Interpretation of “At the rock” by Xylina Spathia
Ta Xylina Spathia (Τα Ξύλινα Σπαθιά, “The Wooden Swords”) is an old Greek rock band that produced some of the greatest hits in the scene. Singer and song-maker par excellence Pavlos Pavlidis (Παύλος Παυλίδης) continues a solo career, putting music to wonderful poetry.
For this entry, I decided to provide my interpretation of—and philosophical commentary on—the “At the rock” (Στο βράχο), even though the band’s repertoire includes lots of classics for fans of the genre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BftlNRhDls.
The original lyrics, followed by my translation and commentary:
Στο βράχο Στέκομαι στην άκρη του γκρεμού και κοιτάω όλους αυτούς που τους έσπρωξε ένα χέρι κι αναγκάστηκαν να βγάλουνε φτερά, τώρα τους φωτίζει αυτό το υπέροχο αστέρι, τους κοιτάω να πλανιούνται μακρυά πέρα από τα πέρατα πέρα από τα πέρα μέρη. Κάποιος πλησιάζει σαν να θέλει να μου πει, κάποιος απ' αυτούς θα ξέρει, κάποιος πλησιάζει σαν να θέλει να μου πει: Άσε τη ζωή να λιώνει μέσα στα χέρια της σαν χιόνι Στέκομαι στην πόρτα σου μπροστά και διαβάζω ένα μήνυμα γραμμένο με μαχαίρι ότι έπρεπε να φύγουνε ξανά, ότι τώρα διασχίζουν το μεγάλο μεσημέρι και την πιο παραμυθένια αμμουδιά, πέρα από τα πέρατα, πέρα από τα πέρα μέρη. Κάποιος πλησιάζει σαν να θέλει να μου πει, κάποιος απ' αυτούς θα ξέρει, κάποιος πλησιάζει σαν να θέλει να μου πει: Μη με ρωτάς αν η αγάπη ανασταίνει μου είπε κάποιος κάποτε το είδε να συμβαίνει. Θυμήσου, τότε που σ' άφησαν μονάχο τον σκορπιό που βρήκες όταν σήκωσες το βράχο, το βράχο που επάνω του το κάστρο φτάνει στους ουρανούς. Για ναύτες σαν κι αυτούς λιμάνι. Κάνει να ακούγεται κι αυτό το βράδυ ο ήχος απ' τα κέρματα που ρίχνει στο πηγάδι η μοίρα, θυμάμαι τ' άρωμά της, τους κύκλους που ησυχάζανε κάτω απ' τα βλέμματά της. Πήγαινε δε θα το μετανιώσεις πες της πως ήρθες εσύ και θα το νιώσεις... θα νιώσεις στο πλάι σου την πνοή της μια νύχτα με πανσέληνο στο ιπτάμενο χαλί της. Άσε τη ζωή να λιώνει μέσα στα χέρια της σαν χιόνι
At the rock I stand on the edge of the cliff and stare at all those who were pushed by a hand and were forced to grow wings, now they are luminated by a wonderful star. I see them wonder away beyond the bounds, beyond the furthest places. Someone approaches as if to tell me, someone among them must know, someone approaches as if to tell me: Let life melt in her hands like snow I stand in front of your door and read a message carved with knife that they had to leave again, that now they cross the long noon and the otherwordly dunes beyond the bounds, beyond the furthest places. Someone approaches as if to tell me, someone among them must know, someone approaches as if to tell me: Don't ask me if love resurrects someone somewhere once told me it happened. Remember when they left you alone the scorpion you found once you picked up the rock; the rock upon which the castle reaches the skies. For sailors such as these it is a port. It makes it be heard this night as well the sound of the coins that fate tosses in the well. I remember her aroma, the circles that rested under her gaze. Go, you shall not regret it tell her that you have arrived and you shall feel... shall feel her breath at your side on a night of a full moon at her flying carpet. Let life melt in her hands like snow
We are not invited to take the words literally, but are instead asked to connect with the impressions pertinent to each of the described scenes. How some grew wings, the long noon at the otherworldly dunes, travel that goes beyond the edges of the world, the rock upon which a castle is built, the personification of fate which in the Greek language has the feminine grammatical gender, and the life melting away like snow. While each scene evokes unique emotions, there is a common thread running through them.
Poetry, and art in general, is special in that it tolerates multiple valid interpretations. What I think about those images and metaphors in my capacity as a philosopher who mindfully prepares the present entry may differ from my experience as an emotional agent when I lose myself in the soundscapes. Art teaches us to tolerate different views by virtue of not imposing an orthodoxy.
It is this diversity that At the rock puts forth when considered in abstract. A phantasmagorical exchange between the magical and the mundane. We go on a trip during which we envisage surreal settings yet recognise behind their superficialities a truth that pertains to our quotidian reality.
This song is about the theme of seizing the moment. It delves into the dynamic between the subject and its milieu, else how our impression of self is informed, influenced, conditioned, or otherwise determined by factors outside our control; factors which are here encapsulated in the poetic figure of fate.
[ Read/watch: On selfhood ]
Contrary to the run-of-the-mill self-help literature that makes you think you are the centre of the world and that “if you truly believe it” the universe will conspire in your favour, the mythical fate reminds us that our presence is always contextualised. There is no such thing as a decontextualised “I”, a mind or soul in a vacuum that simply operates without constraint and brings about whatever eventuality it wants. Our very nature as humans grounds us in a multifaceted reality that involves carnal needs, emotions, intellectuality, and spirituality. To try to behave as if we were a decontextualised mind or bodyless soul is to labour under the delusion that we can be non-human within the rigid confines of your humanity.
Fate needn’t be conceived as a kind of determinism that eliminates the dynamism we understand as volition. It should rather be used as a mental shortcut for saying that the interplay between internal and external factors specific to each phase in evolving states of affairs has an impact on what our in-the-moment possibilities are. Put differently, we are in control of something, though not everything.
Consider this concept of “control” in the opening lines of the song. In the introduction we have the first person view of others who once stood at the precipice, where forced to jump, yet survived by growing a pair of wings. They did not jump on their own: it just happened. Why? It does not matter. As they were falling, as they were put on this path of no return, so to speak, they managed to assume agency: to make something out of it. This is not about absolute control. It is how selfhood develops in tandem with or in juxtaposition to stimuli that trigger feedback loops.
Towards the end of the song one of those survivors of the cliff fall prompts the poetic first person to meet fate and spend time with Her. We may thus assume that the subject has also transitioned from merely observing others—from living life on the sidelines as I noted in another interpretation—to partaking in their company. Perhaps because the “I” has learnt that fate does not preclude possible outcomes: She lets everyone explore their own world, travel to its furthest reaches, and be guided by their own lodestar.
The song alludes to the reanimating power of love. Given the context, I believe this is about self-appreciation combined with respect for the world. Self-love is easy to misconstrue as self-obsession and the kind of egoism or anthropocentrism that sees nothing of value “out there”. However, I am of the opinion that one cannot develop a narrative of selfhood in a vacuum, which is to say that to know who we are we must know about the others. Couched in those terms, self-love can only be the inward aspect of a general disposition of seeing in the other a presence that shares the same substance we do. At its most abstract, this is about the universality of life and the consubstantiality of all of its forms.
Self-love, which must spring from a position of knowledge and openness towards the world, has the power to reanimate because it teaches us to distinguish between our underlying self and the avatars or idols of our own which we predicate on it. This is typically seen in scenaria where a person thinks they are a misfit in life and, thus, only harbours hatred for their self. How can a person be a failure? Maybe because they failed to have an illustrious career. Perhaps they did not conform with the normativity of marriage or romance. There always is some standard out there by which we gauge our performance. When the person blames who they are, they are actually lamenting the fact that the expectations imposed upon their role-playing simulacrum—the avatar/idol of theirs—where not met.
To be clear, if I judge my philosophy on the social standard of academic qualifications, I am creating a replica of my own that lives and dies by how many degrees it has. What I say or think, what I do, how my works affect others, become irrelevant. All that matters for this idol of mine that I created is how many degrees it has. Otherwise, it is useless; useless on the basis of a meaningless metric that I was misguided to attribute value to.
[ Read/watch: On learning and being present ]
This is why self-love that comes from a position of love for the otherness our subjectivity perceives in the Cosmos is so powerful. It dissociates us from our idols. It puts an end to the induced need we have for engendering all those avatarisations, as we no longer seek worthiness in the form of a token, of a commodity that can be acquired in some market, but find it as an innate quality of ours.
Fate, here representing the world beyond the narrow confines of our subjectivity, always waits for us to approach Her. She will not take us by the hand. She leaves us to our own devices: to discover self-love when we are left alone. It is at this point where the titular rock is introduced. As soon as others leave the scene and we feel abandonned and lonely, we pick a rock perhaps with the intent to hurl it at something in frustration. The rock, however, holds more truths than we initially thought. It conceals a scorpion, which we couldn’t have noticed before. What our frustration obfuscates, which we can interpret as egoism that prevents us from recognising the otherness in the world, is the castle built on this very rock. What was once hidden is now rendered conspicuous. This castle is a home to all those “sailors” who were left alone to discover their self and the world within and around it.
These “sailors”, those souls who ventured past the furthest places, can now listen to what fate is doing. They can hear how She tosses coins in the well. Why do we throw coins in fountains? For good luck and the expectation of living through another pleasant experience. Fate, though, has no such needs. She throws coins to bring closer those who listen, those who grew wings through the power of love for their self and the others, those who discovered the castle on the rock that the inattentive (e.g. egocentric) eye perceives as an ordinary stone.
The dissociation between our self and our avatars is distilled in the here-and-now we live in. Life melts in Her hands. We know it. We do not worry though. We take each moment for what it is. There is no before or after that we need to obsess with (notice the parallel with my interpretation of “Letter” by Socratis Malamas). Those who know, the ones who grew wings as I already explained, prompt us to “let life melt in her hands like snow”, which is exactly the idea of not clinging on to what we think we have. We are but a presence in the Cosmos: an endless totality; a world where presences undergo transfiguration. Letting our life run its course means that we have reached the level of awareness that is necessary to recognise the consubstantiality of all there is. The self and the other collapse into themselves as impressions of universal oneness.