On a Methodology for Interpreting Jon Anderson's "And You and I"


Alan Gullette


University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Spring 1975

English 2150: Colloquium for English Majors

Prof. Dr. Leggett


Criticism traditionally involves both interpretation and evaluation, is therefore both description and normative. Feeling that the normative is to be avoided in all cases [why?], I regard the descriptive as being the only legitimate function of criticism. At any rate, interpretation is usually considered to be necessary in criticism, and the methodology must be flexible enough to be applicable to any literary work.

"And You And I" by Jon Anderson is a song lyric, but, being printed at least on the album sleeve of the recording, it is obviously important enough in itself to be considered apart from the song of the same title.[1] An attempt to interpret the poem for meaning following any traditional approaches would be vain. Only an eclectic approach, combining elements of the "set" approaches or methods, yields any real results. This I intend to demonstrate: that only by going outside the poem itself, by considering certain facts about the author, his other works, and circumstances about the text of the poem, and by formulating an idea of the philosophical interests or beliefs of the poet can even a partial understanding of the poem be gained.

A critic might argue that any work requiring this methodology for its interpretation is thereby shown to be inferior, but this is unjust and absurd. If interpretation is necessary for evaluation, then the critic should not flinch at the difficulty of whatever methodology is necessary for just interpretation. Only after the work is interpreted can we begin to evaluate it.

No interpretations that I know of have been made of "And You And I." A cursory reading will show the difficulty in understanding the poem, even on the literal level. Though the expression is difficult, the thoughts expressed are actually simple enough. This simplicity makes the words very beautiful -- if, at first, meaningless. As a song, the poem really need have no meaning, since the sound of the words would justify a lack of meaning. The peculiar vocals of Anderson bring out the sounds wonderfully, but such lines as


Sad preacher nailed upon the colour door of time

Insane teacher be there reminded of the rhyme,

They'll be no mutant enemy we shall certify,

Political lends as sad remains will die (ll. 26-29)




In the end we'll agree, we'll accept, we'll immortalise (l. 35)


have a clear singing quality about them even when read.

Perhaps the first thing that need be taken into consideration in dealing with our example is this: the text itself is difficult to determine. Although the words are given on the album sleeve, they are in holograph, so that it is difficult to distinguish capitals and commas or periods. The text provided in the appendix is a correlation of three versions: the written version, the vocal version, and a second (live) vocal version.[2] The differences in the first vocal version I consider to be revisions. Whenever two or more versions agree, however, I have followed them, regardless of chronology of version; the differences are given in the notes to the poem. As to capitalization and punctuation, I have followed the written version. (Note that "ocean" is not capitalized in l. 9 but is in ll. 23 and 40.)

Some obvious arguments against this methodology are these: the poem is not a poem but a lyric. If it is considered as a poem, a work of literature, then only the written version can be used in determining the text. If vocal versions are accepted and differ, then the chronology is important, the last version being considered as final. I contend: a poem read aloud is a poem whether it exists in another form or not. (A speech is spoken or written; the written text is only a record of the speech.) As the lyric is given with the album, I think it is meant to be considered separately from the song, although the song (as much) cannot be fairly considered a complete work of art apart from the lyrics. (The same can be said about album design, illustration, etc., in regard to the whole work.) In only one instance does the live version disagree with the studio version (at l. 39, "As" is omitted -- see note), so that the most recent version differs very little from the older; but, in the general case of live performances, singers will often modify their songs slightly if only in their own desire for variety.

It is said that the worst insult that can be given an artist is that made by comparing his newest creation with his old. This, I imagine, is greatly variable among artists, and I can see the truth of this statement only in a comparison of worth - i.e., in a process of evaluation. In interpretation, it is often necessary to look at an artist's entire output when seeking to illuminate a single work. This is so in the present case. Justification of such cross-references it found not only in the failure of the attempts at interpretation, but also in the other works themselves. These references in the other works of Jon Anderson and yes are often encouragements to seek meaning in the words:


Straight light moving and removing SHARPNESS of the colour

sun shine

Strong light searching all the meanings of the song[3]




Take what I say in a different way

And it's easy to say that this is all confusion.[4]




Think it over, time will heal your fear

Think it over, balance the thoughts that release within you[5]


encourage interpretation, while references such as


Sent as we sing our music's total retain[6]



As we cross from side to side we hear the total mass retain[7]


further indicate the unity of the body of works put out by Yes, if only on the point of discussing that unity and of encouraging interpretation for meaning.

The nature of "And You And I" is largely philosophic. In tone it is existential; in imagery, mystical; in flavor, religious. Its subject, I hazard to say, is Life. If these statements are taken hypothetically, and treated by our methodology, we will find them to be true.

The members of the group Yes, and Jon Anderson in particular, are mystical. By unofficial reports, they are vegetarians, sit around burning incense, and read religious scriptures. This is corroborated to some extent by a Coleridge-like account of how Tales from Topographic Oceans (a double album released in 1973) was composed. The inspiration (we are told on the album's liner notes) was Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, and Anderson and Steve Howe (guitarist and co-composer) "at once began holding sessions by candle light." Later, "things had come together very clearly," and "during one six-hour session" they "worked out the vocal, lyrical and instrumental foundation" in "a magical experience that left us both exhilarated for days."[8] Apart form such scarce biographical information, there is plenty of "circumstantial" evidence for mysticism in the group's other works. Two citations will suffice:


Out tender outward lights of you

Shine over mountains make the view

The strength of you seeing lies with you[9]


which indicates the possibility of spiritual awakening, and


A dewdrop can exalt us like the music of the Sun[10]


which indicates the mystical beauty of awareness of even a dewdrop. The works are also often existential:


The strength of the moment lies with you.[11]


Side one of Tales is subtitled "The Revealing Science of God," in itself an indication of some religious quality. But these points, as hypotheses, are only incidental: Having, in part, qualified them as being true, they serve as necessary premises for an important conclusion. These points were supported by evidence form works other than the one being discussed, yet this fact (allowed by our methodology) demonstrates the unity of the body of works by Anderson and Yes. In the general case, it is sometimes necessary to go beyond a single work, if only to establish the usual spirit of an author or to ascertain his favorite subjects; but, as the present case shows, such references can be mandatory in order to determine the exact meaning of a word or phrase -- this owing to the complex and encompassing nature of "And You And I," in our case. The subject itself -- I said it was "Life" -- justifies this in my mind; the results of such references should be further convincing.

In the very first line of our poem


A man conceived a moment's answers to the dream,


we have two key words -- moment and dream. The former is found in nearly every song by Yes and is a favorite word of existentialists. The moment is dimensionless in time, as the point is in space; it is the only time in which there is consciousness of existence. Spiritual awakening to our existence, to Life, is an important theme in all mystical literature. From Yes,


Passed around a moment clothed in mornings faster than we see[12]


hints at the awesome awakenings, dawnings, beginnings, etc., occurring every moment which are too many and too profound for us to be totally cognizant of. Dream is especially difficult. In the traditional sense, it could mean "hopes," "aspirations," etc., but here it could mean "the dream of life" so that the moment could have been an enlightenment. As well, the dream could be a combinations of the two and mean "the aspiration of being totally aware," a cause or effect of


Staying the flowers daily sensing all the themes (l. 2).


When a word-by-word approach is taken, determining first the probable meaning of each work and second the meaning of a phrase and so on, the certain coloration of meaning which one word may have (which can be ascertained by seeing how that particular word is used elsewhere in the poet's canon) can greatly influence an entire reading of the poem.

I have found that, in the present case, a dictionary is most useful at first, due to the literalness of the use of words, and only when necessary have I gone outside the poem.. The effectiveness of this approach is amazing. For instance, flowers, (l. 2) are things that flower or bloom, then fade away and die or cease in time. To stay them would be to create a stay (rope, line, cord) between them and oneself, or to develop a mystical relationship (cord; cf. "Cord of Life" -- the subtitle of strophe I. -- as a moral, spiritual, or emotional bond) with the flowers (or with that which flowers). This sort of line drawn from the man to the flowers not only makes him aware of his relationship to them, but also of his place in nature -- that of an observer, blessed with consciousness. (Imagining such mystical stays or lines is reminiscent of a technique of Yaqui Indian don Juan in Carlos Castaneda's Tales of Power.) Flowers, of course, can be a symbol of natural life. In Webster's to stay is also "to fix on as a foundation" or to use as a constant, and "to stop or delay the proceeding or advance of."[13] By staying the flowers, the man fully captures the moment by stopping time, and also captures the essence that is the beauty of natural life. The word foundation, in one definition of stay, is most important: compare


As a foundation life to create the spiral aim (l. 3)


and the Greek root of theme (l. 2) as "something laid down." The "spiral aim" implies a potential-realizing process of spiritual growth, spiraling upward (cf., "Float your climb," l. 19), ascending toward godhead, the essence, or what-have-you.

An archetypal approach would be helpful in this case. Many of the images are clearly archetypal, and this is in keeping with the simplicity of the poem in terms of mere vocabulary. I would suggest that the very simplicity of all of the words separately, the universal meaning they have on their literal level, and the cosmic level of the expression of the poem all add up to make each word as significant as any archetype. Language, of course, is only a (rational) aid to expression -- therefore, the simpler the language and the more universal the meaning, the purer the expression. The natural images in the poem are: man, flowers, ocean, mother earth, sea, valley, sun, and river. Situations of archetypal importance are: foundation left to create the spiral aim, movement, in the sight of seeds of life, morning, evening, and night. Some of these are liberally classified; some are themes, though the distinction between situation and theme is not clear.

The earth and sun images have interplay in the subtitle "Eclipse" of strophe II. This interplay implies the moon. Archetypically, the sun is the conscious self; the moon, the unconscious; the earth, the stage for all life and growth. As well, the sun is the symbol of the mandala (Sanskrit, circle; a Jungian image of wholeness, unity, infinity), in turn a Buddhist symbol of the universe; but, in Jungian terms, the sun represents the individuated self -- the mergence of the persona and anima into a whole being.

The river ("the flowing of time into eternity" in Jungian terms[14], indicating the cyclic nature of nature) flows into the sea and ocean. Water is the usual symbol of the collective unconscious; the sea is specifically, with the ocean, the source of life. Here it is useful to know that Close to the Edge -- the "concept album" containing "And You And I" -- was written as an interpretation of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, wherein the river is a unifying theme and the symbol of cyclic time. After individuating the self -- realizing the self, becoming a whole person, fully aware -- one passes back into the existence beyond consciousness, abandons oneself to "the vast, mysterious rhythm of Nature's eternal cycle,"[15] and achieves immortality by losing consciousness of time and change. This is seen in l. 43:


And you and I reach over the sun for the river.


The line


Emotion revealed as the Ocean maid (l. 23)


is better understood, I think, when one has read this quotation from Swami Sivananda's The Mysterious Mind: "Emotion is a motive power... It helps you in your evolution... You must allow it to rise slowly and subside quietly from the mind ocean." (Quoted in the popular Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnudevananda.)[16] The valley image is more difficult, but it is similar to the unifying themes of the river valley in both Siddhartha and Narcissus and Goldmund by Hesse.

Though there are no direct references to a female in the poem, the indication is that the "You" is a woman -- especially with


A clearer future, morning, evening, nights with you (l. 41).


But I think that the "You" is further representative of all humanity -- in particular the readers of the poem (or listeners to the song). When a man is with a woman, he normally does not think of anyone else but her, and vice versa, so that, in those moments, each would represent everyone else to the other. This is close to saying that the anima is projected on everyone; that "And You And I" might be an expression of the persona (literally and psychologically) to the anima in their journey of mergence. This is reminiscent of the idea that the "you and I" of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" are the speaker's id and ego, respectively. The ascription of gender to "You" may also suggest a hazardous interpretation of

All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you (l. 5)

as meaning "everything seems to make sense when we have intercourse," which is almost ludicrous. Still, it is interesting that the sex act is considered by mystics (and by Jung) to be a lower form of the union of the conscious and the unconscious, persona and anima, and even of the Self or individual and the Divine or All. The sex act is also a manifestation, it is thought, of the natural desire to being about this higher union. Whatever, I think the line to mean "everything seems to make sense when we get together and contemplate the source of life," if the "You" is considered a separate being. The title track of Close to the Edge contains these interesting lines:


All in all the journey takes you all the way...

Now that it's all over and done

Called to the seed, right to the sun

Now that you find, now that you're whole...[17]


Herein we again have the sun image, wholeness, and the idea of life as a journey leading to individuation and/or association with the infinite. "Called to the seed, right to the sun" also indicates cognition of the source of our being -- the sun (this theme is further developed in Tales from Topographic Oceans) -- and ties in with "seeds of life" and the "cord of life" reaching back through time. Man's contemplation of his source is archetypal, as is the idea of a "foundation left to create the spiral aim."

Of the other archetypal themes or situations, the movement is the only one needing further mention. Next to "moment," "movement" seems to be Jon Anderson's favorite word. The first implication, for me, is a group of seekers whose spiritual advance is unified by their trend of mystical or religious thought. When I asked Anderson what the "movement" was, however, he said simply "life."[18] With this, and earlier references to contemplation and observation in mind, we are prepared to understand the recurring, enigmatic line

As a movement regained and regarded both the same (l. 4,24,39).

Simply put, it implies that by assuming the role of observer one finds one's proper place in the whole movement of life (and vice versa). (This brings to mind the position of philosopher Merleau-Ponty and others that man is the self-awareness of the universe, which is a blatantly mystical attitude.)

So it is seen, I hope, that the methodology that I have suggested here "works" in slowly discovering the meaning of the poem "And You And I" -- or at least one meaning. In actuality, my "methodology" is little more than a common-sense approach which allows us to drop formalist restrictions on criticism. A major argument of the existentialists is this, there is no one meaning of a work; there are only as many interpretations as there are readers. This is solved by itself: one is allowed to interpret the poem as one likes. From the absurdist statement that there is no meaning in existence per se, there follows the subjectivist encouragement that the meaning you attach to life and to the things in life is the only, the and greatest, meaning. Still, one might argue that the poet had a specific meaning in mind, one which he was trying to express. This I feel: the words of these poem are not an end in themselves, but only a means for the expression of the poet Jon Anderson. In them, Anderson creates a beautiful world of imagery and takes us into that world. He speaks to us of the most important things: life, emotion and expression, the world, growth: of existence moving toward essence. As a poet, a human being, he states his purpose simply:


... I reach out for reasons to call (l.21).



[1] "And You And I," lyrics by Jon Anderson, music by Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe and Chris Squire, arranged by the group Yes (Anderson, Bruford, Howe, Squire and Rick Wakeman), from the album Close to the Edge (Atlantic, 1972). The text of the lyric appears in the Appendix to this paper and references are by line.

[2] From the live triple album Yessongs (Atlantic, 1972), volume 1.

[3] Jon Anderson, "Heart of the Sunrise," Fragile (Atlantic, 1972).

[4] Chris Squire, "Disillusion," from "Starship Trooper (Suite)", by Anderson, Squire, and Howe, Yes Album (Atlantic, 1971).

[5] Anderson, Howe, Squire, Alan White and Patrick Moraz, "To Be Over," Relayer (Atlantic, 1974).

[6] Anderson and Howe, "Ritual", side 4 of Tales from Topographic Oceans (Atlantic, 1973).

[7] Anderson and Howe, "Close to the Edge" (strophe II. "Total Mass Retain"), Close to the Edge (Atlantic, 1972).

[8] Anderson, prefatory note, Tales, inside cover, ut supra

[9] "The Remembering," Tales, u.s.

[10] "Close to the Edge" (strophe I. "The Solid Time of Change"), u.s.

[11] Tales, u.s.

[12] Close, u.s.

[13] Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Co.; eighth edition, 1974).

[14] Wilfred Guerin, et al., A Handbook to Critical Approaches to Literature (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 119. The chapter on "Mythological and Archetypal Approaches" was especially useful here.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Swami Vishnudevananda, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga (New York: Pocket Books, 1972), p. 291.

[17] Close, u.s.

[18] Personal communication with the author, June 1975




And You And I

Jon Anderson


I. Cord of Life


1       A man conceived a moment's answers to the dream

2       Staying the flower daily sensing all the themes

3       As a foundation left to create the spiral aim,

4       A movement regained and regarded both the same,

5       All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you.


6       Changed only for a sight the sound the space agreed

7       Between the picture of time behind the face of need.

8       Coming quickly to terms of all expression laid

9       Emotion revealed as the ocean maid

10    All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you.


11    Coins and crosses never Turn round tailor assaulting all

12    Know their fruitless worth The mornings of the interest shown

13    Cords are broken, locked Presenting one another to the

14    Inside the mother earth. Cord, all left dying, rediscovered

15    They won't hide hold Of the door, that turned around to close

16    They won't tell you, The cover, all the interest shown, to

17    Watching the world, Turn to one another, to the sign

18    Watching all of the world, at the time,

19    Watching us go by. Float your climb


20    And you and I climb over the sea to the valley,

21    And you and I reach out for reasons to call.


II. Eclipse


22    Coming quickly to terms of all expression laid,

23    Emotion revealed as the ocean maid

24    As a movement regained and regarded both the same,

25    All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you.


III. The Preacher The Teacher


26    Sad preacher nailed upon the colour door of time

27    Insane teacher be there reminded of the rhyme,

28    They'll be no mutant enemy we shall certify,

29    Political lends as sad remains will die,

30    Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you.


31    I listened hard but could not see

32    Life tempo change out and inside me.

33    The preacher trained in all to lose his name,

34    The teach travels asking to be shown the same.

35    In the end we'll agree, we'll accept, we'll immortalise

36    That the truth of the man maturing in his eyes

37    All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you.


38    Coming quickly to terms of all expression laid,

39    A movement regained and regarded both the same,

40    Emotion revealed as the Ocean maid

41    A clearer future, morning, evening, nights with you.


IV. Apocalypse


42    And you and I climb crossing the shapes of the morning,

43    And you and I reach over the sun for the river,

44    And you and I climb clearer towards the movement,

45    And you and I called over valleys of endless seas.



Line variations from other versions:


6 Changed only for a sight of sound the space agreed

21 And you and I reach out for the reasons to call.

24 A movement regained and regarded both the same,

39 As a movement regained and regarded both the same,

40 Emotion revealed as the Ocean's maid

43 And you and I climb over the sun for the river,


Professor's Comment: "Grade: A. This is a very interesting paper -- more as a discussion of the methodology of interpretation than as an interpretation of this poem (which never gets very far). You argue your case well, and I agree with most of your conclusions. It's true that you never quite complete the interpretation, but I recognize that it would take a small volume by your methodology (and by the nature of the poem)." (Dr. Bob Leggett)




Web Links

Jon Anderson




Yesworld: the Yes Online Service



Bob J. Leggett, Distinguished Professor of Humanities

University of Tennessee Dept. of English





Alan Gullette > Essays