What the Water Gave Me

Album: Ceremonials (2011)
Charted: 24 91
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Songfacts®:

  • This track from English indie rock act Florence + the Machine's second album finds main woman Florence Welch singing about water becoming a deity that must be appeased. She explained the background to the song in an interview with NME: "I was kind of fascinated by those stories about children who are swept out to sea, and their parents go in after them and try to rescue them and it sounds horrible, but because the children are smaller, they get swept in unharmed whereas the parents are drowned. It's like the sea demands this sacrifice. There's that line in the song: 'They took your loved ones and returned them in exchange for you but would you have it any other way?' And you probably wouldn't."
  • The song is titled after one of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's most famous paintings, in which she's depicted lying in her bath surrounded by surreal, nightmarish imagery. Florence told NME: "A lot of the time when I'm writing, things will just… appear. I was writing the song and this book on symbolism was lying around, and it had that painting on it. It's nice to mix the ordinary with the 'extraordinary.'"

    Another Kahlo painting, "Sandías con leyenda: Viva la vida" ("Watermelons with legend: The life lives") was the inspiration for the title of Coldplay's single and album "Viva La Vida."
  • This song also references the death of British novelist Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself by walking into a river with her coat pockets filled with stones. Florence was inspired by a family visit to Charleston, a country house, which was a frequent meeting place for the early 20th century Bloomsbury group of writers, artists and philosophers of which Woolf was a core member. "We got there too early, but they let us into the gardens, and then we ate the apples off the trees," Florence recalled to NME. "It just seemed like a really amazing breakfast in this really amazing place. And then I was just thinking about her death. That's always been such a strong image: going to the river with your pockets full of stones."
  • There is a recurring water imagery running throughout Ceremonials. Florence explained to NME: "I am obsessed with drowning. It's about succumbing and being completely overwhelmed by something that's bigger than everything. I think it comes from being in love for the first time," she continued. "Like totally and utterly in love. Like first 17-year-old love. I remember falling in love with this boy - who was in a band, obviously - and having the first glimpse he might like me too. I had to go on a family holiday for two weeks. I spent the entire time sat at the bottom of the swimming pool screaming at the top of my voice. I just wanted to be somewhere that completely encapsulated me where I could just thrash and scream."

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