“We measure our days out In steps of uncertainty”

March 20th, 2018 in Life. Tags: , , , , ,

One of the pleasures in having an old vinyl record collection is getting an old album out of the storeroom and playing it after years, maybe decades. Some albums stand up, some sound outdated.

And some songs still hit you with all the old force.

Here’s one.

A Man for all Seasons

Al Stewart was never big on the radio in Australia, but I’d read some good reviews, so when I saw his 1978 Time Passages album in a second hand record store in South Yarra in Melbourne while on a visit (more than 30 years ago), I grabbed it.

It’s gentle, thoughtful, soft folk-rock from a troubadour with enduring appeal – he’s still performing more than 50 years after his first album was released.

For me, the standout track is A Man for all Seasons.

The middle verse focuses on the plight of Thomas More, the English intellectual and politician who opposed both the annulment of King Henry VIII’s marriage and the Protestant Reformation in England, and was subsequently executed for treason. More was described by admirer Robert Whittington as a “man for all seasons”, and Stewart pictures More awaiting his death in the Tower of London, “Watching the sands running out …. In actions that can’t be undone”.

But despite what the reviews mostly say, the song isn’t really about Thomas More at all but about you, and I …. and Stewart himself …. in fact, all of us.

For the first and third verses ask us modern rational thinkers the question: “What if you reached the age of reason, Only to find there was no reprieve”?

Stewart reflects on the shortness of life, the impermanence of our achievements and the ways we try to make sense of it all, or look for a way out. Some look to Jehovah or Allah, but perhaps we should “try to accept what the fates are unfolding”.

Or perhaps not.

Perhaps, Stewart suggests, we should learn from our past and re-think our imagined future.

Check it out

I think it’s a brilliant song, as Stewart portrays someone looking this way and that, considering the options, hoping for the best, fearing the worst. Some say “There’s nothing to believe in …. Just daydreams, deceiving”, but maybe we should “try once again for the light”. But in the end ….

We measure our days out In steps of uncertainty …. too soon its over and done.

I hope you take a listen and check out the lyrics.

What if you reached the age of reason
Only to find there was no reprieve
Would you still be a man for all seasons?
Or would you just have to leave
We measure our days out
In steps of uncertainty
Not turning to see how we’ve come
And peer down the highway
From here to eternity
And reach out for love on the run
While the man for all seasons
Is lost behind the sun

Henry Plantagenet still looks for someone
To bring good news in his hour of doubt
While Thomas More waits in the Tower of London
Watching the sands running out
And measures the hours out
From here to oblivion
In actions that can’t be undone
A sailor through the darkness
He scans the meridian
And caught by the first rays of dawn
The man for all seasons
Is lost beneath the storm

And I should know by now
I should know by now
I hear them call it out all around
Oh, they go
There’s nothing to believe in
Hear them,
Just daydreams, deceiving
They’ll just let you down

What if you reached the age of reason
Only to find there was no reprieve
Would you still be a man for all seasons?
Or would you just disbelieve?
We measure our gains out in luck and coincidence
Lanterns to turn back the night
And put our defeats down to chance or experience
And try once again for the light

Some wait for the waters of fortune to cover them
Some just see the tides of ill chance running over them
Some call on Jehovah
Some cry out to Allah
Some wait for the boats that still row to Valhalla
Well, you should try to accept what the fates are unfolding
While some say they’re sure where the blame should be falling
You look round for maybe a chance of forestalling
But too soon its over and done
And the man for all seasons
Is lost behind the sun

Graphic: Pexels and Unsplash

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