What Is The Song Pompeii About

From the first soft strum of a guitar string to the flurry of cymbals that close the song, the 2013 hit song Pompeii, by British indie rock band Bastille, has captivated the hearts and minds of music lovers around the world. Debuting at number two in the UK and peaking five in the US, the song celebrates the destruction of the Roman town by the formidable and destructive volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. But what does Pompeii really mean and why is it so appealing for so many?

To answer this question, we must first explore the writer of the song. Frontman Dan Smith has said that the inspiration for Pompeii came from a visit to the city of Pompeii itself. His experience there made him reflect on the hubris of mankind and how, despite the attempt by the Roman people to build a city of eternal life, the town was eventually wiped out by the eruption of Vesuvius. This hubris is explored lyrically in the voice of a desperate survivor looking back at the destruction of the city, singing:

“Echoes of a fading

Murmur in the air

They haunt me like a

Ghost who never cared”

The song is written from the viewpoint of the survivor, reckoning with the destruction and the lives that have been lost in Pompeii. And through its powerful lyrics, this survivor’s story manages to captivate the audience. As musicologist Dr.
Helena Mahseer describes it, the story in Pompeii is “representative of humanity`s larger utopic aspirations,” which resonates with the many listeners.

That is not the only thing that makes Pompeii such a success. Its catchy melody and strong vocal delivery also plays a huge role. With its poppy sound, it stands in contrast to Bastille’s other songs, and provides an almost swashbuckling quality to the meandering synths and riddling drums, giving the listener a feeling of youth and freedom.

Moreover, the song’s composition mixing both electronic and organic instruments was an instant hit with music fans, and the video further strengthened this narrative. Filmed in the actual ruins of Pompeii, it ties into the story and theme of the song and gives it substance, hitting the listener with both emotional and visual cues.

So, in a nutshell, Pompeii is a song about the destruction of Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius and how, despite our attempts at creating a utopic paradise, nature will eventually reclaim what is hers. Through its catchy melody, strong composition and emotive video, the song has managed to captivate the hearts and minds of music lovers around the world, becoming one of Bastille’s most successful songs to date.

Narrative of Lyrics

The song opens with the strum of a guitar and a light but mellow rhythm to set the tone. This gives a nostalgic feel to the song that is reinforced by the lyrics, which tell a story of lament and reflection of the destruction of Pompeii. The chorus to Pompeii establishes this theme:

“I was left to my own device

Many days fell away with nothing to show”

The character in the song is pictured standing idly as the disaster unfolds around him. He is pictures as a powerless victim of fate in direct contrast to the hubris of mankind. This was an effective choice of lyrics, as it puts the listener in the mindset of the character – a sense of awe and admiration of the power of nature’s forces.

In the first verse of the song, Smith details the horror of the eruption and its aftermath:

“The ashes form a blanket

Fell upon the trees

And the tragedy of beauty

The moment that you leave”

This imagery is effective in conveying the doom and despair that has been inflicted upon the city. This sense of desperation resonates with the listener, as they imagine the people of Pompeii facing their demise.

The pre-chorus of the song escalates the desperation of the protagonist, with the line:

“And one foot in the grave.”

This clever choice of lyrics is particularly effective in its use of pathos to evoke a sense of urgency and despair for the character.

The songs builds to a rousing, climactic finish with the character singing:

“How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

I’m gonna be an optimist about this

The heat and the wreckage, the pressing of the sky

We are only human and some days we forget why.”

The hopeful message of these lyrics speaks to the resilience of mankind against great adversity and serves as an effective reminder to the listener that we must take moments to appreciate life while we can.

Symbols in the Song

Throughout the song, Smith uses symbols to convey greater meanings in the lyrics. The most prominent of these symbols is Vesuvius, the mountain that inflicted so much destruction upon the city. The mountain is personified throughout the song, with the lyrics:

“Vesuvius, too, will accept his calls

And take control.”

By personifying the mountain, Smith emphasizes the calamitous power of nature in wiping out a city, and the hubris of mankind in believing they can defy it and remain forever.

Similarly, Smith also uses symbolism to emphasize the smallness of humanity in relation to natural forces. This is done most effectively with the lyric:

“The terror, the wonder of what’s coming

The moments that we never know.”

This clever use of symbolism communicates a greater truth to the listener. It speaks to our vulnerability in the face of forces greater than us and conveys the message to appreciate life while we can.

Success of the Song

It is no surprise that Pompeii was such a success, as it resonates with music fans around the world for a variety of reasons. Most prominent of these is the powerful narrative, as reflected in the lyrics and visual elements of the song. Smith’s poetic choice of words manages to evoke a variety of emotions in the listener, as they identify with the survivor in desperate situation.

The musical elements of the song also play a huge part in its success. The signature drums, heavy synth and synthesized strings all combine to create an uplifting and unique atmosphere that listeners can’t help but move their feet to. Moreover, the mix of both organic and electronic instruments gives the song a unique, melodic quality that is hard to find in any other song.

Finally, the success of the song can also be attributed to the video, which was filmed in the actual ruins of Pompeii. This addition of visual elements to the song gave it substance and made it more meaningful for listeners. And it certainly played a huge role in the song’s success, as it allowed viewers to connect with the story of the song and build a better understanding of the concepts.


2013 saw the release of Pompeii, a song that has since gone on to become one of Bastille’s most successful releases to date. Written as a reflection of man’s hubris and nature’s power, the song successfully engages the listener through its clever use of symbols and evocative imagery. Its unique mix of both organic and electronic instruments provides an uplifting and emotional atmosphere that cannot be found in any other song. And its video further strengthens this narrative, tying the theme of the song back to the city of Pompeii and its rich history.

Herman Shaw is a passionate traveler and avid photographer who has seen many of the world's most awe-inspiring monuments. He has developed expertise in various aspects of world architecture and culture which he enjoys sharing with his readers. With deep historical knowledge and insight, Herman's writing brings life to these remarkable artifacts and highlights their importance in the grand scheme of human history.

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