Hey there, this is Teacher Ola Podcast episode 23: Learn English With Metallica: ‘Unforgiven’. Lyrics Explained.
My name’s Ola and I am an online English teacher.
This podcast is for you if you’re an English learner who wants to speak English with more confidence and get rid of speaking barriers. You’ll boost your vocabulary, brush up your grammar, improve your pronunciation, but above all I want you to see how to have a tense-free conversation with other English-speaking human beings! Go to my website for full transcripts and worksheets to each episode. Happy learning!
I am thrilled you decided to take this time to expand your vocabulary, and practice some speaking. I hope you’ll learn a lot today, please don’t stay quiet. Repeat the sentences out loud, speak to yourself. Hear yourself speaking English. After this episode, go to teacherola.com/23 and download the worksheet, and see how much you remember.
Today we’re analysing the lyrics of the song by Metallica, ‘Unforgiven’ released in 1991. Do I listen to Metallica? Well not anymore, but yes, in good old days, I mean in junior high school I did listen to this band.
The song is about the songwriter James Hetfield’s childhood and his mother, who died from cancer. Since his extremely religious parents did not believe in science and trusted God to heal her, they did not take her to the hospital to give her the proper treatment.
As James said in an interview, “personal wounds are a great thing to write about.” This is a complicated song with a deeper meaning. The kind I like to pick to these episodes.
Shall we begin? Let’s do so. I’m going to read out the lyrics line by line and ask you to repeat each line after me:
New blood joins this earth
And quickly he’s subdued
Through constant pain disgrace
The young boy learns their rules
Blood – pronounce this word with /a/ sound. Maybe you’ve heard the rule that two letters ‘o’ are read /u/, but this rule has many exceptions. For instance: blood, flood, door, poor.
New blood joins this earth – a baby is born.
And quickly is subdued – it means a person, or maybe let’s put it this way: a person that is subdued is unusually quiet and possibly unhappy. You can also use this adjective with light, colours etc. if they are less bright than usual. Here, it means that the young boy is brought under control by his religious parents. Please repeat:
The subdued light made Mary appear pale.
She was in a subdued mood.
She was dressed in grey and looked suitably subdued.
Through constant pain disgrace – Let’s stop at the word ‘through’. I know how much you love the pronunciation here. Let’s practice, practise makes perfect:
The burglar got in through the window.
The path led through the trees to the river.
The Charles River flows through Boston.
The young boy learns the rules of the world through pain and disgrace. This is how the children are treated, raised. Disgrace is a shame. Repeat after me:
His actions brought disgrace on the family.
How could you disgrace us all like that?
There was no disgrace in finishing fourth.
Let’s move on to the next verse, repeat the lyrics of the song, line by line:
With time the child draws in
This whipping boy done wrong
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on and on he’s known
A vow unto his own
Let’s stop here, and have a closer look.
To draw in – it’s used with days and nights. Days draw in, that means it starts to get dark earlier in the evening because winter is coming. To draw somebody in, means to get someone involved in something. Repeat after me:
They used the demonstration as an opportunity to draw more supporters in.
The whipping boy – it’s a person who is often blamed or punished for things other people have done.
The boy done wrong – the boy treated in an unfair or cruel way. Let’s practice, just one sentence:
He wanted revenge on those who had done him wrong.
To deprive of – to prevent somebody from having or doing something, especially something important. Examples:
Why do you deprive yourself of such simple pleasures?
A lot of children are deprived of a normal home life.
To struggle – to try very hard to do something when it is difficult or when there are a lot of problems. I think he, the young boy tries to fight back. Let’s repeat out loud:
They struggled just to pay their bills.
He struggled for 10 years to achieve success as an actor.
A vow – it’s a serious promise. Let’s practice:
Jim made a vow that he would find his wife’s killer.
Nothing will persuade me to break this vow.
The monks take a vow of silence.
Coming back to song lyrics, the young boy takes a vow, let’s see what vow. Repeat after me:
That never from this day
His will they’ll take away
What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Won’t see what might have been
So I dub thee unforgiven
His will they’ll take away – will is what someone wants to happen in a particular situation. He promises, his will won’t be taken away from him. He promises himself that he will always have his own free mind. A little practice:
He claims that the police forced him to sign a confession against his will.
He lacked the will to resist.
What I’ve felt
What I’ve known – Present perfect tense. He talks about his life experience, and this is why he chose present perfect.
Never shined through in what I’ve shown – If somebody, or something. If something shines through, you can see it easily. Because of his parents, he could never really do his best. For example:
What shines through in all her work is her enthusiasm for life.
Won’t see what might have been – won’t see, will not see what might have been. This is how to formulate past of modal verbs. The pattern to remember is: a modal verb (might, may, could, should, must) + have + the third form of the verb. Very useful construction. You can use it for various situations like past regrets, past possibilities, assumptions and so on. Now they will never know what he could have become if they had just let him, if things had been different. Let’s repeat:
You should have stayed at home, you’re under the weather.
It must have been raining, everything is wet.
It might have been a bad decision, will find out in the near future.
So I dub thee unforgiven – to dub means to give something or someone a name that describes them in some way. To label, in other words, to name. He labels his parents as The Unforgiven, since he will never be able to forgive them for how they brainwashed him, took away his dreams and for the fact that his mother died, and it might have been avoided. He dubs THEE. Thee is a word meaning ‘you’, used when talking to only one person who is the object of the verb. It’s often used in the Bible for example, it’s an old use.
Let’s go through the next verse:
They dedicate their lives
To running all of his
He tries to please them all
This bitter man he is
Ok. All they care about is that he turns out the way they want him to.
To run something – meansto organize or be in charge of an activity, business, organization, or country. Or somebody’s life, like in these lyrics. Repeat please:
She runs a restaurant in Boston.
The hotel is well-run and extremely popular.
Many people don’t care who runs the country.
To please someone – to make someone happy or satisfied
She’s hard to please. Everything has to be perfect.
Most children are eager to please.
A bitter person – a person feeling angry, jealous, and upset because he or she thinks they have been treated unfairly
Now, let’s come back to the lyrics, the last passage. Repeat the lines:
Throughout his life the same
He’s battled constantly
This fight he cannot win
A tired man they see no longer cares
The old man then prepares
To die regretfully
That old man here is me
You labelled me
I labelled you
To battle – to try very hard to achieve something difficult or to deal with something unpleasant or dangerous. Repeat the example sentences:
Both teams battled hard.
The two sides will battle it out in the final next week.
The two leaders are battling for control of the country.
He no longer cares – he doesn’t care anymore. He’s been battling for long, and he’s become indifferent.
Regretfully – feeling sad because you do not want to do what you are doing. Also used to talk about a situation that you wish was different or that you are sorry about.
‘I must go, ’ he said regretfully.
Regretfully, we do not have time to continue this discussion now.
Regretfully, she was forced to close the business.
How depressing was that? Well, difficult feelings are necessary. If you felt sad or angry, if you felt sad, angry during this episode, it may actually help you remember the phrases better. Thanks to those emotions, you’re brain is more engaged and prone to remember more.
Do you listen to Metallica? Did you use to do it in the past? Let me know at teacherola.com/23. Also, share one phrase you think is the most useful in everyday speaking. Pick one phrase from the entire song and share it at teacherola.com/23. Go there to grab a worksheet as well as a free transcript.
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Next episode is all about grammar, we’ll look at a very useful structure ‘used to’. I see it’s a bit confusing for many learners so we’ll clear that up. Please make sure to subscribe and do not miss it!
We’ll get in touch really soon, thank you so much for listening and till next time! Happy learning. Bye bye!