Constantine's Dream

Songfacts®:

  • Smith explained to Billboard magazine that this dark improvised meditation on art and nature is about Christopher Columbus, "having a dream of the environmental apocalypse of the 21st century."
  • Speaking with Spin magazine about this impressionistic improvised track, Smith said it contains, "many questions." She explained: "It questions the role of artists in our society. The questions are there, and they're not answerable questions. They're more things that we contemplate and ruminate constantly. As an artist, one thinks, "What is the purpose of art? Can we make a difference? Is art just more pollution in an already polluted world?" There are a million questions one asks oneself."
  • The song was inspired by a pilgrimage Smith made in 2008 to explore the life of Saint Francis. Smith, who was raised a Jehovah's Witness but left them once she became a teenager, hired a local Italian band, Casa del Vento, to play on this track. The New Yorker explained during the album's playback that after her guitarist Lenny Kaye laid down his improvised backing track she, "studied, thought and then improvised a vocal… It's about the environment, materialism. I thought about St. Francis of Assisi, who was such a beautiful person."
  • The 10-minute meditation references early renaissance artist Piero della Francesca, who died on October 12, 1492, the day on which Columbus discovered the New World.
  • The song title refers to a dream of the Roman Emperor Constantine, which was instrumental in his conversion to Christianity. Having become ruler of Britain and Gaul on his father's death, in 306AD, Constantine found himself six years later battling with Maxentius over control of the entire Roman Western Empire. Constantine decided to settle the matter by force and on the night before the Battle of Milvian, as he was about to cross the Alps, he dreamt of a cross of light superimposed on the sun. On it were the words "In this sign you shall conquer." The emperor related this to the Christian God and ordered his men to go into battle with the sign of the cross painted on their shields and standards. The battle was won, Constantine's conversion was sealed and he gained control of the Western Roman Empire.

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