About the song

John Denver’s Raven’s Child. Now that’s a song that takes us back, doesn’t it? Released in 1975 on the album The Flower That Shattered the Stone, it marked a bit of a departure for the folksy singer-songwriter. Denver, known for his sunny disposition and odes to nature, tackled a much darker theme here: the struggle with addiction and the societal ills that contribute to it.

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While Denver’s earlier hits like “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders” painted a picture of idyllic Americana, Raven’s Child delves into the underbelly of that same society. The “Raven’s Child” of the title is a metaphor for addiction itself, a constant companion that casts a long shadow. The imagery of the raven, a bird often associated with darkness and death in mythology, is a fitting choice for this bleak subject matter.

The song opens with a stark picture of a drug-addicted child, the “black beak turned white from the crack and the snow.” This line is a powerful and disturbing one, leaving no room for romanticization. Denver doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of addiction, and the vulnerability of a child caught in its grip.

The song then broadens its scope, pointing the finger at those who profit from this suffering. The “drug king” sits on his “arrogant throne,” far removed from the devastation he wreaks. This verse also touches on the exploitation of children, with the line “Even children are twisted to serve him,” highlighting the manipulative tactics employed by those in the drug trade.

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But Raven’s Child isn’t all despair. There’s a glimmer of hope woven into the lyrics. The chorus speaks of “walls that come tumbling down for people who yearn to be free.” This suggests that recovery is possible, that there’s a path out of the darkness. Denver, ever the optimist, doesn’t abandon the idea of redemption.

The final verse offers a counterpoint to the figure of the drug king. It mentions the “True King” who sits on a “heavenly throne,” one who offers “wisdom and mercy and constant compassion.” This can be interpreted in a religious sense, or more broadly as a call for empathy and understanding in the face of addiction.

Raven’s Child was a bold move for John Denver. It tackled a sensitive topic in a way that was both unflinching and hopeful. The song serves as a reminder of the darker side of American society, but also the enduring power of human resilience. It’s a song that continues to resonate today, a testament to Denver’s ability to address social issues with both honesty and compassion.

Video

Lyrics

Raven’s childIs chasing salvationBlack beak turned whiteFrom the crack and the snow
On the streets of despairThe answer is simpleA spoonful of mercyCan set free the soul
The drug king sitsOn his arrogant throneAway and above and apartEven children
Are twisted to serve himAnd greed has corruptedWhat once was a heart
Raven’s child
Keeps vigil for freedomTrades for the armsThat once made her strongWith nuclear warheads
And lasers in heavenfear does the choosingBetween right and wrong
The arms king sits
On his arrogant throneAway and above and apartBankers assure himThat he needn’t care
And greed makes a stone ofWhat once was a heart
Raven’s childIs washing the water
All of her wing-feathersBlackened with tarPrince William shoreline’sAn unwanted highway
Of asphalt and angerAn elegant scar
The oil king sitsOn his arrogant throne
Away and above and apartLawyers have warned himHe mustn’t speakAnd greed has made silentWhat once was a heart
You know there are wallsThat come tumbling downFor people who yearn to be freeStill there are heartsThat long to be opened
And eyes that are longing to see
Raven’s child is our constant companionSticks like a shadowTo all that is doneTry as we may
We just can’t escape himThe source of our sorrow and shameWe are one
The true King sitsOn a heavenly throne
Never away nor above nor apartWith wisdom and mercyAnd constant compassionHe lives in the loveThat lives in our hearts