The Exorcist: My interpretation of the TDB lyrics
The concepts of communication and feedback are central in The Division Bell (TDB) album. But we should not confuse the meaning of the lyrics with the mystery surrounding the Publius Enigma. The interpretation of the lyrics alone cannot explain the scale of the Enigma, which certainly imply more than one person. However, if as some people stressed it, communication and feedback are key factor to the science of cybernetics, they are also of vital importance to the field of human relationships. Without proper communication and reciprocity, human beings would be subject to isolation and death. To me, The Division Bell album is mainly about a love relationship that turned awry by lack of exchange.
In my opinion, the lyrics Polly Samson cowrote sound like an autobiographical account of her painful relation with Heathcote Williams and the divorce that ensued from a lack of communication in their couple. I call this: AN EXORCISM, and the chief exorcist who made it possible is David Gilmour. My hypothesis is that she tried to exorcise her past (before getting engaged with Gilmour) when she was asked to write the lyrics of TDB. May be Gilmour just understood the traumatism she was suffering from and gave her a chance to get past. Based on what I found about her on the Web, I infer that she's had a history of isolation, abandonment and depression. Her first book, Lying in bed, is full of such themes.
The metaphor of the (Parliament's) division bell accurately illustrates the problem. When someone is not allowed to speak, when a man and a woman don't share an equal amount of "bandwidth" together, they can easily end up destroying each other (increase of noise and entropy in the family circle…). The Division Bell, which anecdotically lead my thoughts to the Devil (Diabolus, the one who divides, the one who throw away or separate), is (paradoxically?) an instrument of reunification. "For millions of years mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk" (Keep Talking). A division bell is therefore a tool designed to help speech happen in a mutual and respectful manner.
Seven out of nine songs from TDB were (co)written by Polly Samson. They are:
What do you want from me (Gilmour, Samson)
Poles Apart (Gilmour, Samson, Laird-Clowes)
A great day for freedom (Gilmour, Samson)
Take it Back (Gilmour, Samson, Laird-Clowes)
Keep Talking (Gilmour, Samson)
Lost for Words (Gilmour, Samson)
High Hopes (Gilmour, Samson)
The last two songs, Coming Back to Live and Wearing the Inside Out were written by David Gilmour alone and Anthony Moore. But I believe they are talking about Polly's hurtful experience.
Analysis of the lyrics
The dark mood of most of the lyrics is sometimes balanced by a more positive tone, implying a kind of resurrection, a coming back to life, a sunrise, a rebirth.
The themes of solitude, silence and hopelessness are often echoed by those of fire and rage and hate we can find in four songs: Caught in fiery anger (Wearing the Inside Out) / burning with rage and desire (Take it Back)/ Where were you when I was burned and broken (Coming Back to Life) / "I was caught in a cauldron of hate" (Lost for Words).
Cluster One (One cluster = a couple)
What Do You Want From Me (on the difficulty to understand each other)
Poles Apart (differences that make us strangers)
Marooned (marriage as a shipwreck, deadly antagonism)
A Great Day For Freedom (day of emancipation, deciding to break free)
Wearing the Inside Out (turning point: we can hear ourselves again)
Take it Back (She could take (her love) back, one day)
Coming Back to Life (Polly’s pregnancy: the seeds of life and change were planted)
Keep Talking (silence & lack of communication lead nowhere)
Lost for Words (When it’s hopeless, You know you just can't win)
High Hopes (our biological clock ringing like a bell and slow decay)
Cluster One can be understood as a metaphor for a union, a couple, two people meeting (clustering into One).The three dots can then be equated to the archetypal parents-child trio (among other interpretations).
"What Do You Want From Me"
This song seems to be about Polly’s painful relation with Heathcote Wiliams. It focusses on the difficulty of sharing / expressing their differences. The general tone is one of doubt and despair, but the interrogation suggest there's still room for a solution and reconciliation. The question she asks, "What do you want from me" and the guesses she makes "Should I sing…play thes strings…stand out in the rain…make a daisy chain…" explicit a lack of communication and feedback. She also suggest he's a "control freak" (You can…sell your soul for complete control) who's "very hard to please". She also understand his vulnerability and fear (…there is nothing to hide) and encourages him to "turn and face the light". She even proposes her blood and tears, if that is what he wants from her. But her pain is deep enough to suppose that “ I'm not the one you need”.
Interestingly, this song is closely related to the next (Poles Apart). The "golden boy" of Poles Apart or the "Right One" of Lost for Words can indeed "have anything he wants", he can "…drift, …dream, even walk on water" because he's a poet. But he fails to recognise what he already have before him. As the saying goes, the grass seems always greener (cf. High Hopes!) in the neighbours' field…
(Polly’s torn apart, Polly’s a part,...)
Here, Polly realises that her love relation with Heathcote Williams has come to an end. This song's double meaning is really clever. The emphasis on sight and blindness is quite interesting because it brings us back to the most well-known myth of Greek Antiquity. Like Tiresias in Oedipous the King, she prophetises in the first sentence that "it was all going to go so wrong for you". Like Oedipous, her partner had lost that light in his eyes, Like Oedipous blinding himself with her mother's golden brooch, he is blinding himself with "steel in his eyes". Like Oedipous the antic wunderkind, this "golden boy" is running away from (not only) his family and has obscured himself to the light of love. Funny enough, the name Samson is etymologically derived from the Hebrew/Mesopotamian word signifying "Sun" (Shamash). The line starting with "Leading the blind…" is clearly a reference to Polly Samson. She was born with a terrible squint, she was known at school as Clarence the cross-eyed lion and had to wear enormous glasses during childhood. The irony of this song then becomes obvious: the almost blind Polly is clear-sighted in announcing future wrongs to his companion while prophetising her own social and emotional climax (her marriage with Gilmour...). Moreover, the interrogative voice of the first song (WDYWFM) has turned to answers in Poles Apart (did you know…).
The title suggests a love affair turning into a shipwreck... and a bloody confrontation.
A Great Day For Freedom
This song is certainly about Polly’s understanding that here relation has run aground on the same day the Berlin wall came down... She found herself abandoned and penniless. And in November, "…life devalues day by day" as the sun plunges toward the darkness of the winter solstice. The Wall came down on November 1989. Here again, she had foreseen that the relation is over (It was clear that I could not do a thing for you) in a kind of prophetic vision (I dreamed you had left my side). Her son Charlie is only eight month old: "there's a change that, even with regret, cannot be undone". The tone is one of sadness and sorrow: no warmth… friends and neighbours turning away, bitter residue…
The Ship of Fools could easily serve as a metaphor for her first union. She embarked in an adventure two or three years before with a "golden boy" who appear to shipwreck their boat (cf. Marooned).
Wearing the Inside Out
This song is the Turning point or Threshold of TDB. Written by Anthony Moore, it is the axis of the album. There are five tracks before and five tracks after. The themes of darkness and light, silence and communication are interwoven. The black and white photo of the CD booklet clearly illustrates this dichotomy. We understand there's a kind of reversal happening. After the dark tones of the first 5 tracks, the voice sees the end of the tunnel: "I'm creeping back to life". The song begins by speaking about isolation, woundedness an silence while it ends with a positive note: “Now we can hear ourselves again”.
It is a kind of remembering of the hard time she had in her previous relationship and Polly's new relation with David Gilmour: "I'm with you now", which kind of brought her back to life.
Take it Back
This one seems to be about all the dirty tricks one can do to avoid being hurt and on the frailty of a couple composed of two persons who have to deal with their past. It sounds like a confession to G-d (invert the letters and you have David Gilmour's initials...).
Coming Back To Life
Although it sounds quite desperate in the first lines (burned and broken…hurt and helpless… lost in thought and lost in time), this song do express some hope (I knew the moment had arrived for killing the past and coming back to life / I knew the waiting had begun And headed straight . . . into the shining sun).
I think this song is also about Polly Samson’s pregnancy. The line “While the seeds of life and the seeds of change were planted…) echoes the "change that, even with regret, cannot be undone" of AGDFF. The “dangerous but irresistible pasttime” (sex) sometimes lead to a 9 months “waiting” (I knew the waiting had begun).
Absence of communication, solitude, silence, depression, dead ends. Broken communication, lack of warmth, drowning into desperation. An unnatural situation: "It doesn't have to be like this. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking" (sounds like A recipe for a solution, doesn't it...)
Lost For Words
An account of Polly's worst days with Williams: "they tell me to please go fuck myself / You know you just can't win". Darkness, hate, procrastination were experienced. In some way, she seems to be marked with a sense of martyrdom, to a certain degree. When the Right One (or Golden Boy) walks out of the door, he only shows he is crooked (think about Oedipous…) and unable to recognise his "significant other". There'll be no safety in numbers (statistics about abandoned women?)
This one seems a bit different. It puts the whole album in the domain of quantum physics or pre-Planck's Time. "The ringing of the division bell had begun", provoked by the extraordinary forces of the Big Bang which gave birth to the Universe. Along the Long Road (The Milky Way) and on down the Causeway (Plane of Galaxy?) Do they (Sun? Moon?) still meet there by the Cut (Equator?)
There was a ragged band (The Zodiac is indeed a celestial band...) that followed in our footsteps (from our birthday on...)
Running before time took our dreams away (aging limits our possibilities)
Leaving the myriad small creatures trying to tie us to the ground (quarks, atoms, gravitons...)
To a life consumed by slow decay (death)
Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us
To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again
Dragged by the force of some inner tide
At a higher altitude with flag unfurled
We reached the dizzy heights of that dreamed of world
Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There's a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we've been so many times
The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter
The nights of wonder
With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river
Forever and ever
The order of the songs are arranged in a mirror-like fashion centered on Wearing the Inside Out.
Cluster One – High Hopes
WDYWFM – Lost for Words
Poles Apart – Keep Talking
Marooned – Coming back to life
AGDFF – Take it Back
The Division Bell, was released in March 1994. David married Polly Samson in July 1994.
Polly Samson's biography can be found here: