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The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes October 13, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in lyrics, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Yes.
Tags: , , , , ,

I have offered posts at this blog a about the poetry of Jimi Hendrix (“Castles Made of Sand,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” “Up From the Skies,” “Axis: Bold as Love,” and “House Burning Down”). This post expands the idea to the progressive rock group Yes. I will very likely offer other posts along these lines as mood or inspiration strikes for Yes, and for other rock artists.

Yes lyrics, with credit usually given to Jon Anderson, are among the most esoteric, enigmatic rock lyrics ever created. Many of these lyrics work as poetry, as a flow of words creating moods and feelings, with precise meanings hard to pin down. Themes of the lyrics are generally mystical/spiritual, exploring subjects far different from the often earthy, base subjects of rock songs. In fact, the term “song” really doesn’t fit what Yes does. They write pieces with developed themes, like pieces of “Classical Music.” (I discuss “Classical Music” in more depth in the article at my Internet column, “Is ‘Classical Music’ Fading Into Obscurity?”) In fact, as I address the poetry and music of Yes, I know I will find myself turning a little to analytical skills learned during my conservatory training (eons ago). As I did with Jimi Hendrix, I will select some personal favorites, pieces that touch me as particularly poetic.

There are a lot of poetic Yes selections to choose from. But the one I will start with is “Awaken” from their 1977 album “Going for the One.” This piece has moved me to tears more than once with the incredible power of the combination of music and words. At times, I have felt as if this music connected me to some power beyond what is evident in the material world. So I will start “The Poetry of Yes” with a look at “Awaken.”

I will not deconstruct any Yes pieces word by word. There are too many ways to go with these lyrics, and trying to analyze them line by line would be silly. What I will do instead is speak of the piece in terms of overall effect, quoting lyrics as part of the process. (And I will post  complete lyrics at the end, as I did in the Hendrix posts.)

“Awaken” is a piece consisting of five distinct sections, building dramatically to the climax—and then a denouement. Part One is a hint of where we will end up. For me, the lyrics of this section, and the end, refer to an awakening of a dormant spirituality, a dormant connection with something beyond mortality, but recognizing our material limitations. “High vibration go on,” calls to mind an energy beyond what we can touch and quantify. And we “wish the sun to stand still,” and reach for that objective while realizing “now” is where we exist.

Part Two bursts into an edgier section. “SUN HIGH STREAMS THRU” and “STRONG DREAMS REIGN HERE” glide above the imperative throbbing of “AWAKEN GENTLE MASS TOUCH.” This is a call to awaken, to stop what we are doing and rediscover “GENTLE MASS TOUCH.” But the call to awaken will not be so simple.

During Part Three, Yes takes us to the “workings of man.” The music cycles through a dizzying succession of chord changes, as if struggling to stay centered. And the words and music, though hinting at the struggle, do stay centered. Despite all the chord changes, each stanza migrates back to the tonic, back to the tonality of the piece. The words refer to the “workings of man” possibly causing a separation from the awakening, but each stanza ends with lines like “all restoring you” and “is promised for his scene is reaching so clearly.” We are back to the coming awakening. The section ends with “all is left for you now.” “All is left”—for the “awakening.”

Part Four is the section that takes me to the flood of emotions I referred to earlier. It is like a mystical prayer offered in a chant-like style, calling to mind images of monks praying in unison to God, to the spiritual force. The vocal line rises, step-by-step, rising as if to touch the heavens, to touch God Itself/Himself/Herself. We have the same shifting chords. But they are less frenetic, rising and falling methodically, with each deliberate cadence taking us a step closer to the piece’s spiritual objective. The stanzas start out “Master of images,” “Master of light,” “Master of soul,” “Master of time”—I see this as a supplication to a singular power, a massive enveloping power, in control of “images,” “light,” “soul,” and “time.” And we ask the “Master of light” to allow “the closely guided plan” to “awaken in our heart.” We shed doubt. And as we look “forever closer,” we bid “farewell.” For me, this is a farewell to the slumber. This is the call to “awaken” the piece refers to. Here is the climax—the “awakening” has occurred.

With Part Five, we’re back to the beginning, which was a hint of the ending. But added are the lines:

Like the time I ran away
And turned around
And you were standing next to me

This, to me, is a piece about reconnecting with a spiritual force, ever present, but easy to lose track of in a world that can seem harsh and difficult, often mired in the material.

No doubt, there is more than one way to experience these lyrics.  I invite your comments.


Complete lyrics for “Awaken:”

High vibration go on
To the sun, oh let my heart dreaming
Past a mortal as me
Where can I be

Wish the sun to stand still
Reaching out to touch our own being
Past all mortal as we
          Here we can be
          We can be here
          Be here now
          Here we can be

MASS                                .)(.                       MASS
TOUCH          STAR, SONG, AGE, LESS            TOUCHING

Workings of man
Set to ply out historical life
Reregaining the flower of the fruit of his tree
All awakening
All restoring you

Workings of man
Crying out from the fire set aflame
By his blindness to see that the warmth of his being
Is promised for his seeing his reaching so clearly

Workings of man
Driven far from the path
Rereleased in inhibitions
So that all is left for you
            all is left for you
            all is left for you
            all this left for you now

Master of images
Songs cast a light on you
Hark thru dark ties
That tunnel us out of sane existence
In challenge as direct
As eye see young scars assemble

Master of light
All pure chance
As exists cross divided
In all encircling mode
Oh closely guided plan
Awaken in our hearts

Master of Soul
Set to touch
All impenetrable youth
Ask away
That thought be contact
With all that’s clear
Be honest with yourself
There’s no doubt no doubt

Master of Time
Setting sail
Over all of our lands
And as we look forever closer
Shall we now bid
Farewell farewell

High vibration go on
To the sun, oh let my heart dreaming
Past a mortal as me
Where can I be

Wish the sun to stand still
Reaching out to touch our own being
Past all mortal as we
            Here we can be
            We can be here

Like the time I ran away
And turned around
And you were standing close to me

Like the time I ran away
And turned around
And you were standing close to me

© 1977

Going for the One - Yes (includes "Awaken")

Going for the One - Yes (includes "Awaken")



1. Greg Vanderlaan - October 13, 2011

Poetry in Rock Music… The Moody Blues is a perfect example of this. Especially Question of Balance and THE BALANCE. It’s the answer to the question… http://www.webwriter.f2s.com/moody/lyrics/aqob.htm#balance

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