A Discussion of

Tales from Topographic Oceans


Alan Gullette


University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Religious Studies 3750: Theology and Literature

Dr. Ralph Norman

Winter 1976


Tales from Topographic Oceans is a double album recording by the progressive music ensemble Yes.  The work is what is termed a "concept album" in being a unified expression of a central theme.  Although the work is a multi-media production -- employing music, lyrics (written and sung), text, art, and photography – I will deal here only with the lyrics and with a note prefatory to the work; for the concept is basically embodied in these.  My purpose is to present the concept or theme of Tales as I understand it and in light of certain ideas and quotations from the inspirational Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.  Because the understanding I demonstrate here – and this is not to claim a complete understanding – is necessarily my own, I have also brought to bear philosophical ideas when seem to be relevant as well as illuminating.

The work that is Tales is a product of a group effort.  The lyrics are by Jon Anderson (composer, lyricist, and lead vocalist) and Steve Howe (guitarist, lyricist, composer).  The Anderson-Howe lyrics are four in number, as there are four movements to Tales (and four sides to the double album).  I will refer to the lyrics collective as "Tales" as distinct from the whole composition that is Tales.[1] The lyrics, with slight variations between written and vocal versions, are included as an Appendix and references are by line number.

In his preface, Anderson states that before a concert he was "leafing through" a copy of Yogananda's Autobiography when he was "caught up" in a footnote describing the Indian shastric scriptures.  He "had been searching for a theme for a large scale composition" and saw the possibility of constructing a four-movement work around the four-class shastras, "so positive in character" were they to him.  The seminal footnote is as follows:

Pertaining to the shastras, literally, "sacred books," comprising four classes of scripture: the shruti, smriti, purana, and tantra. These comprehensive treatises cover every aspect of religious and social life, and the fields of law, medicine, architecture, art, etc. The shrutis are the "directly heard" or "revealed" scriptures, the Vedas. The smritis or "remembered" lore was finally written down in a remote past as the world's longest epic poems, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Puranas are literally "ancient" allegories; tantras literally mean "rites" or "rituals"; these treatises convey profound truths under a veil of detailed symbolism.[2]

Three months after reading this, Anderson and Howe, while still on a world tour, having been holding sessions by candlelight in their hotel rooms, "worked out the vocal, lyrical, and instrumental foundation for the four movements" in one six-hour session.  It is doubtful whether Anderson was able to do any substantial research (if any) into the shastras themselves, both because of the short span of time and because of the strenuous touring.  It is probably that he did read further portions of Yogananda's book, which would have been at hand.  In any case, it would seem that Anderson structured his work almost wholly around the above description of the shastras and not around the scriptures themselves.  Nevertheless, it is evident that he was interested if not knowledgeable in Indian thought before the work on Tales.[3]  His own thought (as expressed in his lyrics) appears to be very close to Hindu and Vedanta philosophy – perhaps intuitively.

The methodology I employ in analysis of Yes's lyrics is the only one I know of that results in any kind of understanding of the meaning expressed.  The lyrics are often symbolic in the sense that words are by their nature symbolic:  Anderson's words are highly literal and can best be understood with the use of a dictionary, establishing the meanings in terms of other words in an integral semantic construction.  The close study of such a construction using this dictionary approach makes one more semantically (and syntactically) aware.  This reflects a philosophical condition concerning the importance of words as world-creating descriptions.  I enjoy no worlds more than those Anderson creates out of words and linguistic networks of interrelated meanings (words seen, through semantic awareness, to have meaning only in terms of other words – all in a vast self-contained system), images and colors, and highly complex music.

To provide more information on the shastras, they are laws, codes of conduct, doctrines.  The Vedic shrutis describe the spiritual laws that exist independently of man in the same way that natural laws do.  The Vedas were originally written for the Aryans, for whom a way of life was prescribed; the shastras as a whole are for the masses, though the upper caste in India is especially concerned about obedience to them. Manu's smriti, some 2000 years old, is social and ethical.  In the Mahabharata, Krishna preaches about correct living, while in the form of Rama in the Ramayana he shows by example how one should live.  Thus the centrally ethical aspect of these scriptures becomes clearer.

The message of "Tales" is largely ethical.  In lyric one, "The Revealing Science of God, Dance of the Dawn," the major thematic elements are presented and the stage is set for the entire work.  "The revealing science of God can be seen as an ever-opening flower in which simple truths emerge" when we examine "the complexities and magic of the past . . .. The knowledge of God is a search, constant and clear" (Preface).  The dance of the dawn is through four steps: dawn of light, of thought, of power, and of love (lines 1-14), corresponding basically to the themes of the four lyrics.  In the dawn of light, we seek the source of all creation, God.  A mystical experience leads us to the realization that we are always one with God, though we are prevented somehow from full realization of this union.  The dawn of thought is a period of remembering in which we search our pasts in hopes of understanding the nature of reality and the cause of the illusion that prevents our conscious union with God.  The dawn of power comes when we see how knowledge of the source can be used for our purposes: knowledge is power, as was realized by past civilization who worshipped the sun as the source.  The dawn of love allows us to live in proper accord with our divine knowledge that is still a search, a wandering, a dream-like journey back to our source or home.

Shrutis can mean "sound" or "musical tone" as well as "directly heard."  In "The Revealing Science of God," a tune, a sound and a song are mentioned.  Sound is thought to be the cause of all being:  Aum (Om), "the Creative Word" (logos of the Bible), is "the cosmic vibratory power behind all atomic energies" – it is the hum of "the Cosmic Motor" and the sound of the universe.[4]  In the thought of Janardan Paramahansa, the world's leading proponent of Ajapa yoga (similar to Yogananda's Kriya yoga), the basis of the universe is the principle of Attraction and Repulsion (inhaling/exhaling, God/Nature, Unity/Diversity, Life/Death), which cause sound (shabd) or vibration by their cyclic alteration or by friction.  The universe is nothing more than changes in vibrations, flowing energy.[5]  This is borne out by modern physics. 

Thematically, however, light is more important than sound.  For Yogananda, light is the essence of creation.  In Genesis, God's first commandment is "Let there be light" (1:3).  Light is often used as a metaphor for truth, knowledge, enlightenment, etc.  Literally, it is that which allows us to see.  In "Tales," "I ventured to see, as the sound began to play" (22).  Sound and light are essentially the same, and the dawn of light lies "between a silence" or the absence of sound and "sold sources" (sources, origins, generative forces or causes of which we have been convinced; light is the true source)(1).  Dawn is the coming of light.  The dawn is "chased" (cp. chaste, pure) or sought out "amid fusions of wonder" (2).  A fusion is "a union by or as if by melting, as a merging of diverse elements into a unified whole."[6]  ("Fusions of wonder" are thus: (a) diverse wonders which have been or are being fused, (b) those things which are fused by wonder, or (c) instances of wonder's process of fusion.  Wonder implies either wondrous things or wondering as philosophical inquiry.)  The dawn is chased in moments which, "hardly seen," are "forgotten" (3), which brings to mind a line in Anderson's "Close to the Edge" – "Passed around a moment clothed in mornings faster than we see."[7]

The dance of the dawn "leaves cast spells of challenge" (3), challenge meaning "a summons that is often threatening, provocative, stimulating, or inciting."[8]  A movement is mentioned (37) which plays an important role in these lyrics as well as in other Yes lyrics.  "Soft summer movers" and "sunlight callers" (15-16) "move fast" (42).  "Amid the challenge" incited by a mystical experience, "we look around in unison with you" (45).  (Here the "you" seems to be prayerful, while in lines 90 and 92 "you" are "seekers of the truth;" which "you" is who is important in interpreting line 57: "I just can't believe our song will leave you" – are the movement members trying to convert "someone" (see 56), or in moving do they unwittingly leave the source they have found?)  The mystical experience of which I have spoken is a moment of peak-experience quality for which "I must have waited all my life" (25) and "we must have waited all our lives" (35).  In "the splendour just begun," the future is seen in all its possibilities; the splendour is "the light" while "the light we were" and "we were as lone / and crowded through the curtains of liquid into sun" (27-29).  Yogananda describes a similar experience he had in cosmic consciousness:  "An oceanic joy broke upon calm endless shores of my soul.  The Spirit of God, I realized, is exhaustless Bliss; His body is countless tissues of light".[9]

The problem is this: something is preventing this magical experience of union with the greater whole from being a life-long moment in an eternal life.  Why did man fall from grace to begin with? "What happened to this song" (Aum) (23) and "to wonders we once knew so well / Did we forget what happened surely we can tell" (33-4).  With this the movement sets out to discover the cause of diversity, works along a "course toward a universal season" (71), and "call[s] out all our memories" (a foreshadowing of lyric two) "clearly to be home" (77-8).

In lyric two, "The Remembering, High the Memory," corresponding to the smritis, the movers look into the past for the answer to their problem and arrive at a better understanding of the nature of mind and its experiences.  Smriti means memory in Sanskrit.  From the preface:

All our thoughts, impressions, knowledge, fears, have been developing for millions of years. What we can relate to is our own past, our own life, our own history. . . .   Hopefully, we should appreciate that given points in time are not so significant as the nature of what is impressed on the mind, and how it is retained and used.

We are given the meaning of the title of the whole composition: "the ebb and flow and depth of our mind's eye" is "the Topographic Ocean" (preface).  The min's eye is imagination, both the mind's creative function and its faculty to visualize what is not perceived and even to project this image onto the sense world.  The adjective topographic means, "of, or relating to, or concerned with the artistic representation of a particular locality" and a topography, among other things, is "the physical or natural features of an object or entity and their structural relationships."[10]  Topographic oceans are those represented artistically (visually or verbally) and/or mapped out in order to show them to someone who has not seen them oneself.  Imagination is necessary in imagining a place one has not been to and in creating an image of this place for one who has not been there.

In lines 1-7, the adverb on is used in the sense of "forward in space, time or action" and "in continuance or succession."[11]  This indicates a future orientation, or rather an orientation to the present as it moves immediately into the future.  Yet, we are reliving the past, into which we move forward: "shine or moons" (days or nights) "send me memories trail over days of forgotten tales" (stories, histories) "course the compass to offer into a time that we've all seen on" (4-5).  We are to "sail away among our dreams," for "we dream as we dream! Dream as one" (9, 16).  In sailing on topographic oceans, we see that the dream and the purely imaginary experience are indistinguishable from the so-called real experience: if either is real, both must be, which puzzles the reason.  One conclusion is that these experiences are equally real or unreal and are tales in the mind.  What is important, again, is the nature of these experiences (illusory and dreamlike) and how they are retained (in memory) and used (to gain knowledge or power).  This train of thought is followed by Carlos Castaneda, John Lilly, and others, who realize the nature of "tales" or stories in the mind.  Lilly sees the universe as a model in the head that we can gain complete control over trough self-programming.  He refers to hallucination as projection-display or throwing an image up on the screen that is in the mind, and believing that it comes from perceptions of an external reality.  Tales and histories and stories can be taken in the sense of merely our past lives with their particulars or in the sense of a mental structure, paradigm, or model that acts as a matrix of our experiences.  Coupling this with "all our thoughts, etc., have been developing for millions of years," an ancestral-memory idea, and we come close to Jung's archetypes.  For Jung, the mind "has an α priori structure all its own that antedates all [personal] conscious experience" and this structure is "something given, the precondition that is found to be present in every case.  And this is the mother, the matrix – the form in which all experience is poured."[12]  Matrix in Latin is womb, from mater, mother.  The word for matter (also from mater) in Vedic thought is prakriti (nature, the manifest universe).  The modern structuralists, by John Crossan's definition, would say that the structure of the mind is the world and this (linguistic) structure is alone real.  In this lyric, however, "we walk around the story" (38), which means getting outside of story and which Crossan thinks we cannot do.[13]  The line "we search our pasts we start anew" (36) brings to mind Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, which says, "we must rediscover the structure of the perceived world through a process similar to that of an archaeologist.  For the structure of the perceived world is buried under the sedimentations of later knowledge."[14]  When this later "knowledge" is false, of the world and not of God, then it is all the more desirable for one to get beyond it.  It is probably this latter, "false" sort of knowledge – now being questioned in the lyric as the movers dig back into the past in search of meaning and truth – that is keeping us from true knowledge and realization of our true divine nature.

Returning to the light metaphor, the line "As to call light the soul shall sing of the velvet sailors course on" (2) makes better sense when call is traced in Anderson's other lyrics.  In "Close to the Edge," we have: "Reaching out to call the colour of the sky," and "sudden call shouldn't take away the startled memory;" in "And You and I," "And you and I reach out for reasons to call."[15] The velvet of the sailors is the topographic ocean, of which they shall sing in order to call light, though we also get "to call light the soul" due to the lack of punctuation.  The days of summer are longer than other days; the day is the time in which there is light – light which is knowledge, is seeing, and which merely enables us to see.  Yet there is the hint of "alternate ways" (31); and "whispers of clay" (30) may be the attraction of the material world (or the hint of mortality).  There is danger that, in their wandering in the daytime, the movers will be caught up in what they perceive.  The evening is the time in which light is blocked out by the earth, "and I do feel very well / that the evenings take you / Silently" (26-28) – is our awareness that it is possible to get caught up in the world, and that this is wrong, leading us to truth?  The evening song is an "alternate tune" (104) to the song of light.

Existential overtones are to be found in the lines "Out in the city running free" and "the strength of the meeting lies with you" (39, 41).  For Martin Buber, all life is meeting: "all real living is meeting."[16]  This running in the city is a step beyond the alientainot felt in Anderson's lyric "Heart of the Sunrise:" "I feel lost in the city."[17]  In "Tales," the line "stand on hills of long forgotten yesterdays" (45) is like lines from "Close to the Edge," "On the hill we viewed the silence of the valley / Called to witness cycles only of the past."[18]  Also existential is "the strength of the moment lies with you" (51), for it is up to us to make each moment the most important one.  When you "don the cap and close your eyes" we go again into dream, and the "glorious challenge" of earlier lines is recalled (52).  "Didn't we learn to fly? / Remember to sail the skies" (55-6).  For Yogananda, divine communion is "divine recollection" of our true nature.  When Aum is heard in meditation, this "blissful Comforter . . . reveals to the devotee the ultimate truth, brings 'all things to . . . remembrance.'"[19]  Thought of "other skylines" (60) and "distant suns" (57) and other worlds makes one realize the finiteness of one's particularity: "Like a dreamer all our lives are only lost begotten changes" (68).  When we don the nightcap, it is possible that we are also stepping off on the astral plane and, traveling in the astral body, visit other realities.

Out tender outward lights of you

Shine over mountains make the view

The strength of you seeing lies with you (91-3)

Coupled with the image of the city and other skylines is like part of Yogananda's experience in cosmic consciousness:

A swelling glory within me began to envelop towns, continents, the earth, solar and stellar systems, tenuous nebulae, and floating universes. The entire cosmos, gently luminous, like a city seen afar at night, glimmered within the infinitude of my being. The sharply etched global outlines faded somewhat at the farthest edges; there I could see a mellow radiance, ever-undiminished. It was indescribably subtle; the planetary pictures were formed of a grosser light.[20]

Each of us has the strength of seeing – of knowing reality, of directly perceiving – and the light within us will shine out to illuminate whatever confronts us.  "We don't eve need to try, we are one" (90).

Yet there is an "alternate view."  This is either the confusing evening's song that puts the earth before the sun or is the view or song other than that: the original and eternal song of the universe.  That there is confusion is evident, and the wish is to "chase all confusion away" (44).

In order to understand such a concept as the "Relayer" of lines 62-7 and 78-83, it might be necessary to analyze the lyrics of the album Relayer, which followed Tales. However, only one line in those lyrics comes close to mentioning the Relayer: "Passing time will reach as nature relays to set the scene,"[21] which doesn't seem to be much help.

"'The Ancient,' Giants Under the Sun" is the third lyric in "Tales," corresponding to the puranas.  "The ancient probes still further into the past beyond the point of remembering . . . in sharpening reflection on the beauties and treasures of lost civilisations, Indian, Chinese, Central American, Atlantean. These and other people left an immense treasure of knowledge" (preface.)  These peoples were "as one with the knowledge and magic of the source," the sun, which they named and worshipped (1).  Yet the earth was not ignored, being necessary for life:  the earth was seen to be under the sun, and thee peoples oriented their lives to the natural laws of earth and to the spiritual laws of the sun.  Lines 4-15 are a list of different names of the sun-god (as best as I can determine): Sol (Latin, sun); Dhoop (Sanskrit, fire); Sun; Ilios (Roman for the Greek Helios, sun-god); Natheet (?); Ah Kin (Mayan sun-god; cp. Akhenaton, service to Aton, the sun disc; Ah is Semitic for the title "brother of god"; Kin is also Nevada Indian for the celestial orb of the sun but not a god); Saule (Celtic sun goddess and Slavic celestial goddess); Tonatiuh (Aztec sun-god who required sacrifices); Qurax (Somali, sun); Gunes (Turkish, sun); Grian (Celtic, sun); Surje (Hindu Surya, Soorya, sun-god); Ir (?), Samse (?Shamash was the Babylonian sun-god, Akkadian Šamaš).  In this conceptualization, "the flowering creativity of life wove its / web face to face with the shallow" (16-7), which I take to mean that earliest man, product of the life force, developed language (according to his need to communicate and thus survive) in the face of the dumb world of objects that confronted his mythopoeic mind.  In "primitive" thought, thinking was more imagistic than verbal; by visualizing a tree by which you once passed, you are transported to that tree for an instant, it was believed.  There was no differentiation between symbol and symbolized.[22]

In this lyric, there is further questioning: "Is the movement really light" or "is the movement in the head" (22, 33).  Winter is the time of death; the days are short and this symbolizes lack of faith, for we doubt the sun when it is gone.  The earth has titled away from the sun.  There is greater faith expressed in another Yes lyric entitled "Perpetual Change:"

The sun can warm the coldest dawn

And move the movement on the lawn.

I learn in ev'ry single day,

Inside out, outside in, ev'ry way.[23]

Note that in line 24, the million people are "acting to stories", whereas in line 34, they act to a single "story."  Here is living in story, as is necessary, acting ritually, living myths (which Thomas Mann found to be therapeutic); but this story is a single one: the sun is recognized by all  to be the source of light and life.  "Does one child know the secret and can say it / Or does it all come out along without you" – is the truth known in earliest childhood, inherently, before the world has conditioned us, and is this child about to communicate the truth to us before being bound up by language; or is the truth outside of man altogether, something he must find without and not within?  This is one reading of lines 25-6.  When our beliefs require sacrifices of innocent life ("the lamb" of line 30), where does this become unreasonable and irrational slaughter?  Are there others who understand what is really going on concerning truth and reality, or are the movers deluded?

The lyric of the fourth and final movement, "Ritual, Nous sommes du soleil," corresponding to tantras, resolves everything.  The music and words are extremely positive in character.  Life is not clearly seen to be a struggle of fight "between sources of evil and pure love … out of which comes a positive source." (Preface.)  The evil source is the maya of Hinduism, the Satan of Christianity, the ignorant illusion of separateness and diversity that prevents us from realizing (being cognizant of as well as reifying) our divine nature.  Anderson mentions "seven notes of freedom to learn and know the ritual of life" (preface), while "each of the seven basic notes of the octave is associated in Hindu mythology with a color and the natural cry of a bird or beast" according to Yogananda.[24]  The rishis or illumined sages of ancient India understood the vibratory principle behind the universe, therefore being able to control the world in its phenomena through control of vibrations.  Knowing the different vibrations caused by the primal Aum, man learns how to act.  Yogananda draws a strict interrelationship between feeling, action (kriya), and sound (shabd) or vibration level.  If we can tune in to the right vibrations, we will know how to properly act and our mood will be devotional.

From the "Dance of the Dawn" in lyric one, we recall that "Dawn of love sent within us colours of awakening among the many / Won't [sic] to follow, only tunes of a different age (12-13).  This implies that colours or vibrations of awakening run through us as the feeling of love as we are among those who will not and yet may want to follow.  Differently, the sounds of awakening sent us may be themselves among many other sounds which are "only tunes of a different age," alternate tunes, stories acted in other times.

By being aware, by watching, witnessing, looking, we can "catch . . . and use the passions that flow" (22) rather than, say, allowing them to control us.  "As we try" to move, advance, or grow, "we continue" and do move forward, and "we receive all we venture to give" (23-4), which is a twist on the adage "give and ye shall receive."  Again we see the curious use of the verb "to call:"

Maybe we'll just stand awhile

And surely we can call

Dreams are said to blossom courage

Constant to the soul (25-8)

The last two lines are reminiscent of an idea of the contemporary philosopher Ernest Bloch, as phrased by Harvey Cox:

[Man's] essential existence tip-toes along the narrow edge between the disappearing 'now' and the ever newly appearing 'not yet.' And his basic stance, when he is true to himself, is that of creative expectation, a hope that engenders action in the present to shape the future.[25]

Both say the same for me and each helps interpret the other.

We must change, for change is the law of the material universe; it is only in changing that we can grow and follow the path or "course" that will lead us back to God, the source for which we keep asking (see 29-35).  The line "sent as we sing our music's total retain" (36) alludes to the title of the second strophe of "Close to the Edge," namely "Total Mass Retain." But it is also self-referential, in that the group Yes is speaking as movers to other movers.  If Yes as a group (see footnote 21) are saying "All we say is our / Soul constant sight listener" (39-40), then their expression is (of) their witnessing, hearing-seeing, constant and unchanging soul.  Yogananda writes, "The outward manifestation of the omnipresent Christ Consciousness, it's 'witness' (Revelations 3:14), is Aum, the Word or Holy Ghost."[26]

At this point in the music, there is symbolized something of a struggle which, after the music reaches a tremendous climax, resolves with positive assurance.  "Travel we say, wander we choose love tune" (52) indicates that the song of light, the love tune, is differentiated from the alternate tune (evening's song) and is seen to be the true way.  Maya is seen to have a place in life: "In God's plan and play (lila), the sole function of Satan or Maya is to attempt to divert man from Spirit to matter, from Reality to unreality."[27]  God's plan for us, and his overall plan, is no more than play.  There is a philosophy of play, with roots in Nietzsche and Rilke, expounded by Jacques Ehrman.[28]  Poet-guru Sri Chinmoy writes:

I have known the One and His secret Play;  

And passed beyond the sea of Ignorance-Dream.            

In tune with Him, I sport and sing.[29]

Lila, again, is the divine and "'sportive play' by which the phenomenal worlds have come into existence," and its plan "is one of reciprocity between creature and Creator."[30]  This reciprocity is of love. Chinmoy writes elsewhere:

I who create on earth my joys and doles

To fulfill my matchless quest in all my play. . .

At will I break and build my symbol sheath

And freely enjoy the world's unshadowed fun.[31]

This signifies an actual, experiential understanding of world as the structure of the mind, of game as structural freedom.  The dance of Shiva (superconsciousness) or the play of light and darkness that is maya is death with again by Yogananda:

Creation is light and shadow both, else no picture is possible. The good and evil of maya must ever alternate in supremacy. . . . Without suffering he scarcely cares to recall that he has forsaken his eternal home. Pain is a prod to remembrance."[32]

Remembrance, again, is divine communion.  Elaborating on the universal scheme, Yogananda writes that "God is love; His play for creation can be rooted only in love."[33]  God is love.  God's plan is in love.  The plan of God's play is love.

The tantras were used primarily by the Shaktas, who worshipped the female or creative principle of the universe (nature or prakriti).  In Tantric Buddhism there is meditation on mantras, in accordance with rules in the tantras (manuals), with the aim of mystical union with reality.  Yogananda notes that although life and death are things of maya and have nothing to do with light, we should "apprehend the cosmos as a varied expression of one power – light, guided by divine intelligence."[34]  Furthermore, "God wants His children to love everything as a part of Him" and to love "others as expressions of the Lord."[35]

In "Ritual, Nous Sommes du Soleil," "We love when we play" is an integral line (54).  The physical love indicate din lines 53-4 is not without place in Tantric Buddhism, whose "left-handed" sects rejected the principles of early Buddhism and indulged in orgiastic rites.[36]  Tantra is commonly thought of in its sexual aspect, wrongly or not.

And so, in knowledge of the positive source, we live in peace and love as "we drift the shadows and course our way back home" (56).  The source of live, of light, and of light is the sun.  Our knowledge of God the source is still "a search, constant and clear," and our "links" with all men who have sought truth and divine wisdom  (generically, the "Self instructor" of lyric one, l. 7) "span our endless caresses for the freedom of life everlasting " (14).  Nous sommes du Soleil.  We are of the Sun. We can see.

"Tales from Topographic Oceans" is clearly philosophical as well as religious in nature and import, as I have tried to show, and, because of its difficult nature, the song deserves one to "tender" it "clearer" in a fuller explication of its meaning.




[1] Tales from Topographic Oceans (Atlantic Records, 1973).  Preface by Jon Anderson; lyrics by Jon Anderson and Steve Howe; the photography and cover art are by Roger Dean; the music is by Anderson and Howe with contributions by the other band members, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White; the arrangement and performance is by Yes.  The lyrics are included in the Appendix and references are by line number.

[2] Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1946; seventh paperback printing 1956; ninth paperback printing, 1987), 104n.

[3] I have seen a photograph of Anderson in meditation; he based a major work, Close to the Edge, on Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, which deals with an Indian's life and self-realization.

[4] Yogananda, 14n.

[5] Swami Janardan Paramahansa (1888-1980) was in Knoxville, TN in 1975 (possibly to start a new center) when I was introduced to him and his thinking.  His visit was sponsored by Arpad Joo (1948- ) then conductor of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (1973-78), who hosted group meditations at his home.

[6] Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield: G. & C. Merriam Co, 1974).

[7] Jon Anderson and Steve Howe, "Close to the Edge", Close to the Edge (Atlantic Records, 1972).

[8] Webster's.

[9] Ibid., 167.

[10] Webster's.

[11] Webster's.

[12] Carl Gustav Jung. Four Archetypes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), 35.

[13] John Dominic Crossan, The Dark Interval: Towards a Theology of Story (Niles, Illinois: Argus Communications, 1975).

[14] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "Prospectus", in Existentialism, ed. Robert Solomon (New York: The Modern Library, 1974), 252.

[15] Jon Anderson, "And You and I," Close to the Edge (Atlantic Records, 1972).

[16] Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York: Scribner's, 1958), 11.

[17] Jon Anderson, "Heart of the Sunrise," Fragile (Atlantic Records, 1971).

[18] Op cit.

[19] Op cit., 152n; he is quoting John 14:26.

[20] Ibid., 167.

[21] Yes, Relayer (Atlantic Records, 1974). At this point in time, Yes became a unity and the album credits are "Written and arranged by Yes." In the songbook for this album, the credits are: "Words and music by Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Patrick Moraz, and Alan White," although the words are most likely by Anderson and Howe.

[22] See Henry Frankfort, et al., eds. Before Philosophy: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1946).

[23] Jon Anderson, "Perpetual Change," The Yes Album (Atlantic Records, 1971).

[24] Op cit., 164.

[25] Introduction to Man on His Own: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion by Ernst Bloch (New York: Herder & Herder, 1971), 10.

[26] Op cit., 167n.

[27] Ibid., 284n?

[28] Jacques Ehrmann, ed. Game, Play, Literature. Yale French Studies 41, 1968.

[29] Sri Chinmoy, "Revelation," from My Flute (Sri Chinmoy Lighthouse, 1972); quoted on the album cover of Birds of Fire by the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Columbia Records, 1973).

[30] Yogananda, 487n?

[31] Sri Chinmoy, "Apocalypse," from My Flute (Sri Chinmoy Lighthouse, 1972); quoted on the album cover of Apocalypse by the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Columbia Records, 1974).

[32] Yogananda, 319-20.

[33] Ibid., 495?

[34] Ibid., 318.

[35] Ibid, 257?

[36] H. E. Wedeck and Wade Boskin, Dictionary of Pagan Religions (New York: Philosophical Library, 1971).



Professor's Comments: Your exposition is tender-ly, careful, even reverential always responsible to the text.  I wish I had the music at the same time.  As works of poetry, I am afraid I thought "Tales" quite weak – but then again I don't have the full Tales before me.  Some self-conscious reflection on the meaning of the fact that a Western music group would appropriate such themes might have been in order. Grade: A-. [Dr. Ralph Norman]



Web Links


Lyrics for Tales from Topographic Oceans




Dr. Ralph V. Norman started and first headed the Religious Studies department at the University of Tennessee; served as Associate Vice Chancellor; edited the interdisciplinary journal Soundings; and continues to teach Religious Studies.




Alan Gullette > Essays