The song is Helplessly Hoping by Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN). You can also listen to it on Spotify.

I'm having a hard time trying to get the meaning of the song. I think it talks about two lovers, and it sounds sad, but for the life me, I can't understand what exactly it is all about.

The lyrics are as follows:

Helplessly hoping her harlequin hovers nearby
Awaiting a word
Gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit, he runs
Wishing he could fly
Only to trip at the sound of goodbye

Wordlessly watching, he waits by the window and wonders
At the empty place inside
Heartlessly helping himself to her bad dreams, he worries
Did he hear a goodbye?
Or even hello?

They are 1 person
They are 2 alone
They are 3 together
They are 4 each other

Stand by the stairway, you'll see something certain to tell you
Confusion has its cost
Love isn't lying, it's loose in a lady who lingers
Saying she is lost
And choking on hello

If anyone knows better, your knowledge would be greatly appreciated.

2 Answers 2


You are correct, this song is about two young lovers. I'd venture that it's a romance built largely around the wordplay in the lyrics.

"Helplessly hoping..." this is a series of alliterations built first on "H" and then on "W," and "G". In the Italian Commedia dell'arte theater tradition, "Harlequin" was the name given to a clown/mime figure who was also usually the young male romantic lead. This stanza is a portrait of a confused (and like the original "Harlequin", speechless) young man who is attracted (as so many of us are) to an elusive lover that is leaving ("sound of goodbye").

"Wordlessly waiting..." this is alliterations again, this time with the W first, and then the H. Now that his lover is gone, he pines and misses her. But has she really left? He doesn't know if his love interest is entering or leaving his life ("hello" or "goodbye").

"Stand by the stairway..." is new set of alliterations, this time "S", "C" and "L". This is the love interest, the Columbine to the Harlequin, an equally confused young lady who is trying to leave, but instead "lingers" feeling "lost." She is drawn to a love connection, but she is "choking" on admitting it.

"They are 1 person..." There's a different word game in the chorus. Each number after the first one is a pun. You should read this as:

They are one person
They are too alone
They are free together
They are for each other

As with many songs, the chorus answers the questions and resolves the confusions of the verses. The lovers may not know if they are destined for each other, but the chorus confirms their pre-ordained love. They are "one person" --that's possibly an allusion to (pseudo) Aristophanes's myth that soulmates are two halves of the same person, from Plato's Symposium. They are lonely, they bring each other freedom, and finally, they are "for each other."

  • This helps. I think I understand it a bit better now. Thanks!
    – H. Is
    Commented May 17, 2019 at 13:10
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    @N.They You're welcome! I added a bit more to address the verse I missed on the first go round. Commented May 17, 2019 at 13:16

This song was written by Steven Stills. It was written when he was trying to make ends meet as a session musician, before he became a superstar. The woman in the song he is writing about is Judy Collins, who he met and fell in love with working as a session musician. She was a huge star at the time, as big as you could get in the folk music scene in 1968. He was not, as the band he belonged to had just broken up.

Anyways, they did start a relationship, and she already had a son who Steven adored. I believe thats where the "3 together" line comes in. So, as this goes on, Judy meets actor Stacy Keach, who also gets along extremely well her son. She drops Steven, and goes with Stacy. And that's that. I'm sure there are more sordid details of the relationship, but I don't know them. He also wrote Suite: Judy Blue Eyes about her, and I'm sure some other songs.

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    Thanks! It's great to have some more concrete details, not just textual analysis. If you could add some sourcing/citations, it would be really appreciated. :) Once you get into the biographical details, it's good to have a place to double check the specifics. Commented May 20, 2019 at 21:17
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    @Chris Sunami thanks for the good advice on providing biographical information. I will try in the fiuture. The information i had about this song pretty much just boils down to gossip. I had a friend who was a huge CSN&Y fan and general rock music history buff. And his close friend used to be deck hand on David Crosby's boat for a little bit. Not that thats where the song info came from. It really was just sort of rock star lore or som Commented May 21, 2019 at 22:48
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    Thanks! The reason I'm pressing you on this is that these unsourced song-meaning anecdotes are often very plausible, but inaccurate. For instance, it's widely believed that James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" is about his girlfriend dying in a plane crash. It seems to exactly fit the lyrics, but it's completely wrong. Commented May 29, 2019 at 16:27
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    With that said, I did some research for you, and your story checks out :) Commented May 29, 2019 at 16:37
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    Cool! That's excellent advice you gave me. And the fact checking is one reason this forum is so helpful and interesting. I'm still pretty new to this, as I said before. So I appreciate the advice just as much as the information. The textual analysis blew my mind. Its very detailed and really made me think more about that song in ways I never had. Commented May 30, 2019 at 19:03

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