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Source of Lyrics: Ted Honks

Song Bio

Travelers shares some of its lyrical lines with the the earlier Goose (and previous St. John's Revival) song Elmeg the Wise.

Sing Along

Song Interpretation

Interpreted By: Amanda Cad

The journey motif is omnipresent in American literature, and also across cultures and time. As a central or secondary plot line, the concept of travel often relates to a character’s yearning for self-realization. The epiphany that waits at the end of the journey can be accompanied by challenge, disruption, fear, danger, and of course, love. 

We can think back to countless examples of quests in literature, such as Hercules and his 12 Labors, the pilgrims’ progression from Southwark to St. Thomas Becket's shrine in The Canterbury Tales, and the emotional and psychological journey of Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird. In all of these examples and others, the journey may be spiritual, physical, emotional, imaginative, or based purely in the inner world of a character. 

The Hero's Journey is a framework created by scholar Joseph Campbell to categorize the stages of myths and stories. This narrative template may feel familiar, but being so relatable means that a listener can immediately feel connected to it. Travelers is such a piece of writing.

As one of history’s most commonly utilized archetypes, the Hero’s Journey tends to fall into three main sections: The Departure, The Initiation, and The Return. Understanding that Travelers loops lyrically and otherwise into Elmeg the Wise, the focus for our purposes will be solely on Travelers lyrics. 

Travelers: The Departure

The song opens with visceral imagery: 

“That breath is closer now/Somewhere just howling out ” 

As the hero/narrator leaves the familiar world behind, something is flowing in at the same time.  Whether it’s supernatural or of the physical world, it’s clear that preparations for the journey are nearing their end. It is time to move. 

“And we lay still upon this flight/Press our hands to the light.” 

The use of first person here suggests the hero is telling us their own story, but there are multiple people on this journey. Whether it’s two people yearning to find that light together or an entire population; they are all waiting, (we lay still), for what’s to come.

Travelers: The Initiation

During this phase of the Hero’s Journey, they learn to navigate their new world. In the common template, this begins the road of trials that the hero must go through - tests and tribulations that engage whatever transformation is about to occur. There is often failure of at least one of these tests. Allies will be present at various times, as well as temptations, usually in the form of love, fame, or wealth.

“They gather safely by the shore/The travelers here from the north/

Passing through upon this flight/They journey towards the southern light”

Because the narration has shifted into third person, it is hard to say that this is the same group of people from the first verse. Perhaps this is a step toward third person omniscient narration, where the reader can see into multiple characters’ minds, but in any case, this group continues their trek southward.

This trope, or plot element of moving from one region to another is as old as time. What these travelers are searching for is unknown, but that doesn’t necessarily matter here. What we know is that they arrived safely through at least part of their passage south, moving toward the thing they are searching for on this quest.

At this point in the Hero’s Journey, there is an accounting for the fears that the hero brought with them to this place. Facing the powers that control everything around them, the hero has to confront the reason for the journey itself and from that moment on, everything gains new importance and meaning, often called apotheosis. The most difficult part of the hero’s journey is here:

“Quiet in that moment, steady pulse/I heard a voice beneath the quill/

of every doubt that fills my head/In this moment they lay still”

Here, we’re back to first person storytelling. This personal account is now about the narrator’s growth as their fears are resolved, and peace seems to come from the quietness (steady pulse). Doubt weakens our ability to get things done; it talks to us and tries to shake our resolve. Here it appears the narrator has challenged doubt, resulting in the ability to move on to the last phase of the journey.

Travelers: The Return

In a typical scenario, the hero has to go home with the winnings of the quest and avoid anyone who would want it back (breath is closer now). The hero is able to use the wisdom/strength/skills obtained in the journey in the ordinary world and move forward with a degree of peace.

Travelers leaves us at more of a crossroads, suggesting that this quest is not complete:

“Failure creeps back again/ I guess that’s just the shape of it”

This resignation, the moment unfulfilled, is in itself another universally understood emotion. There don’t seem to be any winnings here or a clearly identified object of this quest, but more may be revealed in the last lines of the song:

“I understand that you must go/So I returned to the place I know. I know”

It can be argued that enlightenment and knowledge are as prized as gold. Even if the intended cannot stay (you must go), understanding this can be the first step toward something even more powerful.

How many of us can relate to this on a visceral level? We have an encounter, however brief, and are taken to another place. Maybe we were searching for something new, or maybe it was a complete surprise to find the light appear in front of us, unexpectedly.

In that moment, there is also doubt and the knowledge that it’s not meant to be. This person, or place, cannot become a reality for us, now or maybe not ever. But we want it; we yearn for that person to stay, even when we know it’s not possible. And so we must decide - do we continue searching for a light that may not actually exist?

When we can acknowledge that something isn’t going to happen, we can go home, even if it’s just back to the peace of mind we all seek. We can move on, even if the only thing we want is for that person to stay with us and us with them. I understand you must go back to your own life, back to your own place in time, so I’ll return to the place I know where I was, a different person than before.