Courtship solely of his word
With Eden guaranteed."
A passage referring to the crusades and to death. Frederick had courted the
favor of Popes by giving his word to launch a crusade, and was then
ex-communicated for going back on his word. He eventually set sail for
Jerusalem, winning the Holy Land and, due to his treaty with the Arabs,
enraging the Pope.
According to one contemporary account, the emperor's treaty negotiations with
the Sultan el-Kamil was also a "courtship solely of his word".
"The emperor, for giving credit to his word, wished as a guarantee only the
word of the sultan, which he obtained. For he said, among other things, that
the holy city was surrendered to him."
The treaty with the Arabs was among the first signs of trouble between
Frederick and the Pope. The invasion of Persia in 1228, referred to in the
preceding line, "Farewell the temple master's bells," was the
beginning of the trouble between Islam and the Mongols.
For now Prince Rupert's tears of glass
make saffron sabbath eyelids bleed."
Because he considers himself godlike and above mere human concerns, Rupert's
(Frederick's) tears are glass. They are not human tears. His anguish is not
closely related to the human suffering taking place during this time.
Additionally, Prince Rupert's Tears were a technological innovation created by
fire (the element of the album). Fire represents technology (Prometheus) and,
as such, Frederick's tears are of purely cerebral origin and, like him, they
have been hardened in the fire. Nevertheless as he is genuinely interested in a
unification of east and west (Moslem and Christian), and a more liberal
exchange of ideas, major themes of his life, some of his intentions are
"It had been Frederick's dream to restore the Roman Empire of the East and the
West, with its capital
at Rome. Rome would once again be the seat of the Emperors, and the Popes,
robbed of the temporal
possessions restored to them by Pepin and Charlemagne, would become the
subjects of the Emperors."
If someone shed literal glass tears it would cause the individual to bleed,
but, again, we are dealing with the symbolic implications of the idea. Rupert's
tears cause him harm, as does his principled stand against the Catholic Church.
His tears also represent how his ambition for power does him harm. On
H to He Who Am the Only One
, the Van der Graaf Generator album released at about the same time as
, Peter Hammill, in his lyrics to
The Emperor in his War - Room
, conveys a strikingly similar idea :
"You think that you can hold the searing, molten gold between your fingers..."
Saffron is another import from the orient.
"Invading Arabs had introduced saffron to the Iberian peninsula by the 10th
century A.D; azafran, the Spanish word for saffron, is from the Arabic za
- Flowers are a Mine for a Spice More Precious Than Gold by Diane Raines Ward,
Smithsonian Aug. 98
"Persian Emperors wore saffron dyed robes and had documents dyed from it
The juxtaposition of the words "saffron" and "sabbath"
represent the union of east and west. For Prince Rupert to have "saffron
sabbath eyelids", means that he can see things from both the Christian and
Moslem perspective, and here he is lamenting conditions in both parts of the
"Frederick II came to an Islamic point of view of Christianity and to a
Christian one of Islam."
- H.G. Wells
"Scar the sacred tablet wax
On which the Lizards feed."
The "Lizards feed" on (promote, are strengthened by) the idea of certain texts
being so "sacred" (i.e. the Bible) as to render all other writings unnecessary,
irrelevant or even dangerous (to orthodoxy).
Note that it is Rupert's tears that scar the wax. Rupert's ( Frederick's)
resolve to translate and disseminate forbidden texts is strengthened by his
concern re: events in Europe and Asia.
"He was distracted all his life from his great aim of restoring
civilization to Europe and securing the development of science by struggles
with three successive Popes for whom no historian has now a word of excuse or
As noted above, Hermes is the God of messengers and
is concerned with "getting the message out".
"Since he connects all the others and serves as a link between human and
divine reality, Hermes is the greatest of the Gods. His counterpart occurs in
all mythologies (Odin, Mercury, Thoth). Hermes is the God of language, hence
the inspiration of all writers."
This explains the illuminated manuscript illustrations on the album's cover.
"Hermes is, like the metal mercury, the amalgamation and contradiction of
scattered opposites, the divine marriage (or hieros gamos) of polarities. As
the God of messengers, he is a fitting symbol also of the Western version of
Eastern Taoism and Buddhism."
"Wake your reason's hollow vote
Wear your blizzard season coat
Burn a bridge and burn a boat
Stake a Lizard by the throat."
The chorus is such a contrast in mood and volume from the verses that it seems
to represent the time when Rupert is actually awake. The implication here is
that he has awakened with new insight and new resolve. Rupert is involved in
the destruction described in the chorus as he has a vote regarding the violent
action described. His vote, his appeal to reason, is a hollow one because he is
locked in a life or death struggle with the papacy. He has to wear his
metaphorical winter coat (become a cold and indifferent person) in order to
A bridge and a boat serve as links (a means of communication) between people
and, ironically, are being destroyed in an attempt to disseminate knowledge.
The Lizard, here again, represents the enemy, or obstacle, to that goal.
And while Prince Rupert vowed to . . .
"Burn a bridge"
. . . the pope was referred to as the "Bridge Builder".
"The term pontifex literally means "bridge-builder" (pons + facere). By the end of the 6th century, Gregory I was the first Pope to employ "Pontifex Maximus" in a formal sense, in a broader program of asserting Roman primacy. It has remained a title or description of the popes to this day. The first of the Holy Roman Emperors, Charlemagne (d. 814) is said to have regretted that he allowed himself to be crowned by the Pope rather than crowning himself, since his authority was supposed to come directly from God, he was in no need of a "bridge builder".
Another idea being conveyed here is that words (messages) can be used for
purposes destructive as well as, noble. One Lizard can stake another Lizard by
the throat, allegorically speaking. Or, put another way, one consequence of a
messenger successfully imparting his message may be destruction. And here we
see the contradictory nature of Hermes.
Peter Sinfield confirms this in his notes to
"I learnt about the magic of words, how they are magic and music, build
bridges and burn boats."
"Hermes teaches us that the worst evils can be transformed to good. He
provokes us into new insights."