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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, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in lyrics, music, music commentary, progressive rock, rock music, Yes.
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2 comments

(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!)

Some Background
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.

Tales from Topographic Oceans

Tales from Topographic Oceans

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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: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

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

AWAKEN        SUNS HIGH STREAMS THRU       AWAKEN
GENTLE         STRONG DREAMS REIGN HERE  GENTLE
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
Anderson/Howe

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

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