Chapter Sixteen

ISLANDS






- chapter index -
pg. 1 - Islands | pg. 2 - Sagittarius | pg. 3 - Formentera Lady
pg. 4 - A Dragon Fig Tree's Fan | pg. 5 - The Sun | pg. 6 - Tanit
pg. 7 - The Crystal Cabinet | pg. 8 - Sailor's Tale | pg. 9 - Seizing the Ox
pg. 10 - The Letters

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Seizing the Ox


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Musicologist Greg Karl explains the specific Homeric parallels found in Sailor's Tale .

"As the hints in Formentera Lady suggest, Sailor's Tale is a musical representation of a series of scenes from Homer's _Odyssey_. The piece begins in dead calm seas; the oarsmen and the rest of the crew have their ears plugged with wax. Odysseus, who wishes to hear the song of the sirens, is tied to the mast so that he cannot be seduced into diverting the ship to the island on which these deadly creatures live. The multi-tracked soprano voice represents the sirens; the thoughts, emotions, and eventually, near madness of Odysseus are enacted by the sax. Note the way it seems to pursue the voices into the high register and the way it desperately squirms and struggles as if to escape its bonds. Toward the end of this section the tempo doubles and the voices fade away; that is, the wind picks up and they sail out of earshot.
The second part (after the transition on cymbal) might be subtitled Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla is a seven-headed monster living on a cliff overlooking a straight through which our sailors must pass; Charybdis is a whirlpool on the other side of the straight. Hence the expression "between Scylla and Charybdis," which is a learned variant of "between a rock and a hard place." The guitar and sax duet (fast, 12/8?, 6/4?) is the confrontation with Scylla. Here the sax is still Odysseus, while the guitar, with those evil bends, represents Scylla. Seven of the crew are devoured, apparently in the last few seconds, after the sax has dropped out. The next section (slow, 4/4) is a maelstrom sent by the god Helios to punish Odysseus's crew for having eaten some of his sheep earlier in the poem. The chordal guitar "solo" is the ever more powerful wind, which eventually makes the timbers creak. The creaking sound is the overdubbed guitar part playing single notes shortly before the next tempo change. The explosion beginning the last section (fast, 12/8?, 6/4?), at the entry of the harmonium, is the ship bursting asunder after being struck by a lightning-bolt (thrown by Helios). Odysseus survives, but is carried toward Charybdis. The huge crescendo with harmonium and mellotrons about a minute from the end is Odysseus being sucked in; at the last second he grabs a branch of a tree overhanging from the shore and is saved. The subsequent chordal descent on guitar is Odysseus coming down from his adrenaline rush (and the tree) and collapsing on the beach. The low harmonium chords with which the piece ends are reverberations of the eternal sea.
Those interested in a completely different musical representation of the encounter with the sirens might listen to Claude Debussy's Nocturnes (for orchestra). The third part is entitled "Sirenes" and uses women's chorus for the title role. Don't expect any angst or terror though; its purely impressionistic. The other two movements are great though."

- Greg Karl
New York, NY


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In the slow middle section of Sailor's Tale , Robert Fripp's guitar solo also suggests an inner turmoil, man struggling against his own nature.



"I seize him with a terrific struggle.
His great will and power are inexhaustible.
He charges to the high plateau far above the cloud-mists,
Or in an impenetrable ravine he stands."

- Kakuan's Commentary on the Oxherding Picures

"And then the fourth picture is called capturing the ox, and in this phase the human and the animal engage in a ferocious struggle. This whole chapter deals with the integration of the inner wild animal. The word "wild" is related to the word "will". The wild is the self-willed, it's not under the control of somebody else's will, it's not domesticated. It's autonomous. Because we are animals and we have an animal nature, we have a mammalian emotional nature, our emotions are derivative from the mammalian brain. So that's perfectly appropriate to use the image of a wild animal, a wild bull that like our emotions, pulls us this way or that, whether that's positive or negative, or repulsion or anger or hatred or lust or desire, whatever it may be."

- Ralph Metzner

"Each person has a Shadow figure...and it is the parts of our personality that we repress and are opposite of the ones we use. Part of the path to becoming a better person is facing your Shadow figure, hating and struggling with it, tolerating it, and /finally/ accepting it into your person. The path to being happy and peaceful is to be balanced. Too much Light is just as bad as too much Dark. Our Shadow figures have a lot to teach us..."

- An Overview of Jungian Psychology
by Jennifer Wilkes


title page of Songs of Innocence and Experience  by William Blake The guitar and the rhythm section at this point in the composition bear a more than passing resemblance to Easy Money and the phrase "sailor's tale" suggests activities of a carnal nature (i.e. a lonely sailor on leave in a foreign port surrounded by temptation). Further adding to the air of carnality, the composition is immediately followed by songs about infidelity and promiscuity, The Letters and Ladies of the Road . In light of the alchemical nature of Peter Sinfield's work previous to Islands , the album's songs of sexual experience again suggest the influence of William Blake.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell was Blake's synthesis of "the two Contrary States of the Human Soul" expressed in two earlier works, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience .

"Songs of Innocence (1789) shows life as it seems to innocent children. Songs of Experience (1794) tells of a mature person's realization of pain and terror in the universe."

- Web Museum: William Blake

I sense more than a little pain and terror in Sailor's Tale and The Letters . The concept of innocence and experience (two opposites) merged in a Marriage of Heaven and Hell practically renders Blake's work a Crimson manifesto. Had there been a King Crimson in the late 18th century, Blake would have been the lyricist and provided illustrations for the album covers. Indeed, Blake's copper plating techniques have never been adequately explained. I also detect an arcane technique at work in the paintings of Peter Sinfield. How did he achieve the unusual watercolor effect in his paintings on the inner sleeve of In the Wake of Poseidon and the cover for the US version of Islands ?





The process begun in Formentera Lady , the fall from grace, reaches its conclusion in Sailor's Tale . The final terrible realization comes in the last movement of the piece, when our protagonist is "quite shut up in darkness" and he has lost contact with an essential part of himself. This "essential part" is commonly referred to as "God", but, in Jungian terms, "God" is the Self, psychological wholeness, the four functions acting as one, Intuition.


"Humanity can't remain in the state of Innocence. It must fall into historical consciousness. It must become an Orphan from Eternity. One can't be an individual in the state of unity with Mother. Our personal "Fall" may be occassioned by any event that introduces the first contrast of pain/pleasure, good/bad, deprivation/affluence, inner and outer, etc. The experience of unity is broken by the perception of duality. This is the psychological equivalent of birth."

- Carol S. Pearson's Archetypal Dramas





The doom laden finale of Sailor's Tale and it's darkly ominous introduction to The Letters well expresses the "mature person's realization of pain and terror in the universe", the descent into matter, the Fall. At last "he is quite shut up in darkness."

painting by Claude-Joseph Vernet

"Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp'd
They slept on the abyss without a surge--
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon, their mistress, had expir'd before;
The winds were wither'd in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish'd; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them--She was the Universe."

- Lord Byron, Darkness





Islands ~ Sailor's Tale return to
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Islands ~ The Letters



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Chapter One The Metaphysical Record In The Court Of the Crimson King In The Wake Of Poseidon Lizard The King In Yellow The Sun King Eight
The Lake Which Mirrors the Sky In the Beginning Was the Word In the Beginning was the Word...side two Eros and Strife Dark Night of the Soul...Cirkus Dark Night of the Soul...Wilderness Big Top Islands
Islands Two Footnotes in the Sand Still Still 2
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