​The Lumineers – “Cleopatra” 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.

The Lumineers’ “Cleopatra” is a heartfelt ballad, weaving a tale of lost love, regret, and the passage of time. The song’s protagonist reflects on a pivotal moment in her youth, grappling with the weight of her father’s death and a marriage proposal she wasn’t ready to accept. Through vivid imagery and raw emotion, the lyrics capture the essence of life’s fleeting moments and the what-ifs that haunt us. The Lumineers craft a narrative that speaks to the universal experience of love, loss, and the inevitable march of time.

The Lumineers have always had a knack for storytelling through their music. Dive into the intricate layers of this emotional ballad and discover the poignant message woven through each verse.


“Cleopatra” Lyrics Meaning

“I was Cleopatra, I was young and an actress” – The song opens with a powerful metaphor, casting the protagonist as Cleopatra, symbolizing her youth, beauty, and the dramatic nature of her story.

“When you knelt by my mattress, and asked for my hand” – A marriage proposal is introduced early, setting the stage for the central conflict of the song.

“But I was sad you asked it, as I laid in a black dress” – Despite the romantic gesture, the protagonist is in mourning; her father recently passed away, creating a juxtaposition of love and loss.

“With my father in a casket, I had no plans” – The raw pain of her father’s death leaves her directionless and unprepared for a lifelong commitment.

“And I left the footprints, the mud stain on the carpet” – She leaves behind a literal and metaphorical mark, a symbol of her impact and the remnants of her past.

“And it hardened like my heart did when you left town” – Her heart hardens as her lover leaves, a response to the overwhelming grief and missed opportunity.

“But I must admit it, that I would marry you in an instant” – Despite her previous uncertainty, she acknowledges her desire to be with him, a realization that comes too late.

“Damn your wife, I’d be your mistress just to have you around” – Her longing is so strong she’s willing to compromise her morals, showcasing the depth of her regret.

“But I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life” – The chorus highlights her tardiness in life, not just in love, emphasizing a pattern of missed chances.

“And when I die alone, when I die alone, die I’ll be on time” – In contrast, she predicts her death will be punctual, a final moment of control in a life filled with regret.

“The only gifts from my Lord were a birth and a divorce” – She reflects on her life’s milestones, acknowledging her birth and a failed marriage, perhaps a metaphorical divorce from life.

“But I’ve read this script and the costume fits, so I’ll play my part” – Resigned, she accepts her role in this tragic narrative, ready to see it through to the end.

“I was Cleopatra, I was taller than the rafters” – She revisits her youth, a time when she felt invincible and larger than life.

“But that’s all in the past love, gone with the wind” – Yet, she acknowledges that this time has passed, much like the fleeting nature of life itself.

“Now a nurse in white shoes leads me back to my guestroom” – In her final moments, she is cared for by a nurse, a stark contrast to her once grand life.

“It’s a bed and a bathroom, And a place for the end” – Her surroundings are simple, a humble setting for her life’s final act.

“I won’t be late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life” – In death, she finds punctuality, a bitter resolution to her lifelong struggle with timing.

“And when I die alone, when I die alone, die I’ll be on time” – She concludes with a sense of acceptance, ready to meet her end on time.

The Story Behind “Cleopatra”

Written by The Lumineers’ lead vocalist Wesley Schultz and drummer Jeremiah Fraites, “Cleopatra” is a testament to the band’s storytelling prowess. Schultz was inspired by a chance encounter with a taxi driver, who shared her life story and the regrets that came with it. This meeting left a profound impact on Schultz, prompting him to pen the lyrics to “Cleopatra.” At the time, he was grappling with the band’s sudden fame and the pressures that came with it, creating a parallel between his own life and the taxi driver’s tale of missed opportunities and lost love.

“Cleopatra” serves as a reminder to seize the moment and live authentically, lest we find ourselves looking back with regret. Through their haunting melody, The Lumineers invite us to reflect on our own lives and the fleeting nature of time.