The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans” November 16, 2011Posted by rwf1954 in lyrics, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Yes.
Tags: Awaken, lyrics, progressive rock. Going for the One, rock music, song lyrics as poetry, Tales from Topographic Oceans, Yes
(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 is the second post that expands the idea to the progressive rock group Yes. The first was about “Awaken” from the album “Going for the One.”)
This post concerns a short section of the huge Yes opus, four LP record sides for four pieces, “Tales from Topographic Oceans.” I’m zeroing in on approximately two minutes of music and lyrics at the beginning because I find it to be one of the most powerful passages of progressive rock music ever recorded. This short passage has brought me to tears, to a feeling of a mystical connection to something beyond worldly power that has me revved up but somehow at peace at the same time. I won’t try to go into all of “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” or even all of this Part One. I am here concerned with this fourteen lines of chant-like introduction at the beginning.
(My apologies to Yes—one of my favorite rock bands—but after the extraordinary power of this introduction, I found the rest of “Tales from Topographic Oceans” to be anticlimactic. It would have been hard to match the power of the opening. For me, the rest didn’t. But that does not detract from the greatness of those two minutes!)
In the liner notes for “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” Jon Anderson writes that the piece was inspired by “the four Shastric Scriptures which cover all aspects of religion and social life.”Anderson found the Shastras “so positive in character” that he and Steve Howe, and eventually the rest of the group, created four large-scope progressive rock pieces that became “Tales from Topographic Oceans.”
The “1st Movement” is the “Shrutis.” (In researching the meaning of this term, I found that it can refer to something that is heard, and that it can also refer to the notes of the Indian music scale.) In the liner notes, Andersonwrites: “The Revealing Science of God can be seen as an ever-opening flower in which simple truths emerge examining the complexities and magic of the past and how we should not forget the song that has been left to us to hear. The knowledge of God is a search. Constant and clear.”
The lyrics in this introductory section are chanted in a tight rhythm. The chanted lyrics provide the rhythm of the music. And the effect builds, with accompanying music encircling the chant, and with the chant itself rendered more powerfully and intensely as it goes. There are comments I could offer for nearly every phrase of this amazing lyrical/poetic procession of rich metaphysical allusions. I will focus on phrases that struck me. I invite comments from readers on what struck them.
The passage breaks into four sections, each starting with “Dawn of:”
- Dawn of Light
- Dawn of Thought
- Dawn of Our Power
- Dawn of Love
This progression itself takes us on a mystical journey—culminating with love.
Dawn of Light
Genesis tells us that God said “let there be light,” and existence then began. Modern physics might actually confirm that light did indeed come first. Light is the one constant of the universe—even space and time vary. So the phrase “Dawn of Light” starts us at the beginning of existence, a powerful start. We have one voice, Jon Anderson’s thin, delicate vocal sound offering these powerful words. A few simple notes of bass and guitar imply what will be a fairly simple harmonic underpinning. Other phrases that struck me in this section were “in moments hardly seen forgotten” and “we fled from the sea whole.” “Moments hardly seen forgotten” for me refers to the idea that we still look to that ultimate beginning for ultimate answers. Those beginning moments were “hardly seen,” and certainly not forgotten. Science looks far into the distance with powerful telescopes, backwards in time, trying to see that initial burst of light. Science also looks at the behavior of basic particles at high energies, at conditions prevalent at the beginning. And we know, if we can ever solve the beginning, the “Dawn of Light,” we may find ultimate physical and metaphysical truth. “We fled from the sea whole,” with a distinct pause between “sea” and “whole,” brings to mind the evolution of humanity from a carbon-based chemical soup in the ocean (likely near the coasts of primordial land).
Dawn of Thought
This section appears to refer to the beginning of humanity’s search for ultimate answers. With the phrase “revealing corridors of time provoking memories disjointed but with purpose craving penetrations offer links,” we reach for it, occasionally touching these answers. The phrase “we took to the air a picture of distance” evokes humanity’s emergence into space, with the deepening understanding of our physical world, but still struggling with the “self instructors sharp and tender love.” Keyboard chords emerge faintly, growing, offering more structure to the rhythm. A second lower vocal line adds depth to the chant. We know now we’re building toward something.
Dawn of Our Power
The chant is less gentle now, moving forward with driving emotion. A lone synthesizer note blasts over the top, questioning whether this “Our Power” has brought us the peace and love it should have. We are “redescending,” maybe misled or deceived by “misused expression.” We look for love, but we end up with “passion chasing late into corners.” (“Passion chasing late into corners” is one of my favorite lyrical phrases of this selection.) Here we are, modern humanity, so educated, so materially successful, yet so utterly destructive. Our passions, misguided reaches for love ending in hate, box us into corners, trapped in the destructive modes of behavior that killed more humans over the last century than less “civilized” humanity killed in previous millennia. But we “danced from the ocean.” Have we emerged again? (I hope, Jon Anderson and Steve Howe, that we have.)
Dawn of Love
The music now pulses toward a climax—but make no mistake about it, the rhythm of the words still drives the piece. “Dawn of Love sent within us” begins this section. We have the “colours of awakening” (Yes deals with spiritual awakening in their masterful piece “Awaken” from the album “Going for the One.” See my previous blog post about the Poetry of Yes). We culminate with powerful music and words, offered with almost a singing shout—“As the links span our endless caresses for the freedom of life everlasting.” “The freedom of life everlasting” is an extraordinarily powerful phrase offered at the peak of emotion. It brings the momentum of this driving rhythmic procession of words to a fitting dramatic climax. Ultimate truth may well reveal how mind/soul might exist outside of material time and space. That would grant us an immortality, not of body, but of mind/soul, of consciousness. If consciousness never dies, could that be considered freedom, ultimate freedom? So we seek “endless caresses” of that freedom, the “freedom of life everlasting.”
Of course, with any sort of analysis like this, I run the risk of people telling me I got this totally wrong. That’s fine. There is more than one way to experience these lyrics. My attempt is simply to enhance enjoyment for those who love this music (and lyrics/poetry) as much as I do. All reasonable comments will be posted!
Complete lyrics of the opening of “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales form Topographic Oceans”:
Dawn of Light lying between silence and sold sources.
Chased amid fusions of wonder. In moments hardly seen forgotten.
Coloured in pastures of chance dancing leaves cast spells of challenge,
Amused but real in thought. We fled from the sea whole.
Dawn of Thought transferred through moments of days undersearching earth
Revealing corridors of time provoking memories. Disjointed but with purpose,
Craving penetrations offer links with the self instructors sharp
And tender love as we look to the air. A picture of distance.
Dawn of Our Power we amuse redescending as fast as misused
Experssion, as only to teach love as to reveal passion chasing
Late into corners. And we danced form the ocean.
Dawn of Love sent within us colours of awakening among the many
Wont to follow. Only tunes of a different age. As the links span
Our endless caresses for the freedom of life everlasting.