IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING
"And nothing can we call our own but death
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings."
- William Shakespeare, King Richard II
- chapter index -
pg. 1 - Epitaph |
pg. 2 - The Iron Gates of Fate
pg. 3 - The Fate of All Mankind
pg. 4 - Moonchild
pg. 5 - The Court of the Crimson King
pg. 6 - The Purple Piper
pg. 7 - Averroes
pg. 8 - The Keeper of the City Keys
pg. 9 - The Pilgrim's Door
pg. 10 - The Return of the Fire Witch
pg. 11 - The Gardener Plants An Evergreen
pg. 12 - The Prism Ship
pg. 13 - The Grinding Wheel
pg. 14 - On Soft Gray Mornings
pg. 15 - Divining Signs
pg. 16 - The Yellow Jester
pg. 17 - Remember the Future
pg. 18 - The Return of the King
pg. 19 - The I Ching
pg. 20 - Octants
English to Chinese
English to French
English to German
English to Italian
English to Japanese
English to Korean
English to Portuguese
English to Spanish
Chinese to English
French to English
French to German
German to English
German to French
Italian to English
Japanese to English
Korean to English
Portuguese to English
Russian to English
Spanish to English
rederick II, a fusion of not only east and west, but of past and future, was, in many respects, an embodiment of the alchemical union of opposites. By symbolizing the sun in the title song, Frederick serves as an allegory for the highest alchemical state, the Rubedo, the sun at its zenith. Like Frederick, the album is also a fusion of past and future. In Peter Sinfield's verses, Frederick II is commenting on his own life and times, the present age (his future), and, in the case of
Twenty First Century Schizoid Man,
our future. As the Middle Ages are characterized by the Hermetic Principle of Correspondence: As Above, so Below, and the album,
In the Court of the Crimson King
, is told from a decidedly medieval perspective, it follows that there is both a metaphysical (an above) and an earthly (below) Crimson King. (See chapter two) It also follows that Peter Sinfield's lyrics are not the words (observations) of just any medieval person, but specifically those of Frederick II. His observations of the modern world are filtered through what he has learned in his personal 13th century milieu. The album, sub-titled
An Observation by King Crimson
is, more specifically...
An Observation by Frederick II
"He was himself at home in the mysterious twilight of the prophets and stargazers and could not value their sphere too highly as, in a certain sense, a training ground. His own aims, however, were far too simple and straightforward to be understood by any of these over-learned folk. He depended only on first hand ocular observation. "No certainty comes by hearsay" was one of his maxims. An Arab scholar Shahabu 'd Din has preserved in an essay on Optics :
Attentive Observation of What the Eye Perceives
, some questions asked by the Emperor. He asked why Canopus looked larger at his rising than at his zenith ; why eyes afflicted with cataracts could see black streaks and spots ; why a lance plunged in water should appear broken. Deceptions of the eye had a disturbing importance for the man who relied preponderantly on visual observation.
Frederick's great work is the product of years of observation :
de Arte venandi cum avibus
. 'Thanks to his amazingly penetrative glance, directed especially to the observation of nature, the Imperator himself wrote a book about the nature and care of birds, in which he showed how deeply imbued he was with a love of knowledge,' wrote a chronicler. Down to the minutest detail it is based on his own observations or those which friends and experts had made at his instigation. For twenty or thirty years the Emperor had meditated the writing of this Ornithology--for it is no less--and all the time he had been amassing first-hand material till at last, urged by his son Manfred, he set about the actual tasks of writing the six books in this branch of Zoology. 'He must be reckoned the greatest expert who ever lived,' so judged Ranke. And the statement is not unjustified. In the most vital points the book has not even yet been superseded. The most astonishing thing about it is its absolute accuracy and matter-of-factness, which contains more knowledge of the mysteries of nature than do the cosmic astral encylcopaedias of the court philosophers at which the Emperor was wont to smile, even though on occasion he participated in the current superstitions. In that age of intellectual starvation which speculated on how many angels could dance on the point of a needle, Frederick summed up his programme in the introduction in the clear-cut phrase : 'Our intention is to set forth the things which are, as they are (
manifestare ea quae sunt sicet sunt
).' This stern sobriety, that seeks nothing before things or behind things, but the things themselves, when exercised by a wise man contains the vision of all visions. Everything is, first and foremost, itself. Neither the philosophers of the East nor the philosophers of the West had taught this to Frederick."
- Frederick II
by Ernst Kantorowicz
The below quote, regarding Eco's
The Name of the Rose
, is somewhat applicable to the subject of the Crimson King:
"The first unusual thing about this post-modern work is that it should be approached as a medieval treatise or poem. Then the reading and analysis would be focused from the point of view of the quadripartition of meaning: literal, historical, allegorical and anagogical. Eco, added, to puzzle us still further, a fifth level of signification, which might be called, the kabbalistic level of analysis."
- Eco's The Name of the Rose by Nora Kreimer
Thematically, the album's sequencing is significant. All of the songs on side one (what was side one of the Lp) deal with themes applicable to the present day and the real world. Side two is strictly about metaphysical concerns or the distant past. This is another way in which the album conforms to the medieval axiom "As Above, So Below", or as in the physical world, so in the spiritual world.
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"The wise stay alert, creative, and in worried contemplation."
- The I Ching, The Book of Change by Steven Ericcson-Zenith
is meant to link the two sides, side one (the below, earthly/present side) and side two (the above, metaphysical/past side). Acting as a sort of linchpin holding together the two sides,
is a microcosm of the album. Like the album,
travels through time, though the album travels in one direction (future to past), while the song travels in the other direction (past to future). This is one way in which
is a reflection of the album as a whole. Beginning in the past tense, by referring to the walls on which the prophets wrote,
continues in the present tense, and concludes in the future tense with "I fear tomorrow I'll be crying". All of the album's themes are touched on in the song: the apocalyptic technology of
(knowledge is a deadly friend), the futility of
I Talk to the Wind
March for No Reason
), the other worldly imagery of
(between the iron gates of fate), and, in addition to the angst and foreboding of
The Court of the Crimson King
, allusions to the politico-military intrigue of the title song (upon the instruments of death).
can also be described as a mirror by which the two sides (past and present, above and below) are reflected, or as the veil between the material and spiritual worlds, life and death. On either side of
are the two quiet songs,
I Talk to the Wind
, reflecting one another. On the opposite ends of the album,
and the title song are apocalyptic messages about , respectively, the future and the past.
can also be readily interpreted as personally relating to Frederick II.
The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams
Some of the specific prophets referred to here are Joachim of Fiore, Virgil and Frederick himself (see chapter two). Frederick's life had been the subject of messianic prophecy from before his birth and he believed the prevailing Catholic interpretation of biblical prophecy was incorrect. As it turned out, his conception of eschatology and the prophecies surrounding him would also prove to be false.
"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)
Commentary on Jeremiah
did in fact foretell that Frederick would so persecute the Church that in the year 1260 it would be utterly overthrown."
- The Pursuit of the Millenium
by Norman Cohn (p. 111)
"Frederick II accepted astrology as no less scientific than astronomy. In this he followed the ancient Roman emperors and, like them, he would undertake no important enterprise without first consulting the stars. After Frederick's defeat at Parma his enemies found special reason for exultation in that this 'disciple of Beelzebub and Ashtaroth' had been accompanied into battle by a host of astrologers and magicians whose predictions were based upon serious miscalculations."
- The Emperor Frederick II von Hohenstaufen
by Thomas Curtis Van Cleve, p. 306
In any case, the wall on which the prophet wrote was cracking at the seams. The very basis of Frederick's reality was crumbling.
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams
A symbolic admission of involvement in the violence and destruction taking place during his reign. Frederick was the sun. This will be discussed at length later in the chapter.
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams
This is not so much a statement about every man as it is a statement about Frederick, who was torn apart by dreams of empire and the nightmares they unleashed.
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
As silence drowns the screams
A statement about political or religious repression, but it also has more personal implications for Frederick II, as he took part in the persecution of heretics and also conducted a certain "scientific" experiment:
"Language was among the many interests that attracted Frederick's restless, inquiring mind. Fond of "scientific" experimentation, he commanded that a number of children be raised from birth in total silence and isolation, in order to find out what language they would ultimately speak. Nothing came of it, as they all died young, for reasons which would be no mystery to a modern psychologist."
- The Linguist of Ancient and Medieval Days by Ruth A. Roland
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