attracted to them. You don’t know them. And ‘knowing’ is an important part of love.
For falling in Love with a person, you need to know them. Infatuation sees perfection. But sadly, there’s no such thing as perfection. Love (again contrary to popular belief), isn’t really blind. It sees and knows all the flaws in your partner but accepts them as a part of the being they are. Love can’t be kindled just by sharing bodies (I said ‘just’. Sex is beautiful.). Two people in love share their aspirations, their experiences and of course, their Time and everything in between.
Love is selfless. And this happens right on the border of subconsciously and voluntarily doing things. Casual relationships are weakened by quarrels, whereas Love is strengthened by quarrels.
You can draw analogies. Love in many ways is like good wine. Hard to find. Requires special attention and a certain method. Requires some ageing (as I said, Time is always necessary). In the end, the result is phenomenal and yes, quite unquantifiable.
Or Love is like a diamond. Starts off as nothing but black, ugly and sooty Carbon. Undergoes metamorphosis under severe heat and pressure (analogous to all the hardships you face together) and the upshot is one of the hardest substances on this world. Very hard to break.
You can take many more examples and I think we should get back to the song now. Damn, I did good (trust me, it could’ve been a lot worse. I’m always aroused).
So basically, Enya’s saying that when we fall in ‘Love’ with someone of our heart’s choosing, Time will put us to the test and, only it has the answer to whether the bond will evolve to grow or fall flat.
Thence comes the interlude and this soothing breeze sweeps me away to another place. My dear paintbrush comes alive and paints me sitting alone in a beautiful Basilica with light pouring in through its high windows. While staring at the altar, this one strong shaft of divine light connects with my body (like a spotlight following a performer) and I start mulling over things I never thought would cross my head.
However, I realize it’s the splendid backing vocals behind all this magic. Not only do they add another dimension to the song, they also act as support for Enya’s voice. It’s almost like a circus performance where the trapeze artists propel their partners masterfully bar to bar. That’s exactly what the backing vocals are doing.
Also the triad structure we discussed earlier is still present, following Enya uphill with the crescendos.
The next two set of lines describe two outcomes of falling in Love. Both are decided by Time itself. The first being successfully finding true Love. Like I mentioned before, when a person feels true Love, there’s no imaginary fireworks that go off in his head. Rather, like Enya so eloquently put it, the lover just heaves a sigh of relief, knowing that the bond is here to stay. And this doesn’t happen just like that. It happens as a result of all the trials of life that two people go through together. All the storms they brave, the mountains they scale and the roads they ride. Together. Through Time.
Of course, not all stories have a happy ending. Even true Love can come to an end. This may happen instantly, or really slowly, just fading away into nothingness. None however, it’s without pain or heartbreak. Many heartbroken people believe they don’t have the capacity to Love again. I say it’s all in the mind. For, the heart will be ready to feel love once again. However, just like how it sighed in the previous instance, the heart will most certainly cry if Love doesn’t work out as it knows what had been built is now lost. Over Time.
“Who can say where the roads meet? That love might be, in your heart? “
At first, I didn’t quite get what Enya was going for here, then I heard it again from the beginning and it became clear. Like a picture taken by Polaroid.
It’s like a progression of events. First, there was meeting a person. Then, falling in Love. Then, the split and now, the hardest part. That’s right: Moving on (trust me, it is harder to deal with than the heartbreak).
Okay so, two people have split up. They’ve gone their separate paths. They were swimming in the same stream before it forked into two tributaries and they went either way. Enya asks what if their paths meet again? What if at some point later in their life, they happen to run into each other?
Mr. Brush here just painted former lovers seeing each other one rainy day on a signal junction. Rains pouring down and they’re just staring at each other, minds exploding with memories. Now what happens after that, whether they actually talk or walk past, I’ll leave that to you to decide. Point is, were there still some residual feelings left in their hearts? And did seeing each other again, rekindle anything?
If you ever loved a person, you can’t just erase them from your life, even after the relationship ends. They become a part of who you are and it isn’t deleting a part of yourself now, is it?
Depending on how you handled the process of moving on, the final position of those latent feelings is decided. They may get overhauled by new priorities, aspirations or even new Love. And of course, who already knew? That’s right, Time.
Moving on consists of two parts: Letting go and starting over. We’ll talk a little about the former. Why is letting go so hard? It’s because we dwell so much on the past. We build ourselves this prison of memories (as depicted in the film, Inception. Sorry, Mr. Brush, your time will come) and keep revisiting the past and wish to right our wrongs. But this isn’t possible. There’s no racing back against Time. Time had already won. Is currently winning. And will continue to win no matter what. Unknowingly, we ourselves become inmates of this prison and slowly, we become insane, until the prison becomes an asylum.
The tragic irony is that, the keys to our shackles were always in our hands. It is just our mindset. But since it’s strongly connected to the heart and soul, the decision to let go becomes tougher to make. Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. In order to maintain balance, one needs to keep moving.” There’s a thing about time: It may hurt. It may hurt you a lot as it passes. But secretly, it’s also healing you. Little by little.
“And who can say when the day sleeps?
If the night keeps, all your heart?”
Again, there was a bit of ambiguity about the meaning of these lines but I think I know what they mean.
She’s given Time two faces: The Night and the Day. Sometimes, it so happens that were tormented by a certain thought and we stay up whole nights, running it over and over in our heads (take if from me, I’m the king of over thinking), over analyzing and obsessing.
Enya says that when this happens, the Night has taken control over us; has claimed us in a way. As, the next Day, we will be exhausted and sleepy and not really all there, because we now belong to the Night.
It may not necessarily be something that’s bothering us in a negative way. It could be a crazy idea leading to a Eureka moment or something like a poem (like moi, #2AMClub). But it is most definitely very important to us, as Enya says the Night keeps “all your heart”.
She begins to close off the song by repeating the starting few lines of the song, except in reverse order. So she has basically encapsulated the entire song within a pair of lyrical brackets. May not sound like much, but I think that’s pure genius. At first, I thought she was repeating the same lines to fill up space. Then once I realized, my mind blew up like a nuclear reactor with its coolant pump breached, the turbines flinging Cadmium control rods all over the place (physics, people!). I love when songs try to be symmetrical, and this one does it with utmost elegance.
“Who knows? Only Time.”
Enya chants the above line twice, like a mantra to evoke the truth that has manifested itself through the course of this hymn (almost). The truth about something we always knew, but never bothered to contemplate about to its full phasis.
The music then fades away, just like how that powerful beam from the Basilica’s window recedes back to the heavens and I, a wiser man with the revelation, proceed to leave as the bell tolls.
The revelation that only Time has the answer to everything. That it is a God-set parameter and will continue to flow till the end of existence itself. Nothing can survive the ravages of Time. Not marble, nor gilded monuments (Shakespeare, yeah!). Not me, not you, not even King Ozymandias (also shoutout to P.B. Shelley).
So what can we underlings take away from this? Whatever happened in the past is done and sealed. There’s no use worrying about it, and neither does it do any good to dwell over daydreams of the future. The best place to be is the present. As only you can steer it. Take up the challenges of life as they come your way. Revel in your triumphs, but don’t let them feed your ego. Learn from your failures, don’t let them feed on you. Live to make and watch your dreams come true.
We may be at the helm of our own vessels. Our own lives. But zoom out, and you’ll see that all of us tread the same path. The temporal path. The path of Time.
P.S- You there! Wait, I’m not done. Thank you for taking out a bit of your precious Time and reading this post. I know I made it extremely long, but I didn’t want to hold back. I hate retaining ideas for the future. I mature with every post I write and hopefully, I’ll be better in the next one. Only Time will tell. 😉