“Ronan”: A Revelation of Taylor Swift’s Songwriting Ability

I’ve never cried while listening to a song before I heard “Ronan,” Taylor Swift’s latest single. She wrote this unbelievably poignant song about a little boy named Ronan who died from neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor of the nerve tissue. Taylor learned of Ronan’s story through a blog written by Ronan’s mom. She even credits Ronan’s mom on the song. All of the proceeds from the song will go to the Taylor Swift Charitable Fund.

Now, why is this song so incredible?

It’s truly a revelation of Taylor’s songwriting ability. She has mastered the key to great writing: using details to craft a story. Taylor very carefully builds the narrative of a typical child’s experience that transforms into heartbreaking sadness. The first two stanzas of the song focus on the elements of a happy, healthy childhood:

I remember your bare feet down the hallway

I remember your little laugh

Racecars on the kitchen floor, plastic dinosaurs

I love you to the moon and back

 

I remember your blue eyes looking into mine

Like we had our own secret club

I remember you dancin’ before bedtime

Then jumping on me, waking me up

Yet Ronan’s childhood was plagued by illness, which is hinted at in the third stanza: “You fought it hard like an army guy”–“it” being his neuroblastoma, obviously, but the listener doesn’t quite know the severity of Ronan’s condition or the tremendous lost felt by his mother until the fourth stanza (the first stanza after the first instance of the chorus):

I remember the drive home when the blind hope

Turned to crying and screaming why

Flowers pile up in the worst way

No one knows what to say

‘Bout a beautiful boy who died

And it’s about to be Halloween

You could be anything you wanted if you were still here

I remember the last day when I kissed your face

I whispered in your ear

And then the song launches into the chorus again.

The fourth stanza is where the listener realizes that Taylor Swift truly understands the magnitude of this boy’s illness and its effect on his mother. She alludes to his funeral with that one line (“Flowers pile up in the worst way”) without saying “It was so sad to attend his funeral.” And that terrible feeling of not knowing what to say when “a beautiful boy” has died — she hits the emotional target square on the head. Then, it’s when she mentions Halloween that the listener’s heart truly breaks. She captures the agony faced by the mother who realizes that her son would have probably loved nothing more than to dress up on Halloween and collect candy, in the way that all children do.

Taylor Swift truly comprehends the loss that the mother has faced. Her deep-rooted understanding is further established by the bridge:

What if I’m standing in your closet trying to talk to you

What if I kept the hand-me-downs you won’t grow into

And what if I really thought some miracle would see us through

What if the miracle was even getting one moment with you

Through her miraculous grasp of the human condition, Taylor is able to lock herself into the mindset of the mother and ask the questions any parent who has experienced such a loss would ask. Again, it’s the details that make this bridge so affecting: the closet where all of his clothes and belongings are; the clothes the mother had from previous children or other family members’ kids that Ronan will never wear–these small details are what make the song so great.

My Dining Partner asked me why Taylor Swift doesn’t write more songs like this. In his estimation, “Ronan” is one of her greatest songs. “Maybe if she had different life experiences, she’d write different (read: better) songs,” he said. I think, with the advent of “Eyes Open” and now “Ronan,” it’s abundantly clear that Taylor Swift is one of the greatest living songwriters today.

And by the way she sings “Ronan,” it’s clear that her voice is but a mere vehicle for this tragic tale. There aren’t any flourishes of her voice, no riffs on the last gasp of the chorus. It’s just her simple voice, the guitar and a drum.

I cried my eyes out the first two times I heard “Ronan,” and I’m afraid to go back and listen to the song again, for fear of bawling uncontrollably. I don’t know Ronan’s mom personally and I never will, but I understand her plight–something I, myself, have never experienced and hope to never experience–because of Taylor Swift.

Here is a video of Taylor Swift singing “Ronan” at the cancer benefit from Friday night:

The full lyrics (as I heard them) are listed here:

“Ronan”

I remember your bare feet down the hallway

I remember your little laugh

Race cars on the kitchen floor, plastic dinosaurs

I love you to the moon and back

 

I remember your blue eyes looking into mine

Like we had our own secret club

I remember you dancin’ before bedtime

Then jumping on me, waking me up

 

I can still feel you hold my hand, little man

How even the moment I knew

You fought it hard like an army guy

Remember I leaned in and whispered to you

 

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

You were my best four years

 

I remember the drive home when the blind hope

Turned to crying and screaming why

Flowers pile up in the worst way

No one knows what to say

‘Bout a beautiful boy who died

And it’s about to be Halloween

You could be anything you wanted if you were still here

I remember the last day when I kissed your face

I whispered in your ear

 

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

Out of this curtained room in this hospital grey

We’ll just disappear

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

You were my best four years

 

What if I’m standing in your closet trying to talk to you

What if I kept the hand-me-downs you won’t grow into

And what if I really thought some miracle would see us through

What if the miracle was even getting one moment with you

 

Come on baby

We’re gonna fly away

From here

 

Come on baby with me

We’re gonna fly away

From here

You were my best four years

 

I remember your bare feet down the hallway

I love you to the moon and back

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