Song: Bear’s Vision of St. Agnes from the album TEN STORIES
Sacrifice. How far would you go?
This song is a lyrical masterpiece, the conclusion of a powerful story (the entire album), highlighting potentially the end of a very long journey (Life) of two characters “Both faint and fading fast”, running from the authorities, and for all indications, the world: Fox and Bear, the only two animals left in the story…animals that are featured/mentioned in the other songs (Fox has is own great tune earlier in the album) and this is more of Bear’s song. It’s his final moment to shine…
…well if shining means to earn your rest, to die with purpose and meaning that is. You see, Bear is so weary, that he’s at the end of his journey. He just wants to lay down and close his eyes. Yet he looks over at his friend Fox, exhausted beyond measure too, and he realizes that Fox will never make it with him along OR even if Bear stops and dies it won’t be enough for Fox to survive; even though it’s FOX that comments “You’ve worn me like an Albatross, I’ve only slowed you down.” – Bear knows Fox will not have the strength to endure this trek, dragging along his larger friend around until he dies, to be left without the nourishment that would give Fox strength, it’s a death sentence for both of them…
So, as Fox’s death approaches and his mind spirals inward into fond memories ” We rode in circles on our bicycles; we walked on balance beams as the audience cheered for us. We burned like fevers under carriage hats…” Bear comes up with something, a final RUSE, one that seems sooo morbid to us humans (given the same circumstance), but I ask you not to see this too literally…the power of this song and what it expresses far eclipses the “surface” reading of it. You see, Bear tells Fox to “Climb on down and see” (the cliff) to find his “brother bear” below that “looks just like me”. (there really isn’t another bear, as Bear intends to plummet off the cliff the moment fox departs…) and then he wants fox to seek his nourishment with his remains, to give his friend the strength he needs to survive this road. To sacrifice himself. “there’ll be enough to fill your cup for days” Bear tells Fox.
I find the metaphors and allegory filling this song to be very powerful. Fox’s memories coming back to: “hid behind Venetian masks, In our human costumes” as of this was only a veil for a deeper spiritual identity below…their “animal” nature perhaps, a bear, stalwart and strong, and fox, cunning and wise, qualities of humanity… The lonely horn that starts the song and cuts through the album is the sound of mourning, perhaps not the loss of a life, but the loss of such a quality of life…one that is willing to give everything when it would matter most, for someone so cherished, so loved.
As Bear plummets off the cliff, he keeps repeating what is truly on his mind/heart, not obsessing in great dismay over ending of his life, but on the things that matter most to him, things he counts as being greater than his life, and that these things will IMPROVE.
Barren rocks and sand, Bear & Fox held hands,
held like a timber hitch, held candles to the sun
Both faint and fading fast, they walked on, windward
kept time with a pocketmouse, mouths kept mostly shut
Thought broke the silence like a bone
[half-moaning] “you’ve worn me like an albatross,
I’ve only slowed you down.
You could’ve long traded in your braided crown by now
you could’ve found that Anabaptist girl you always used to go on about
As we rode in circles on our bicycles;
we walked on balance beams
the audience cheered for us
We burned like fevers under carriage hats
hid behind Venetian masks
In our human costumes
We stood like statues once in shepherd’s check
we’ll both be decked in herringbone,
wrapped border drab around already broken ironstone”
“But I’ve seen these cliffs before,
St. Agnes brought her palm branch to the hospital
looked upward lest the charm had fled
from my brother’s breathing bed
And when he died I shut his dogtooth violet eyes:
He looked just like me
climb on down and see
they laid him on the rocks below
there’ll be enough to fill your cup for days;
I’ll stay up here and rest.
[aside] We’ll fly in straight lines as from carronades
we’ll crash like tidal waves, decimate the islands
As our hollowed lumber falls like water, ends where I start
In that tattered rag shop back in Asbury Park
Look how soon my hands won’t move
but if you’ll improve, we’ll all improve
Sixty feet and my feet won’t move
but if you’ll improve, we’ll all improve
Forty feet, my legs won’t move
but as you improve, we all improve
Fill our den with acorn mast,
I’ll wake before the salmon pass
Ten foot more and nothing moves