Analysis of “Yoke”

14 Mar

It’s a complex song, and I get a lot of hits on my blog from people trying to find out what it means.  First, a line by line analysis of Amy Ray’s (of the Indigo Girls) “Yoke” found on the Beauty Queen Sister CD.  In the next blog, I’ll sum up what I think Amy Ray is trying to say in the lyrics:

I found the binding of the yoke

Binding is restrictive.

yoke is a wooden beam, normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs, as oxen usually do.

That connects us here, in this herd of hope

“us” and “herd” compares people to animals (oxen now; horses toward the end of the song).

Herd refers to a social grouping of certain animals of the same species, either wild or domestic, and also to the form of collective animal behavior associated with this (referred to as herding) or as a verb, to herd, to its control by another species such as humans or dogs.

“here” as in Earth/alive

“hope” universal questions of why people are alive and what our mission is

Escort me to your kingdom come

“Thy kingdom come”, a phrase in the Christian Lord’s Prayer referring to the Kingdom of God

Amy is talking to another person

She wants to know what actions “here” will get her to heaven

from the gallows’ hold, and the things we’ve done

Imagery of a person hanging from the gallow

A person hanging from a noose is trapped, immovable by their own power, dead but not at peace.

She recognizes that all people are flawed and have done bad things (ie death by hanging)

You stole so much, so much at times

Going back to crimes–why a sentence of hanging

A hunter might over-kill the prey, but herds of animals only kill what they need.

also shows an unequal relationship–one person only takes, never gives

Just being bad, like the books we read

“Just being bad, like books” is a justification for bad behavior

They compare their actions to the actions they’ve read about

What books is she talking about?

Maybe history books which prove men’s over

maybe law/policy books that give people “the right” 

Maybe the Bible where whatever bad behavior is commonplace.

The helplessness that you played upon

manipulating someone weaker or someone’s weakness in some relationship

also a hunter would take advantage of a prey’s weakness in order to kill it.

Was just tenderness, to disarm

hiding true intentions to put another person at ease, then taking advantage in a relationship

“disarm” is the hunting metaphor again–animals have attributes (teeth, claws) that hunters must overcome

She ushered in love, but it drove you mad

who is “she” that Amy is referring to?

a girlfriend?  An animal?  The Earth?  A goddess?

A relationship with true love on one side and anxiety/deception on the other

love for animals/environment that person could not live by

Not to have everything of your envisioning

A very telling line.

Someone who doesn’t appreciate the things they have, instead wanting it all

A controlling person in the one-sided relationship

Human Greed that over-kills in hunting or over-consumes nature

She wandered in on the peace you lacked

wan·de (wndr)

v. wan·deredwan·der·ingwan·ders

1. To move about without a definite destination or purpose.
2. To go by an indirect route or at no set pace; amble: wander toward town.
3. To proceed in an irregular course; meander.
4. To go astray: wander from the path of righteousness.
5. To lose clarity or coherence of thought or expression.
so “wander” shows “she” didn’t truly realize the situation
“peace you lacked,” says the person Amy is talking to, was flawed before “she” entered the situation.

Yeah, and you’re losing still, that life you could have had

Losing the stability of a loving relationship?

Losing the naivety/love/trust  that “she” has?

Losing a zen-like spirit of one-ness with nature?

Losing a more Native American mentality that there should be balance in hunting?

Literally losing life, because the Earth is destroyed by carelessness?

Tell that story one more time for me

“One more time” ephasizes, it’s a favorite, repeated story

Whoever Amy is talking to takes pride in their deception

Of the bated fields just for the taking dear

A baited area means any area where shelled, shucked, or unshucked corn, wheat, or other grain, salt or other feed, whatsoever capable of luring, attracting, or enticing such birds is directly or indirectly placed, exposed, deposited, distributed or scattered.  The regulation further states that…such area shall remain a baited area for 10 days following complete removal of all such corn, wheat, or other grain, salt, or other feed. 

where you heard the hunters call

Hunting calls are noises hunters make to attract specific animals. 

The person Amy is talking to, attracted this naive person as prey.

Use deception to kill “her” (being the Earth/animals)

But your discipline kept you from the fall

“Discipline” explains how true intent was knowingly hidden–with difficulty and effort

Speaks of a hunter perhaps tripping, an animal falling after being shot, or  of falling in love

This line brings the subjects (hunting and disallowing the openness required in love) together

But oh, to hold that tenderness in these grubby hands

Amy wants to hold the tender bird meat from the fields?

Amy wants to hold the tender-loving woman from the relationship?

Amy figuratively wants to “hold” on to the Earth’s tenderness and the environment?

I’d shoot anything

Not discrimminating about the prey she hunts

not as picky about love objects.

And you laughed at me, but you know I’m right

The person she’s talking to brushed off her criticism.

So why do you claim the strength to put up a fight

Asking why they “put up a fight,” Amy is questioning the other person’s intent

The word “claim” implies that the other person might not be as sincere as they come off.

“claim the strength” shows the other person is actually weak.

And you hold your nightmares close from view

Keep fears under the surface.  Show bravado.

The horses going wild, under a breaking moon

Back to the herd/animals/nature

There’s no way the bridle ever fits the bride

bridle is a piece of equipment used to direct a horse

Oxen are driven with the use of a collar–no bridle

bridle may be wordplay to conjure weddings.

“No way the bridle fits” could mean that man is not meant to direct any part of nature

It could also be talking about equality in relationships–true love has no controlling force

things work in a balance like the oxen working together in a yoke

Yeah, and the weight of it, thats why we’re here

The weight of this connundrum

This interplay between people, and in relationships answers the question of our purpose.

Learning how to balance what we want and the effects on animals/Earth.

Next up:  My guess/analysis about what this song is saying.

5 Responses to “Analysis of “Yoke””

  1. Jana Shobe July 26, 2019 at 2:04 PM #

    Thank you for this thoughtful analysis of this haunting yet strangely beautiful song.

    You put into words what I could not myself express.
    I agree with your assessment.
    I was brutally raped by my father as a child. He robbed me of my innocence and even today at 57 years of age, I am still affected by his evil deeds
    In spite of his despicable acts, I have flourished as a woman. I am a successful Educator living in China and I enjoy the blessings of life.
    Suffering brings about transformation. I do not wish to suffer but my Yoke was forged by fire.
    My father depraved act created a human being that is smart, witty, kind, and compassionate.

    Something that he will never be.

    • kit10phish September 11, 2019 at 4:40 PM #

      Thank you for sharing your deeply personal story. The Indigo Girls’ writing never fails to touch my heart and make me think.

  2. NM October 31, 2015 at 10:47 PM #

    Umm, I realize this is an old post, and I dunno if Amy’s given more insight since this song was released.

    That said, if you’re close to anyone who’s in the closet and actively playing straight (as in, she’s married to/involved with a man), then this song is a gut-punch of the first order. Those nightmares? The possibility of being outed. And “No way the bridle ever fits the bride” — you know it and she knows damn well that that man (and possible marriage) is all wrong for her. “The weight of it” — being the out’n’proud pal to a closeted lesbian can often be a burden. You’ve always gotta remember that no-one else is supposed to know about the ‘bad’ old days (those “baited fields”).

    Just my two bits.

  3. Walter November 18, 2012 at 10:51 PM #

    Thanks for the insight, but as with most IG songs, this one is wide-open to interpretation. For me, the song speaks of trying to live within a relationship, but still looking outside it, and lamenting the “grass is always greener” aspect. The yoke she speaks of is the relationship.

    And the description of the baited fields, to me, is the classic bar/dance club, etc. She’s asking that other person to describe how easy it was for them to “pick up chicks/guys” so she can live vicariously. (Of course, that person is too good to actually have picked up anyone, but could’ve had whatever if they weren’t so upstanding.)

    The bridle, which is used to help guide horses and keep them under the riders’ control, will never fit because there is a wild, passion underneath that wants to run free.

    This song is haunting, and beautiful though. And, I find I keep coming back to it. Thank you for your interpretation. I’m sure, like me, you look forward to the next IG album, and to the awe of the lyrics and harmonies the Girls are able to put together to tug, and pull at not only our heart-strings, but our minds.



    • kit10phish November 19, 2012 at 5:30 PM #

      I like your interpretation too. I really love that you have to think about it to get this one–plus the instrumentals in it are amazing of course. It’s difficult to remember when put on the spot, but I think “Yoke” just may be the most complex IG song written thus far. I think that’s the beauty of great lyrics–it means something different to everyone.

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