Time for the thrilling conclusion! Last time we talked a lot and then read TWO WHOLE SONGS from Wishbone Ash’s album Argus. Let’s finish it!
As always, my procedure works this way: I’ll write my first impressions of the piece. When you see the tarot card, that means I’ve flipped it over. I actually don’t know what’s coming during these posts until I am midway through them.
I am really into this song and how it throws up this guy’s one-sided love against a wall, Pyramis and Thisbe style. Like, this lady doesn’t seem turned off by him, or afraid of him. She just tells him he can try if he wants. He emerges from his “dreams” and “schemes” long enough to decide it’s impossible. This guy is definitely stuck in his head, to the detriment of his life and his attitudes of things.
It’s significant that the speaker focuses on the woman’s hair, “blowin’ free” as it does, “like a cornfield.” She’s natural and easy-going, at peace with the world around her. The speaker is not. I can sympathize with this a lot. In fact, I can go so far as to say I definitely had a lot of “dream girls” of my own when I was younger. They weren’t always people I knew, either. I had whole narratives in my head. That’s not a surprise, of course — we all do that. I suspect we all actually do what the speaker is doing, at least once. He wants something that may or may not exist (does the woman only exist in his dreams?). He thinks it’s impossible to get it, though. He’s talked himself into not trying, particularly given the previous songs.
The Moon is all about dreams and delusions. I usually respond positively to the moon, even when other readers don’t. I’m not implying everyone thinks it’s terrible. What I mean is that I have to struggle to remind myself of the negative implications of this card. Now, with this association, I may not have to struggle just as much.
The Moon depicts dogs baying at the moon, with a crustacean rising up out of the rippling waters. Most fish life, symbolically, points to something in our subconscious, “in the deeps.” Here it’s rising out of those deeps and affecting our life in more direct ways. We might expect to see the Moon if you’re having a dream over and over, or something like that.
The speaker is deluded, trapped by a memory or a dream. He can’t escape it, but mostly because he thinks it’s impossible, so he doesn’t try. His entire vision of the past is just that: a vision. It’s not real, and it’s not now. But he continues to revel in it, giving up hope of anything else.
I have to wonder where these visions of the speaker’s are coming from. And, of course, where they’ll lead him.
The King Will Come
This song repeats its lyrics. The first verse is the only one that appears just the one time. It’s the “entrance” of the king, in fire and flash, so that makes sense. The repetition makes this song a kind of chant; certainly it doesn’t sound the same as the previous songs. It’s less confessional and more imagistic, with the speaker seeing or imagining an apocalypse. In this end of the world some will die and some will live. The checkerboard is an important image. It shows both light and dark squares, with pieces moving across it, fighting and “dying” for unknown reasons. That certainly jibes with what the speaker said before now.
4 of Swords
We were all expecting Judgement or The Emperor, right? I certainly was. We’ve had wands and pentacles so far; we’ve had passion and body. But now we have mind. The four of swords shows a tomb. Some people have actually seen the Waite-Smith image as a living person asleep on a tomb, which I have never seen. This version is explicit: someone is dead. The swords hang from the tree above, as though they were just hung up there while someone took a nap or a bath or something. A star appears through the tree cover, implying the “hidden” positive message of this card. Basically, the card reminds us that stillness is one way to escape the “swords” that assail us. Fours are about solidity and foundations. Four points make a square. So if you can stop your racing thoughts and make a “foundation,” a still place for them, you can become calm. You can see the light in the darkness, even at night, even in death. The “death” here is, of course, temporary. The growing roses in the foreground remind us of that.
That is a very weird thing to apply to the song, right? Not really. If we imagine the coming of the king we would probably imagine a rush of sound and fire, followed by silence. The men dying precede the men living; the “death” has to precede the calm and peace. The “judgment” is simply that of one’s mind, settled into its calm, deciding what is and what is not good.
Think of it practically. Freaked out? Excited by something, but distracted? Worried? Die. Lie down in the floor. Let your limbs relax. Close your eyes. Imagine your body decaying. Slowly, as you work at this meditation (and it is a very traditional one), everything else will slip away. Aleister Crowley purportedly did this whenever he was worried about a bomb hitting his house during the Blitz — he added in imagining a bomb coming straight down into his house and hitting him as he lay there. He carried on even when bombs blew out his windows, so it seems to have worked.
Leaf and Stream
“Find myself beside a stream of empty thought.”
Am I good at this or what?
This song is all about secrets and the landscape that holds them. The speaker is still speaking to someone, and their presence still seems to be something the speaker wants. However, the speaker uses his dreams now to grow and expand himself. The leaf floats on the water as he floats on his thoughts.
He mentions he has been alone for a long time. Notice the timeline that is presented here: the past is associated with “weeping trees” that look sad; the speaker awaits spring to come in the future. The speaker now expects to move through time again. The world won’t pass him by now — he passes through it, walking this path. His motion toward instead of away is a positive sign.
8 of Wands
The eight of wands highlights motion. Traditionally, and in this version, we can’t see where the wands come from or where they’re going. In this version, they rocket up away from the earth and into space. So we sort of know where they’re coming from… except Earth is a big place. With this card, the motion itself is the important part. If you felt stuck about something and just started to change stuff, you’d be tapping into this card’s message, at least a bit. The eights are the cards just before fruition, and in the passions that means movement and energy and bombast. If you were to host a gallery exhibition, for instance, you’d sit on your hands for a long time while the artists made their pieces. But right before opening your life would be insane again. You’d be talking to caterers and musicians and the artists, again, and the owner of the space, and aaaaaahhh.
I helped plan my own wedding. It worked a bit like that.
So our card here suggests that the speaker is on the right path — because it’s a path! Take that for advice, too. If you ever feel stuck and passed by in the way that the first part of the album describes, take a walk. Make something change, even if it’s very small.
Next to last song! The music starts us in an energetic mood this time. Apparently this double-guitar thing was kind of Wishbone Ash’s deal, and a lot of other bands copped it from them. The sound engineer on this album went on to work with Black Sabbath, for instance.
I am kind of in love with the idea that the speaker is a tree. Because… because he has to be… an ash tree!
The speaker is taking that good advice from earlier. He’s stating outright that he’s going to get up and move. Being rooted to the same spot did nothing for him. It does, for some people. But he’s decided he needs more. So off he goes.
I actually think this song is the most difficult to understand. Watch the last song really knock me for a loop. He implies he wants to be a warrior, but he is not, or was not. He brings up the image of time again, time passing. This time it keeps his secret. What is that secret? He describes transforming from a farmer to a fighter, only to “bury” his secret in the fertile valley.
Page of Cups
The Page of Cups usually indicates someone “young.” They don’t have to be literally young. They merely experience things for the first time, or as though everything is fresh and new. This card says this is happening, or should happen, in the realms of emotions. The page is looking at a starfish that glows like an actual star. She has an artist’s paintboard hanging at her waist. The turbulent waters just behind her give way to a calm, flat expanse. This tells us about new emotional beginnings, maybe a new way of looking at or portraying something. Maybe this card shows us how to “paint” the situation in a new light, one that will guide us to some good feelings. The pages are often transient, though. They aren’t as firmly rooted as the queens and kings.
It turns out, that’s what our speaker needed. He was too rooted, and this new, fresh way of looking at the world gives him guidance. He finally knows “where” to go — it’s just forward, but that’s a “where.” This change he’s made has woken up his emotions to the surge of power and newness that the card indicates. He wants to be a warrior because he has encountered this feeling for the first time. The card would indicate that the secret is an emotional one. I wonder if the album will reveal what that is?
Throw Down the Sword
We’re in the final moments here! The song seems to take us back to the beginning of the album. The speaker is weary; he bears a load that slows him. He finally reaches an ending of his journey, though. So the circle is not broken or unbroken; it’s actually been a spiral the whole time. He has reached a place very similar to the one before, but things are a little different; he’s a little further down the path. It just barely looks that way, sometimes.
It’s almost funny that the whole “I’ll become a soldier” narrative is in two songs: “I’ll do it” and “I’ll give it up.” All the speaker wants now, and wanted as he fought, was an answer. He didn’t find a victory or a defeat, just like in life, really. He just wanted to know that thing, that one thing. Is it the same as the secret he buried? More likely, it’s the answer to that secret. And was he wounded before he left, or after?
I think the most important question to ask is this: does he have the freedom that he lacked at the beginning? Because eventually he could deal with every other issue, so long as he realizes he’s free. As he always has been.
5 of Cups
Nooooope. Not all is lost, but things are certainly bleak. The song itself agrees. This card is about mourning and disillusionment. It could almost be a picture of the speaker at the beginning of the album. The figure on the card looks down on three spilled cups. They don’t seem to notice two upright cups at their feet.
It’s important to note that mourning is necessary. A lot of people read this card as a simple order: “look around! You’ve got more than you think you do!” But the card doesn’t indicate that the figure is ignorant of the remaining cups. The emotions at the loss are still real, even if the figure has other things to turn to. However, eventually, mourning does run itself down. We do have to look around eventually and see what else we have, hopefully before we give up in despair.
Does the speaker of the song have that freedom, or the knowledge of it? I think so. The speaker had an adventure. He has something to mourn, now, be it his innocent dreams or his lost comrades. He does not have an answer. But he has a depth of feeling that will serve him as he looks for it.
This was a long one! If you look at the cards in order, on their own, they tell their own story:
It’s not a happy one, but it’s not a total tragedy. What began weighed down and sedate became disturbed by dreams. In the stillness of the night, things began to change. A new feeling, a powerful urge, entered the protagonist, and that led to mourning and a personal power (see the triskelon in the far background of the final picture? There’s a power we get when we live through the mourning process that we get in no other way. It’s not a pleasant power, but we have it)