You can't raise a Cain back up when he's defeat

lk_108

Member
Italian
Can someone explain me the meaning of this sentence "You can't raise a Cain back up when he's defeat", used in the song "The night they drove old Dixie down" by The Band?(p.s. Cain is the surname of the main character of the song).
Many thanks!
 
  • arthaxerxes

    New Member
    Hello lk_108,

    I believe the correct line in the song was:

    "You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat".

    With the look at previous lines of the same verse, it sounds like that he
    talks about his dead brother who died in the war. So Caine (as his brother's
    last name) can not come back to life when he's dead. Here are the
    complete verse so others can comment on this too:


    <Moderator note: Forum rules limit quotations of lyrics and verse to four lines. Please cooperate.>

    A
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    ewhite

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    The simplest explanation is that "to raise Cain" means to cause trouble. The narrator is mourning the death of his brothert and admitting defeat--he won't be causing any more trouble.

    From that simple framework, you can go on to draw parallels between the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis and the U.S. Civil War, a war between brothers.
     

    glamorgan

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    First line: Virgil Caine is my name and I served on the Danville Train so there we have the family name which explains the further references in the song and the interpretation suggested by ewhite.
     

    lk_108

    Member
    Italian
    The simplest explanation is that "to raise Cain" means to cause trouble. The narrator is mourning the death of his brothert and admitting defeat--he won't be causing any more trouble.

    From that simple framework, you can go on to draw parallels between the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis and the U.S. Civil War, a war between brothers.

    Sorry.The correct line in the song is actually "You can't raise a Caine when he's in defeat".Anyway through your words I understand that the main character thinks it's useless to go on with war cause dead men (his brother) can't come back. Am I right? But who is "in defeat"? The main character or his brother? Thanks for your patience.....
     

    ewhite

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    The entire cause for which Virgil and his brother fought has been defeated. The south has been defeated. The song references real Civil War events (Stoneman's destruction of the Danville train) and real Civil War characters (Stoneman, Robert E. Lee).
     

    teksch

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Sorry.The correct line in the song is actually "You can't raise a Caine when he's in defeat".Anyway through your words I understand that the main character thinks it's useless to go on with war cause dead men (his brother) can't come back. Am I right? But who is "in defeat"? The main character or his brother? Thanks for your patience.....
    Actually, the words are - You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat. This might have many meanings - the basic meaning is that dead people do not come back to life. The rest of the song doesn't portray the family as doing anything that they are ashamed of. I don't believe that the song is about them promising to be model citizens in the future.
     

    lk_108

    Member
    Italian
    Actually, the words are - You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat. This might have many meanings - the basic meaning is that dead people do not come back to life. The rest of the song doesn't portray the family as doing anything that they are ashamed of. I don't believe that the song is about them promising to be model citizens in the future.

    I still can’t understand why Virgil should say “I swear by the mud/blood below my feet You can’t raise a Caine back up when he is in defeat” or rather “ I swear dead men don’t came back to life”. Shouldn’t it be obvious?
    I supposed he was taking a stand against war for ever. Could it be?
     

    ewhite

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    No, I don't think he's taking a stand against war. He is acknowledging the utter destruction of his family, and his way of life.

    You take what you need and you leave the rest
    But you should never have taken the very best.


    There's also the fact that it's a song, lk108. People often state the obvious in lyrics.

    And again whether or not there's an E on the end of Caine (and I've never seen Levon Helm's lyrics, only transcriptions), the fact remains that it's a song, meant to be heard rather than read, and "raise Cain" is a well-known idiom in English.
     

    philobeddoe

    New Member
    American English
    "I swear by the mud below my feet, you can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat"




    His brother is dead, and the war is lost ...

    and marching off to war with R.E. Lee isn't going to change either.


    It's a protest against the futility of the war, and the senseless loss.

    .
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    "I swear by the mud below my feet, you can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat"

    His brother is dead, and the war is lost ...

    and marching off to war with R.E. Lee isn't going to change either.

    It's a protest against the futility of the war, and the senseless loss.

    Yes. The singer--whose name is Virgil Caine, with an "e"--is mourning the loss: of his brother, of the war, and of much that was of great beauty and value in the South.
     

    slh3508

    New Member
    English-American
    Virgil Caine is lamenting the death of his brother...the war and the cause of the South being lost. General Robert E. Lee surrendered and the capitol of Richmond fell in April 1865. Church bells tolled through out the South as the news slowly spread ("by May 10th"). Virgil Caine is lamenting the loss of his brother and the defeat of his way of life...and the hardship his people suffered...he is speaking of himself not being able to be raised up spiritually when he's in defeat...this is what Southerners felt as the bells tolled. Levon Helm (a Southerner) helped Robbie Robertson write the lyrics and his heart felt singing made The Band rendition truly great.
     
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    JimmyT.

    New Member
    English
    Although spelled differently above, I have a theory that it is in reference the the caning of Sen. Charles Sumner on the United States Senate floor by Representative Preston Brooks on May 22, 1856.

    From Wikipedia:

    "when Representative Preston Brooks (D-SC) attacked Senator Charles Sumner (R-MA), an abolitionist, with a walking cane in retaliation for a speech given by Sumner two days earlier in which he fiercely attacked slaveholders including a relative of Brooks. The beating nearly killed Sumner and it drew a sharply polarized response from the American public on the subject of the expansion of slavery in the United States. It has been considered symbolic of the "breakdown of reasoned discourse" that eventually led to the American Civil War."

    I have no other authority on this, and I cannot say whether it is spelled Cain, Caine, or Cane from the song. It just fits so well I'm convinced of this interpretation. Someone should ask Robbie Robertson if nobody already has. I cannot find anything online.
     

    ottje

    New Member
    German
    the caning of Ch. Sumner seems a bit far-fetched although good schooling for all of us to look out of the box. However, this romantic depiction of history and in a wider sense slaveholder-society has been winning many hearts over; the South had lost the war but won the battle over its history. In the end it seems Caine has risen...
     

    Bartacomus Kidd

    New Member
    Southern American, Bayou Speak
    Virgil was Dante's guide through Hell.. and "Raising Cain" means to "Put up a Fight" ..although i tread lightly giving too much meaning to couple coked up musicians word-craft.

    This song and the term in question are an exercise in Humility. This has a strong influence in the south.. there is unique amalgam of biblical, mythical.. and disaster laden themes that all share the common taproot of humility. (It would be neat exercise to read some publication and news from before the civil war, comparatively with the papers peers north of Virginia.. with the content of idealism as compared to humility as the focus.) Whether by purpose or not.. the use of the name Cain cannot by ignored in Southern America, and her strong tie to biblical ideology. In and additional example.. "Gone with the Wind", is one loooong story about the inability to see Humble concepts, the toll of such shortsightedness.. the recompense, and then absolution. Like alot of southern parable, the absolution always comes with an irreplaceable loss. In each facet of the book (and the song in question) Political, Historic, Philanthropic.. Relationship wise.. etc. Epiphany at personal cost. This is about loss.
    If you are interested in understanding the underlying mindset, the subject has to be taken from an equally humble approach. A romantic depiction of Slaveholder society, this is not.. neither is this an "admission of defeat" and certainly nothing to do about "Causing trouble" as some extension of policy or political ideologies. Humility is a difficult concept for people to grasp.. it often takes loss. In this world of irresponsibility and non-accountability, its a concept lost.

    You can always imagine John Bolton driving a column of M1-Abrams over your backyard.. or Vladimir Putin dropping a JDAM on your grocery store.. after a 12 hour shift at McDonalds.. then dropping a JDAM on McDonalds.. Attemping to grasp the loss of blood to anything outside of mother nature, is a difficult concept for most us.. at least speaking this language.
     
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