’90s Song of the Week: Sting’s “Fields of Gold”

I never made promises lightly and there have been some that I’ve broken, but I swear on the days still left we’ll walk in fields of gold. -Sting, “Fields of Gold”

A Canterbury Tales pun!

A Canterbury Tales pun!

“If I Ever Lose My Faith In You” and “Fields of Gold” off of 1993’s Ten Summoner’s Tales were my first introduction to solo Sting. I was already well-acquainted with The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” and “King of Pain” beforehand, and now – as then – it’s an absolute challenge not to belt out “Roxaaaaaaaaaane!” every single time I am introduced to a woman with that name. I liked “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” more than “Fields of Gold” back then, likely because the former was a quicker and catchier tune. Over time, however, I have found the latter more appealing. What I didn’t understand at 13 was that these songs weren’t really rock or pop (despite their heavy play on MTV and VH1), but rather adult contemporary. Since adulthood was still very far off for me, I thought “Fields of Gold” was a simple love song – and it is – only it’s the definition of the word “simple” that I was wrong about.

The poetic elements within the song are unmistakable. The imagery in the title binds the entire song together and other images like “see the west wind move like a lover so among the fields of barley” and “feel her body rise when you kiss her mouth” are direct addresses to the senses. Overall, the poem’s pastoral feel mirrors the tone of Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” a carpe diem proposal in which the title character attempts to win a woman by offering her a life of beauty and simplicity. “It’s a boring life,” my students often say when we cover the poem in class, and I suppose they’re right. A life without wi-fi and air conditioning isn’t much of a life.

"Could it be that it was all so simple then?" -Brett Gaitley

“Could it be that it was all so simple then?” -Brett Gaitley

My first love was everything I thought it would be right up until the point that reality – in the forms of time and space – got in the way. I’ve posted this picture many times before and I freely admit that more than anything else in it, I look at myself. My smile reflects the kind of overwhelming happiness that I’ve experienced less and less in adulthood. This isn’t to say that I am not happy with my current life – because I am – only that the young man decked out in orange and blue here has no idea lives a much less complicated life than the older, wiser, and fatter version of himself.

The strange thing about “Fields of Gold” is the way it changes tenses so frequently. It begins in the future tense, shifts to the past, goes back to the future, arrives in the present, and finally settles in the past. Have all of these things already happened? Is Sting talking about things that will happen as if they’ve already happened? I don’t know. Like last week’s ’90s selection, “Fields of Gold” has the feel of a carpe diem poem, but is different because the speaker in Sting’s song appears to have already suffered romantic failure. Perhaps he has always meant what he said when he said it, but he also concedes that he hasn’t always been able to keep his promises. But still, he swears, this time it will work out.

It took a lot just to get to this specific point.

It took a lot just to get to this specific point.

Back when I was 18, I had nothing to compare my relationship to but elementary school puppy love and my obsession with baseball. It’s fitting: dogs are never cuter than they are as puppies and at 18, I was under the impression that I would love and play baseball forever. Oh, well.

Looking at this picture of Lynnette and me on our wedding day reminds me of the truth. Love is always complicated. While this picture itself looks incredibly simple – just she and I clad in white in the middle of an empty courtyard – I know the truth: getting to this day, this exact moment, was an odyssey comprised of a series of arduous tasks. Invitations and table assignments and contracts and loans and tours and meetings and shopping and fittings and dinners and yeah. If Lynnette and I had it to do over again, we probably do a bunch of things differently, but that isn’t the point. There are always going to be complications when it comes to matters of the heart because we believe love should be simple, even when there is ample evidence that it is not. It is a constant work-in-progress.

Maybe the time-jumping speaker in “Fields of Gold” is making the point that while the love and life offered by both Marlowe’s Shepherd and Sting are boringly simple, both are most appealing after you know learn complicated love and life can be.

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