Oh, who can see in the eyes of fate
all life alone in its chronic patterns?
Oh, swan, let me fly you
to the land of no winds blowing.
I know nothing,
and know that I know nothing.
All is in the eye,
and in its blinks of seeing.
So just like the morning
is the ghost of the following day.
Listen: Ori, ori, ori, ori.....
Rear the rollers wild and stormy
Echoes wholly only lonely long beforey, ory ory.
All rivalry and opinion still cast their wild spells.
Effort and contrariness change the directions of time.
The lion still growls
in your hollowness.
Please let's be easy,
please let's be friends,
Watching and learning
like small children.
Till out of the morning
is growing the strength of the day.
Servant of fate or fate for a servant,
you see what you see, you see seldom what is. (2x)
Servant of fate, oh...
The Incredible String Band made hardly a ripple on the U.S. Summer of Love, but they were popular in the UK during that time. The group would develop into one of the most authentic communal bands (living in the Wales countryside) that would grace pop music. It is my belief that this group wrote some of the best psychedelic music, connecting LSD to spiritualism more than a particular religion. I’ve been disappointed in my research that Robin Williamson & Mike Heron haven’t been yet understood; or that their William Blake mysticism isn’t acceptable anymore in the popular aesthetic. I keep hearing that they started promoting Scientology in 1969, but earlier lyrics owe more to William Blake and Shelley. Sure, their singing style is strange and takes some time to get used to, especially when the melody is improvised on scales other than familiar chromatics. The style is extreme in its exoticism by pop standards. I understand that they have little to do with rock music, and much more to do with folk. But I admire the Incredible String Band for the complexity of their compositions and performances, keeping psychedelia on a folk level without electric instruments, mellotrons, and technological wizardry. 5000 Spirits was one of Joe Boyd’s earliest efforts at producing, and John Wood’s engineering. Boyd and Wood would later produce albums for the Fairport Convention and Nick Drake.
Rather, the wizardry of the ISB, as shown in Eyes of Fate is in their ability to conjure and dissolve language into a “spell” by using ancient plain song and Arabic-sounding flourishes. The long melody line is picked out on acoustic guitar which goes through several changes in rhythm until the two chord strum that introduces the trance that dissolves logical sense. There is no break in the recording because there is so much variation already in the body of the song. Only the overdubbed voices in the chorus reveal that Eyes of Fate was not recorded live.
Is it all hippie mumbo jumbo? On the contrary I find it more articulate than most of the psychedelic lyrics up to this point, though the meaning may not be clear. The song begins by questioning the possibility of picking out the strand of Fate in the “chronic patterns” of life. The singer prays that he can be lifted above his usual concerns so he can see his life from “a land of no winds blowing”. He claims the wisdom of Socrates that he knows nothing, that all is in the eye of the beholder in its “blinks of seeing”. The morning goes through a transition in the repeated B section from being the ghost of the previous day to having strength to meet a new day through meditative trance. The singer begins to see all his problems as merely resistance to fate, as if “efforts and contrariness [could] change the direction of time”. He sees that all his anger is hollow, and that the best attitude to take is that of “watching and learning like small children.” The romanticism of childlike perception is expressed in Eyes of Fate, similar to the issues taken up in Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Forever, but without the nostalgia. The song advises innocence in the present rather than reminiscences of an innocent time. The song ends with a ancient riddle of who is master and who the servant of Fate, and repeats the solemn reminder that we seldom see what really is but only what we want to see. While encouraging engagement with the world (unlike Lennon’s retreat from the mundane), the singer also supports passivity in front of that world, letting the world reveal itself to him before he acts on what he thinks the world is or what it needs.