Perfect Places

In our introductory JC1 Paper 3 lecture, we leaped into Lorde’s ‘Perfect Places‘, replete with the dilemmas and discontents of youth, and opened the doors to analysing patterns and words in literary texts.

This post takes the lecture on a journey to the familiar ‘Home’, drawing connections on the mind and self between the two songs. If you feel rather lost about ‘analysis‘, this post provides some guidance by examining a few words for meaning and effect. For our readers in JC2, you may find that the first section wanders (unintentionally) into unseen poetry comparison territory.

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Perfect Places / Home

Both ‘Home’ and ‘Perfect Places’ revolve around a single persona longing for a place to be, or belong to. We can picture the speaker / persona in ‘Perfect Places’ as a disillusioned youth whose attempts to find comfort in drink and dance end in futility. Depending on your own perspective, she loses hope of ever escaping her self-damaging cycle of ‘graceless nights’ or urges herself into accepting her present state, because perfect places exist only virtually in the mind.

All the nights spent off our faces
Trying to find these perfect places
What the **** are perfect places anyway?

Similarly, ‘Home’ seems to register place – with specific reference to one’s place of belonging – as a state of mind one is constantly searching for. In my youth, I always imagined the voice of ‘Home’ to be an older adult who has grown weary of travelling or of searching for greener pastures: she returns to her idea of home, as the first lines of both verses tell us, ‘Whenever I am feeling low’ and ‘Whenever there are troubles to go through’. In spite of the difference in their personae’s supposed age, both songs are set in the context of sadness or disappointment; troubled waters make one yearn for the stability of life ashore.

While the persona of ‘Perfect Places’ sees the routine of ‘every night’ and ‘just another graceless night’ as something ‘notorious’ and to be ‘ashamed‘, the persona in ‘Home’ appears to find stability and contentment in such predictability. Being able to ‘always recall the city’, ‘every street and shore’ and building dreams ‘just like we did before‘  ‘brings us life‘ and the companionship (‘I won’t be alone’) that the persona of ‘Perfect Places’ desperately seeks (‘Let’s go’, ‘get lost in us’).

The contentment of being ‘home’ is partly drawn from physical spaces (‘city’, ‘street’, ‘shore’, ‘river’) but, as we argue in the next section, ultimately resides in the mind.



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Home is in the Mind

That is to say the song presents home first and foremost as a concept of the mindReferences to ‘know[ing]’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘recall[ing]’ are, without coincidence, placed in every stanza of the song:

Whenever I am feeling low
I look around me and I know
There’s a place that will stay within me

There is comfort in the knowledge
That home’s about its people too

The cumulation* of mental verbs like ‘know’, ‘recall’ and ‘stay within me’ has its own effect. Each time the persona relates ‘I know’, she arguably tries to draw comfort (as the line ‘comfort in the knowledge’ makes explicit for us) and express a longing to return as if to master her own feelings about… Singapore.

*Cumulation refers to the pattern of words with a similar meaning and effect (as in ‘accumulation’); repetition more strictly refers to the same word being used again.

This is home truly, where I know I must be
Where my dreams wait for me, where the river always flows

This is home surely, as my senses tell me
This is where I won’t be alone, for this is where I know it’s home.

The words ‘truly’ and ‘surely’ in this light make all the more sense. From a strictly functional perspective, these adverbs are not ‘necessary’, giving no more information than the statement before it, ‘This is home’. Yet, these words contain a tone of resolution and persistence. The persona persuades herself that she has indeed found her ‘perfect place’: ‘This is home… truly… surely… truly… surely… where I know I must be’. Here, the external physical place she sees, hears and feels with her senses is one and the same as the internal ‘place that will stay within me’.

While the looping three lines at the end of ‘Perfect Places’ present us anxious questions, the repeated structure in the last two lines (both beginning with ‘For this is where I know…’) lays down the persona’s desire to arrive at her end-state: it’s home’ shifts to ‘I’m home’, the mind finally at rest, and the self rooted to its own perfect place.

Placed together, both songs tell us that experience and external reality (where one is, who one is with) are always filtered into our own ‘knowledge’: we can choose to perceive things as we are… or as they are… or as what we tell ourselves they are.

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