In response to an essay on David Dodd's excellent Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics Robert Hunter
gives us a rare Rosetta Stone
by reveling the meaning of the lyrics.
What's it about?
In another time's forgotten space
your eyes looked through your mother's face
Wildflower seed on the sand and stone
may the four winds blow you safely home.
< surface intent >
[You have your mother's eyes, child,
the very shape, color and intensity
of the eyes that looked through
her face so long ago. Borne on the
varied winds of chance and change,
like a dandelion seed, you may find
yourself deposited on barren soil.
My wish for you is that the forces
that brought you there may sweep
you up again and bear you to fertile ground.]
< deeper intent >
"In another time's forgotten space
your eyes looked through your mother's face."
[Relative immortality of the human
species is realized through reproduction.
Dominant traits inherited from an ancestor,
the lyric suggests, share more than mere
similarity with those of the forebear,
but are an identity, endlessly reproducible.
In other words, when someone says
"You have your mother's eyes"
they are not speaking in simile
nor would it be incorrect to say
that "your mother has your eyes,"
if, in fact, possessiveness is
an appropriate term in the context.
Poetic license will assume it is,
if only for the sake of moving on
to the next couplet.]
You ask me where the four winds dwell
In Franklin's tower there hangs a bell
It can ring, turn night to day
Ring like fire when you lose your way
[note that this song appeared in 1975,
the year after my son was born and the
year before the American Bicentennial.
Both facts are entirely relevant. The
allusion to the Liberty Bell and the
situation of the Philadelphia Congress
in the hometown of Ben Franklin has not
gone unnoticed by other commentators.
This song is a birthday wish both for
my son and for my country, each young
and subject to the winds of vicissitude.
Individual and collective freedom,
liberty, conscience, all that is conjured
by those concepts, is suggested
in the image of the tolling bell.]
God help the child who rings that bell
It may have one good ring left, you can't tell
One watch by night, one watch by day
If you get confused just listen to the music play
[The Bell, rung once, cracked and could not
be safely rung again. From an actual bell,
it therefore became a symbol of the
potential to ring. The single toll, signaling
birth, can now be heard only in its
reverberations in our history and ideals.
Some have had to bear those ideals in
difficult circumstances (war, the Great
Depression and general benightedness)
others have had the more enviable task
of keeping watch (eternal vigilance)
during periods of conscious and dynamic
change: the full light of day. The sixties,
the writer assumes, were such a time.
You can't tell if ringing that bell
a second time would destroy it in
the act of producing another mighty
peal and it might be foolish, if courageous,
to try. Perhaps the "music"of
the original ideals symbolized by
the first and only toll should be taken
to heart and implemented, rather than
obviated by a new source of ideation
(communism, anarchy, religion based
governmental apparatus. etc.) To resolve
this confusion, pay attention to the
original inspiration (the Constitution,
the Bill of Rights, collectively.
Individually, maintain awareness of
conscience and one's own early ideals.]
Some come to laugh their past away
Some come to make it just one more day
Whichever way your pleasure tends
if you plant ice, you're gonna harvest wind
[This verse scarcely needs commentary
in light of the above remarks. The precursor
to the 1st couplet is "I Come for to Sing" as
performed, possibly written, by Pete Seegar.
The 2cnd couplet source is the biblical
"Who sows wind reaps the hurricane."]
In Franklin's Tower the four winds sleep
Like four lean hounds the lighthouse keep
Wildflower seed in the sand and wind
May the four winds blow you home again
[We assume a bell tower for the great bell.
By the trope of simile, we see the bell tower
(the day watch) turned to a lighthouse
and the four winds become sleeping hounds,
(the night watch) worn out by the events
of such a metaphorical day as related
by e.e. cummings in his familiar lyric
"All in Green Went My Love Riding"
(Poem 6 from TULIPS & CHIMNEYS)
"four lean hounds crouched low
and smiling . . ." By the use of quotative
allusion the lyric attempts to borrow
some of the emotive spark of cumming's
poem, providing a kind of "link button"
into a different but complementary space.
Allusion here functions as a sort of
shorthand cross-patch into a series
of metaphoric events which, with
a double-clutch shift of simile,
access a downloadable description of
the kind of day it's been for a 'wildflower
seed' in its adventures in the wind.
There may be some objection to the
elastic interchangeability of the similes
of hounds and winds in this set of couplets,
but the test of the allusion, as I see it,
is whether or not the appropriate emotions
are evoked to lead to satisfying closure
and an opening door on other possibilities.]
[Now to the real stretch: "Roll away the dew."
The line is appropriated from a fairly
well known sea chantey whose chorus goes:
"Roll away the morning dew
and sweet the winds shall blow."
As surely everyone knows by now,
Bonnie Dobson's song "Morning Dew"
(made famous by Garcia's singing of it)
is set in the aftermath of nuclear war.
Reason he can't "walk you out
in the morning dew, my honey"
is because of fallout, though Garcia
has wisely dropped the verse
containing this denouement, allowing
the song a heightened romantic mystery,
achieved through open-ended ambiguity.
For generations now alive,
the nuclear specter personifies
the forces which most threaten our
attempt at Jeffersonian democracy.
With the song's sub-allusion to
"[Roll away the Stone," an anthem
of joyous Eastertide resurrection,
a resultant combination message
of dire necessity (as in the final:
you've got to roll away the dew)
and promise of renewal, in case
resolution is effected, are enjoined.
Should this hyper-allusive train
of thought become too confusing
to process, the invitation to just
"listen to the music play"
acknowledges both the melody
and performance context of the lyric
and the metaphoric bell described above.]
Well, now that you know what I meant by it,
it's no great shakes is it? Mystery gone,
the magician's trick told, the gluttony
for "meaning" temporarily satisfied,
one can now take issue with my intent
and avoid the song itself, substituting
the assignable significance for the music.