Meaning of “Plateau” by Nirvana

Written By Michael Miller

Michael is a music teacher and professional cellist. He loves uncovering the deeper meaning of popular songs.

“Plateau” by Nirvana delves deep into the notions of human pursuit and the unending quest for more, symbolized by the ‘plateau’. It paints a vivid picture of the constant, often futile, search for satisfaction and the elusive nature of fulfillment. The song, with its captivating imagery, possibly expresses a sense of disillusionment with the constant striving, hinting at the emptiness that often accompanies success. It seems to question societal norms and invites listeners to reflect on the true essence of contentment.

The simplistic elements, like the ‘bucket and a mop’ and ‘an illustrated book about birds’, symbolize mundane existence, contrasting with the profound search for meaning.

Ever wondered about the profound meaning hidden in the seemingly simple lyrics of “Plateau” by Nirvana? Dive in as we explore the intricate layers of symbolism and philosophy interwoven in the song’s narrative!

“Plateau” Lyrics Meaning

Analyzing the lyrics of “Plateau”, it is strikingly clear that the song utilizes metaphor and symbolic imagery to convey its underlying themes. The ‘plateau’ symbolizes a level of attainment or achievement, a place where one might feel they’ve reached their peak. The line “Many a hand has scaled the grand old face of the plateau” likely represents the multitude of people attempting to reach their own ‘plateaus’ or peaks, be it in career, life, or personal development.

The mentioning of ‘holy ghosts and talk show hosts’ plants a vivid image, perhaps representing influential figures or entities, dictating norms and values and influencing perceptions of success. It seems to suggest a questioning or undermining of the authority and authenticity of these entities and the societal norms they propagate.

“Nothing on the top but a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds” paints a picture of stark simplicity and possibly emptiness at the ‘top’. It appears to represent the often-underwhelming reality that meets one after reaching a long-sought-after goal, with the ‘illustrated book about birds’ signifying a simplistic, maybe trivial, existence at the pinnacle.

The repeated refrain, “Who needs action when you got words”, possibly encapsulates a sarcastic jab at the often hollow and unfulfilling nature of mere words and promises in contrast to substantive action, hinting at the dissonance between appearance and reality.

Finally, the closing lines bring forward a potent image of different hands scanning around for the ‘next plateau’, showcasing the perpetual human endeavor to seek more, to find the next peak. The varied guesses about the location of the next plateau represent the subjective and diverse nature of human desires and pursuits. The lines convey the inherent uncertainty and the speculative nature of such quests, emphasizing the individualized and introspective essence of fulfillment.

Why Was “Plateau” Written?

Understanding the context and the mind of the writer is crucial to fully grasping the essence of “Plateau”. Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s frontman, often infused his works with a distinct sense of introspection, existential anguish, and a critical outlook on societal constructs.

At the time of writing songs like “Plateau”, Cobain and his bandmates were navigating the turbulent waters of fame, witnessing firsthand the paradoxes and ironies of success. The song’s profound exploration of pursuit and attainment could be reflective of Cobain’s own experiences and contemplations during this period.

The song possibly emanates Cobain’s sentiments of disillusionment and his contemplative examination of the societal and individual quest for meaning and fulfillment. It acts as a poignant representation of the contrast between the external pursuit of accomplishments and the internal search for contentment and meaning, forming a critical commentary on the human condition and the eternal search for the ‘next plateau’.