Nick Cave’s “O Children”: Hey Little Train, Wait for Me

harry and hermione dance

 Since the memorable dance between Harry Potter and Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Pt.1), O Children has gained an instant following. It’s blusey-gospel-sway finds the listener swept away to times we wish we had, times when we wished we had acted differently, and times when we know we’ll need to act differently in the future.

I tried searching for the actual meaning behind the song since it wasn’t technically written for the movie. One blog interpreted the lyrics quite literally, thinking it sang of the children taken away by Nazis during the Holocaust; while other various Yahoo answers thought it to be more hopeful, using familiar images from old African-American spirituals such as trains, stations, and the imminence of freedom. No matter what interpretation I read, there was a despair at being caught in a place of no exit… and a plea for hope for the future.

I found both the desolate and the hopeful in the song. There’s remorse of older generations, certainly, watching the youth of our times slip away because of what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and what we continue to do. Yet the words also sing of children being happy and free. Call me naive or a “plain reader”, but even in art, sometimes the most obvious theme is meant to be just that: obvious. In this case, and obvious plea and an obvious comfort.

Have a listen, sway to the rhythm, judge for yourself what the song sings to you…

O Children – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

 Pass me that lovely little gun
My dear, my darling one
The cleaners are coming, one by one
You don’t even want to let them start

They are knocking now upon your door
They measure the room, they know the score
They’re mopping up the butcher’s floor
Of your broken little hearts

O children

Forgive us now for what we’ve done
It started out as a bit of fun
Here, take these before we run away
The keys to the gulag

O children
Lift up your voice, lift up your voice
Rejoice, rejoice

Here comes Frank and poor old Jim
They’re gathering round with all my friends
We’re older now, the light is dim
And you are only just beginning

O children

We have the answer to all your fears
It’s short, it’s simple, it’s crystal clear
It’s round about and it’s somewhere here
Lost amongst our winnings

O children
Lift up your voice, lift up your voice
Rejoice, rejoice

The cleaners have done their job on you
They’re hip to it, man, they’re in the groove
They’ve hosed you down, you’re good as new
They’re lining up to inspect you

O children

Poor old Jim’s white as a ghost
He’s found the answer that we lost
We’re all weeping now, weeping because
There ain’t nothing we can do to protect you

O children
Lift up your voice, lift up your voice
Rejoice, rejoice

Hey little train! We are all jumping on
The train that goes to the Kingdom
We’re happy, Ma, we’re having fun
And the train ain’t even left the station

Hey, little train! Wait for me!
I once was blind but now I see
Have you left a seat for me?
Is that such a stretch of the imagination?

Hey little train! Wait for me!
I was held in chains but now I’m free
I’m hanging in there, don’t you see
In this process of elimination

Hey little train! We are all jumping on
The train that goes to the Kingdom
We’re happy, Ma, we’re having fun
It’s beyond my wildest expectation

Hey little train! We are all jumping on
The train that goes to the Kingdom
We’re happy, Ma, we’re having fun
And the train ain’t even left the station


Add Yours

    This is about the eternal now for me.
    It is very relevant in this information age, whether you believe the conspiracy theories or wish to shy away from the absolute horrors humans can inflict upon one another and entire populations we truly live in a time of consensus trance and cognitive dissonance.
    When I first heard this song it resonated that feeling for me.
    For me it is a song of apology to the next generation that we will let down if we do not become more vigilant to the eternal dangers of resting on our laurels for the benefits of ‘comfort’.
    The laws that are being put in place now are in danger of being abused by the wrong people, in fact (in my belief) it’s happening already.
    Its not too late.


  2. Anjali Gupta

    I agree, I think the song is directed at the next generation because of the exploitative and negative nature of the society they are about to be exposed to as children. You can definitely see this message at the beginning in “and it’s only just beginning” along with “lost amongst our winnings”. It is at the same time a positive message to be strong throughout life, “lift up your voices”. However, there are strong negative connotations, especially in “pass me that lovely little gun” suggesting suicide, and the happiness death would bring. Towards the end of the song, and probably the paralleled ending of the lives of this generation, there are biblical references and exultative tone such as “I once was blind but now I see” and his questioning of whether he will get into the kingdom of heaven. There is circularity within this song – it ends as it begins, discussing the nature of death as escape.


  3. erinbecky123

    Reblogged this on Reluctant Mysticism and commented:

    So I’m a Potterhead. 😉 Since transferring my blog from Typepad to WordPress, this post still gets daily clicks. Is it the movie? The music? Or is the message that Nick Cave’s wrote such evocative lyrics that no matter the context, we can all be both singers & hearers?


  4. P.

    As a Lithuanian for me it’s quite obvious what this song is about. Gulag a system of labour camps maintained in the Soviet Union from 1930 to 1955 in which millions of people died. So not Nazis this time, Soviet Union deportations of Lithuanias, Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Tatars, Ukrainians, Caucasus and many more. The deportation was made by trains, made for animals. Many children, elders, infants, pregnant women was departed. They were called “anti-soviets” or “enemies” while they were only intellectuals, professors, teachers, politicians, business owners. Maybe I’m digging too deep, but all the lyrics pretty accurately describes this horror. Read a great book by Ruta Sepetys “Between shades of gray”. I don’t think that the word “gulag” was mentioned by coincidence or as metaphor.


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