The image to the left is from the music video of "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele. I first heard this powerful song about a month ago, but was reminded of it on Tuesday evening when it was featured on the television sitcom Glee. I've been listening to the song all week, and so I thought I would do both a literary analysis of the lyrics and a theological reflection on it. Why? It has given me much food for thought in my prayer this week. If you would like to listen to the song, CLICK HERE for a link to the YouTube video.
Part I, Literary Analysis:
Literary analysis goes line by line, if not word by word, so I'll begin at the very beginning, which is, of course, the title.
1) "Rolling in the Deep"--to be honest, when I first learned what the words of the title were, I did not understand what they meant apart from the context of the rest of the song. In other words, "Rolling in the Deep" is not a common phrase for me, but given the images from the video, and other words in the song, I think the phrase is a way of saying "being well-off" or "affluent." If I'm wrong, please correct me.
2) "There's a fire starting in my heart/Reaching a fever pitch and it's bringing me out the dark"--so begins the song. At this point, it's too early to get the full import of these words. Nevertheless, we understand that emotion is escalating for the speaker, symbolized by the image of a "fire" "starting," but then "reaching a fever pitch." This fire is not just a symbol of emotion, as in the concept of "heat" or "fever" as a metaphor for "anger," because the fire also is bringing the speaker "out the dark." It is, therefore, a metaphor for enlightenment, also, if we take "darkness" as a metaphor for "ignorance."
3) "Finally, I can see you crystal clear,/Go ahead and sell me out and I'll lay your ship bare,/See how I'll leave with every piece of you,/Don't underestimate the things that I will do." In this stanza the speaker makes clear who her audience is--it's a particular subject (not herself, not the generic listeners, etc.) The "you" is someone specific, and we can take it to be a singular person. Again, the first line of this stanza, "Finally, I can see you crystal clear," is packed with meaning and metaphor. The word "finally" implies that this journey to her present enlightenment has been a long one--perhaps the consequence of a much longer period of deception (during the relationship) and a period of confusion and sorrow (initially after the break up). Now, however, the speaker can "see [her audience] crystal clear"--sight being another metaphor for enlightenment. What is the consequence of "seeing," that is "understanding"--disillusionment. She now understands her audience as an enemy threatening her, so she proceeds to threaten back, which is what the three last lines of this stanza are all about. The first, "Go ahead and sell me out and I'll lay your ship bare" is a tit for tat threat, which puts the blame on the person she is speaking to. The next "I'll leave with every piece of you" is a claim of power, the key words being "every piece of you"--"every" leaving nothing for her audience. The last line, "Don't underestimate the things that I will do," is chillingly ambiguous, but it is also revealing: ought the listener to the song suspect that the speaker's audience was in the habit of "underestimating" her? That their whole relationship dynamic was based on abusive manipulation from the audience against the speaker? If the speaker had been passive in the past, due to her ignorance of her former beloved's malice, she is passive no longer.
4) "There's a fire staring in my heart,/Reaching a fever pitch and it's bringing me out the dark"--a repeat of the first two lines. Now the listeners have a much better idea of what the speaker means by "fire," "fever pitch," and "dark." The speaker is evidently angry, and has made a resolution not to be a victim.
5) "The scars of your love remind me of us,/They keep me thinking that we almost had it all,/The scars of your love, they leave me breathless,/I can't help feeling..." This is the introduction to the climatic refrain of the song, and I think repetition is effectively used to build up to that climax. The metaphor of "scars" is a strong one, as it is jarringly applied to "your love." Someone whose love leaves scars is clearly an abusive lover. The use of the words "your," "me," "us" show the breakdown of the relationship. The speaker is recalling the days when she and her audience were one. She is sitting in the past, and what makes it hard for her is the realization that "we almost had it all." This past relationship was not completely bad, then. Her anger about the past seems to be based on the fact that things might have been very good--she thinks she nearly tasted perfect happiness--but it was all taken away. Disappointed hope, the result of something her audience did; the speaker is blaming him. "They leave me breathless,"--an ambiguous phrase, since being left "breathless" can be a positive experience. Still, "breathless" is extreme, showing that whatever she is feeling--a mix of good and bad, perhaps--she is feeling it to the utmost.
6) "We could have had it all,/(You're gonna wish you never had met me),/Rolling in the Deep,/(Tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep),/You had my heart inside of your hand, (You're gonna wish you never had met me),/And you played it to the beat,/(Tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep)"--So goes the climatic refrain and hymn from a broken and angry heart. The speaker repeats her accusation to her audience that they "could have had it all...rolling in the deep," while a chorus of voices sings the ominous line "You're gonna wish you never had met me." The two levels of emotion are playing out at the same time: the bitterness over missed opportunity and the angry intent to get revenge. "You had my heart inside of your hand...and you played it to the beat." The speaker claims innocence in these lines. She had been generous and open with her heart, which she gave to her beloved, but the image of her heart in his hand being played to the beat indicates vulnerability and violation. He used her, thus the voices in the background sing "tears are gonna fall"--but not the speaker's. She has finished crying. It is her betrayer who is going to cry.
7) "Baby, I have no story to be told,/But I've heard one on you and I'm gonna make your head burn,/Think of me in the depths of your despair,/Make a home down there as mine sure won't be shared"--a new threat from the speaker against her audience. She has knowledge about something related to her former beloved which she can use against him. "I'm gonna make your head burn" and "depths of your despair" are images of pain that the speaker blatantly apply to her audience. There seems to be a shift from threat of potential action to one of promised action. "Make a home down there"--there being a negative place, perhaps an allusion to hell--"as mine sure won't be shared," the revelation that the speaker has barred her former beloved from her "home" forever, "home" being a metaphor for her life, for intimacy/communion. Loud and clear she is saying that she is done and over with him.
8) The intro to the refrain and the refrain are repeated, with one interesting change that may or may not have been intended. Instead of saying "But you played it with a beat" as earlier, the speaker says "But you played it with a beating." "Played it with a beat" is a music line with ambiguous negative connotations in the context of the song. When the word "beat" becomes "beating" there's a sharp escalation of violent imagery, another indicator that the lover has hurt the speaker greatly through betrayal.
9) "Throw your soul through every open door,/Count your blessings to find what you look for,/Turn my sorrow into treasured gold,/You'll pay me back in kind and reap just what you've sown." I confess that I find this stanza a little tricky. The lines are intriguing, but too ambiguous for me. "Throw your soul through every open door," may reference, generally, opportunity. I might even see it as a reference to demonic possession, given Jesus' use of the metaphor of "house" for the human person [in connection with demon possession](Luke 11:24-26). "Count your blessings to find what you look for" seems like an ancient riddle with a moral bent (to get what you want, realize what you have). "Turn my sorrow into treasured gold," is a fascinating ironic statement hinging on the callous spirit of the speaker's audience. It says that he is heartless enough to enjoy or benefit from her pain, but then the next line "You'll pay me back in kind and reap just what you've sown" turns the table. The speaker declares that just as her betrayer enjoyed her pain, she is going to enjoy his. The only difference is the betrayer is reaping what he sowed. Her voice is the voice of justice.
10) The introduction to the refrain and the refrain are repeated twice, the repetition emphasizing her anthem. The song concludes with the lines: "But you played it [her heart],/You played it,/You played it,/You played it to the beat." Again, repetition for dramatic effect.
In part two of this reflection on "Rolling in the Deep," I do a theological reflection of the song, connecting it with issues I have been sitting with in prayer.
Br. Paul, OP
CLICK HERE to watch the YouTube video of the song.