"The sea goat reads the flight of birds and
writes upon the sand"
Is this the flight of birds preparing for migration in autumn? The
first hint that summer might be drawing to an end and it is time to make a
Agreed. The second verse begins, as did verse one, with Peter telling us that he is preparing to offer a prophecy. Writing on the sand certainly suggests activity of a shamanistic nature. Reading "the flight of birds" is an ancient divination technique known as augury.
"They left no literature but the later Romans were indebted to the Etruscans for much of their knowledge of building, draining marshes, irrigating land and for their belief in foretelling the future by observing birds in flight and studying the organs of animals."
"The fates warn, stars teach, and likewise the flights of birds, that I will soon be the hammer of the world. Rome, a long time wavering, having committed a multitude of errors, will collapse and cease to be the leader of the world."
- Frederick II
- Tarot and the Millenium
by Timothy Betts Ph.D. (p. 219)
Any writing on the sand will be soon washed away by the tides. There is a sense of loss, too.
Sand writing, while alluding to the temporal nature of everything in the material world (see: Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas) and to shamanism also suggests a sense of futility. Like writing on the beach washed away by the tide, in the "high bender trender" world of pop music, songs and their lyrics are quickly forgotten in deference to the latest fad. Given this milieu in which Peter worked and the general reception given his work by the critics and listening public, perhaps the deeper feeling here is one of despair, the sense that no one is listening to what he has to say.
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The pointing hand might be Peter’s – (see below) and there is a sense that something valuable (wheat – food) is being lost. The autumnal image is strengthened.
I asked Peter about this in December 98:
Jon: The reference to autumn wheat in the next verse also suggests
the end of an era - the passage of fall into winter.
Peter Sinfield: "No - just about - politics of distribution...Famines! Are usually caused by politics?"
Note that it takes a "pointing hand" to write upon the
sand. I think the "pointing hand" is indeed Peter's. It is the
hand of the shaman or prophet, pointing in the direction of where
we/society are going next. The wheat slipping through his hand suggests,
again, a sense of futility. Perhaps he feels he is not being understood,
valued, receiving the acknowledgement due him as an artist. And then there is
the specter of “something valuable being lost”, the gift being wasted.
However there is another pointing hand and the next line gives away his identity. It is Capricorn in it's negative aspect as..."the need to serve the fatherland and to contribute to the maintenance and enhancement of paternalism within society. The means of enforcement, from police to the military. The "terrible Father" of this house is the all-powerful master of his domain whose harsh justice and quick sword immobilises his subjects. It is the wellspring of martial prowess and all worldly ambitions."
"Gold waterfalls of autumn wheat slip through a pointing
Whose fingers stiff with sentences still beckon to the
To play the "Best Foot Forward March" and deafen all
With hollow words, it's so absurd!"
It is the weary task of the writer who has to come up once again, with new tunes for the band to play. And a loud band, too! Notice the' Best Foot Forward march', is an injunction to make a change. The value of carrying on is being questioned.
A retreat, perhaps?
"Yes, I forget in Somerset, but now I've lost my silver spoon."
- Peter Sinfield, Hanging Fire
“Fingers stiff with sentences” recalls Islands' "fingers of stone". This phrase seems to express Peter's weariness (writer's cramp!) and the sense that he is being held back by ideas (ego-constructs, social mores/expectations) codified in words. Perhaps he is feeling constrained by expectations created by the "words" of his own artistic legacy. "How do I get out from under the crimson veil?" he may have asked himself. Note that it is also Uncle Sam's fingers that are "stiff with sentences" and that sentences are passed under the rule of law. Laws, custom and dogma define governments, societies and religions. They tend to lead us away from self-knowledge (gnosis) and toward identification with the group. It would seem, then, that, just as governments, under Capricorn, pass sentence under the law, Peter has, in a sense, passed sentence upon himself.
"still beckon to the
To play the "Best Foot Forward March"
"Take your stand" sang the sea goat
"the night goes on
This is the pivotal point of the song and sets the stage for the
drama that follows:
I also see this passage as a call to stand against negativity in several respects. Peter needs to "overcome" the sentence imposed upon him by society (the critics and listening public) and by himself. All of us need to overcome the suave pirate words of commercialism and governmental propaganda.
In the first verse, the Sea Goat sounds resigned and exasperated ("Oh, cant you hear"…). In the second verse he sounds loud and angry:
"It fills the air! It fills the air!
The song of the sea goat shaking in the domes"
Now we must announce that it is time to move on:
"Unwrap your plans" sang the sea goat
To touch the earth and to see the birth
The smile, the style down an unspun mile of life."
This is a beautiful passage. In the wake of Peter's departure from King Crimson, a new plan unfolded. The end is always a new beginning, whether we realize it or not. Peter had presided over the birth of progressive rock and he was also there to "see the birth" of Roxy Music, a band who, in the next decade, were to deeply influence the direction of pop music. "The smile, the style down an unspun mile of life" surely alludes to (or sets the stage for) the next song on the album, Under the Sky .
But still the indecision remains. The author hovers between life in Crimson (between the sunset's crimson veil) and anonymity (the smooth grey streets where the drunkard spins his tale ).
Good point. Note the streets are "smooth" - the easy way out.
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