Bob Marley – “Small Axe” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Joanna Landrum

Joanna holds a BSc in English Literature and uses her expertise in literary analysis to uncover the deeper meaning of her favorite songs.

Bob Marley’s “Small Axe” is a poignant song, a metaphorical masterpiece rooted in the Rastafarian belief system, representing the fight against oppressive systems. Marley, through his song, conveys the power of unity and resilience among the oppressed, depicted by the “small axe” ready to cut down the “big tree,” symbolizing oppressive and corrupt entities. It’s a call to action against inequality, sending a message that even seemingly powerless individuals can challenge and overcome powerful adversaries. The recurring theme of retribution is evident, reminding us that those who dig pits of deception will ultimately fall into them.

The journey into the profound lyrics of “Small Axe” is intriguing! Discover the revolutionary spirit of Bob Marley and the profound messages embedded in the song’s soulful melody and rhythm.

“Small Axe” Lyrics Meaning

Delving into “Small Axe” uncovers a layer of depth within Marley’s lyrics. The “big tree” is a metaphor for oppressive and corrupt institutions or individuals, seemingly strong and immovable. In contrast, the “small axe” represents the seemingly weak and oppressed, ready to challenge the established order.

The line “Why boasteth thyself, Oh, evil men,” lays the foundation, addressing those who oppress, showcasing their false sense of invincibility. Marley stresses that playing smart doesn’t equate to wisdom, hinting at the underlying ignorance of oppressive entities.

His mention of “working iniquity to achieve vanity” highlights the futile endeavors of the oppressors, contrasting it with “the goodness of Jah, Jah I-dureth forever,” emphasizing the enduring nature of righteousness and virtue, a cornerstone of Rastafarian beliefs.

The chorus, “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe, ready to cut you down,” is powerful and resonant, symbolizing the collective strength of the oppressed, their ability to challenge and dismantle structures of power and corruption. It is an empowerment anthem, instilling hope and resilience among the oppressed.

Marley’s master’s words, “No weak heart shall prosper,” reiterate the unyielding spirit required to confront oppression, while the recurring theme of “whosoever diggeth a pit shall fall in it,” conveys a warning: those who cultivate deception and harm will face retribution.

The Story Behind “Small Axe”

Bob Marley, an iconic figure, wrote “Small Axe” during a pivotal moment in his life and Jamaica’s political climate. The socio-political turmoil and the prevalent inequalities and injustices inspired Marley to voice the struggles and aspirations of the marginalized through his music.

“Small Axe” was born out of Marley’s keen observation of the oppressive systems and his unwavering faith in Rastafarianism. The Rastafarian philosophy, deeply intertwined with themes of resistance against oppression and the affirmation of African identity, is mirrored in the song’s message of resilience and rebellion against the “big trees” of society.

Marley, in the early 1970s, was navigating a landscape filled with political unrest, witnessing the battles between the suppressed and the suppressors. The “small axe” symbolizes the revolutionary spirit within every oppressed individual, a collective call to action to rise against the towering, corrupt “big tree.”

This song, reflective of Marley’s state of mind, resonates with his longing for justice and equality. It’s a powerful embodiment of his revolutionary spirit, encapsulating his vision of a world where the “small axe” of righteousness and unity triumphs over the sprawling roots of oppression and injustice.

This remarkable blend of spiritual and political themes in “Small Axe” marks it as one of Marley’s timeless pieces, echoing the eternal struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed, yet offering hope through unity and resilience, a melody of rebellion that continues to inspire generations.