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Interpretation of “The king of dust” by Xylina Spathia

Τα Ξύλινα Σπαθιά (Ta Xylina Spathia, which means “The Wooden Swords”) is an old Greek rock band that I have covered before: Interpretation of “At the rock” by Xylina Spathia.

For this entry, I have picked to translate and provide philosophical commentary on a classic: “The king of dust” (Ο βασιλιάς της σκόνης). It sounds good even if you don’t get the lyrics, while it has something profound to teach us: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBabLCTXUxs (not an official video as the band predates this era).

Here is a link to an official recording, performed by then lead singer of Xylina Spathia and now solo artist Pavlos Pavlides (plus B - movies): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA0lvGp45Ss.

Below are the original lyrics, my translation of them, and my comments.

Ο βασιλιάς της σκόνης

Εγώ ο μικρός, ο αμνός του Θεού
ξεχασμένος στο Νότο, γεννημένος αλλού
Ξέρω πάντα η Τροία θα 'ναι μίλια μακριά
κι η Ωραία Ελένη θα 'ναι τώρα γριά

Βγαίνω στο δρόμο ορκισμένος να μπω
στα παλάτια του ήλιου, να μπορέσω να πω
το τραγούδι του τράγου με φωνή φονική
και να κλάψω μετά, να χαθώ στη σιωπή

Ο βασιλιάς της σκόνης

Θα περάσουν τα χρόνια, θα γυρίσει ο τροχός
όλα θα 'ναι σαν πρώτα, όλα θα 'ναι αλλιώς
Θα σε ψάχνω στους δρόμους που γυρνούσες, μα εσύ
θα 'χεις γίνει σκιά, θα 'χουν όλα χαθεί

Ένα βράδυ θα φέγγει το φεγγάρι τρελό
Θ' απλωθεί η σκιά σου σ' ένα δρόμο στενό
Τα ταξίδια, οι φίλοι, οι αγκαλιές, τα φιλιά
σ' ένα κόσμο θαμπό μακριά, μακριά

Ο βασιλιάς της σκόνης

Από του δράκου τη χρόνια, περάσαν χρόνια
τώρα μπορεί να μη θυμάσαι τίποτα
αλλά η ρόδα της ζωής γυρνά αιώνια
και μόλις λιώσουνε τα χιόνια
να 'ρθεις να με βρεις

Ο βασιλιάς της σκόνης
The king of dust

I the small, the lamb of God
forgotten in the South, born elsewhere
I know Troy will always be miles away
and Beautiful Helen (aka "Helen of Troy") will now be old

I venture on the road sworn to enter
the palaces of sun, to be able to sing
the song of the goat (literally the ode of the goat, i.e. "tragedy") with a killer voice
and cry afterwards, get lost in the silence

The king of dust

Years will go by, the wheel will spin
everything will be like before, everything will be different
I'll be searching in the streets you wandered, but you
will have become a shadow, all will be lost

One night the moon will shine madly
Your shadow will cover a narrow street
The travels, the friends, the hugs, the kisses
in a hazy world afar, afar

The king of dust

Since the year of the dragon, ages have gone by
now you may not remember a thing
yet the wheel of life spins eternally
and as soon as the snow melts
come find me

The king of dust

Who is the king of dust? What is the poet trying to communicate? My impression is that the king of dust is every possible king, emperor, supreme leader, et cetera. It also is every one of those who thinks they possess something. The song is a comment on the theme of non-ownership, which I covered before: Interpretation of “Bells” by Lhasa de Sela.

We think we own stuff. Our possessions, our holdings, our loved ones, our self. Yet everything is alienable. Everything can be stripped away. There is nothing we can hold on to. At best, we die with it.

The song starts by describing the exuberance of youth and its lack of perspective. The fearless fellow who goes on an adventure and will stop at nothing. Here Helen symbolises the pretexts we have, just as in the legend of the Trojan War (Homer’s Iliad). No decade-long war was fought over the beauty of a woman. This is the poet’s way of showing how we come up with excuses and rationalisations. (Modern wars have such “Helens”, but let’s not disturb those who blithely believe otherwise.)

Helen also represents the unattainable dream. Much like how the Achaeans went to war to restore their honour and bring Beautiful Helen back home. Helen is a tragic figure because she is known for her beauty—for something she purportedly has—even though beauty is ephemeral. No matter how good one looks, the years will take their toll on them. This too is a note on the topic of non-ownership: Helen is a queen of dust, although she is not recognised as such. We do not own what appears to be “our” beauty. It comes and goes. Pretend otherwise.

This youth, this poetic “I”, enters the palaces of the sun to basically claim a right to some kind of ownership. Yet the youth leaves the place crying, with nothing left to say. These palaces are, in my reading, a symbol for the truth. They represent enlightenment. We want to cling on to what we think is rightfully ours, yet the truth is that nothing is ours and there is no right of such a sort. Some are not ready for the truth: their whole world collapses. The least prepared are those who act out of enthusiasm and believe that elderly Helen is still the famed beauty of yester years.

Our hero learns about the fact of non-ownership and eventually comes to terms with it. The “I” will still reminisce about past experiences, even though it knows those are not present and only exist in a distant, hazy world: the past. These are not disturbing. They do not evoke sadness, for there is an understanding that they cannot be acquired. It is the desire to the contrary that harms us, the expectation of ownership, the falsehood of—and misplaced belief in—permanence.

The king of dust admits to the incessant change of the cosmos. Everything is in a state of flux: the wheel keeps spinning, ever-transfiguring the presences.

The king of dust, in the realisation of being a king of dust, remains tranquil. The right perspective consists in acceptance, in recognising how things stand, which begets calmness. The upside is that we exist in the present. We can experience new moments. This is my reading of how the song ends: forget about the past, come find me, and let’s live in the here-and-now.

[ Somewhat relevant: Interpretation of “Kiss” by Michelle Gurevich ]

The king of dust is tranquil in the knowledge that one cannot lose anything because one owns nothing. There is a lightness to this mindset, a sense of relief, which frees us from the fetters of false worries and concerns.