Friday, January 19, 2007

Songs I Like: The Prophet's Song (Queen)

"But still I fear and still I dare not
Laugh at the Madman."

A Night at the Opera
A Night at the Opera is one of Queen's best albums, with such songs as Bohemian Rhapsody, Death on Two Legs, and You're My Best Friend. I've already written about Bohemian Rhapsody once before but like most good albums, there are several songs on it that never got much airplay and people would enjoy. When I enjoyed a short stint as a DJ at a college radio station I always tried to play these "other" songs, picking albums and artists people liked and were popular, but playing the songs that got no airplay but ought to have.

The Prophet's Song is one of those songs, although it has a short bit in the third section of the song that is pointlessly repetative and annoying to me. Queen's longest song, the meaning of it has been a source of some debate. Brian May said he wrote the song after a dream of the Great Flood (as in Noah and the ark), and powerful images of a prophet ignored by the people and the wrath of God echo through the song. First, the lyrics:

Oh Oh people of the earth
Listen to the warning
The seer he said
Beware the storm that gathers here
Listen to the wise man.

I dreamed I saw on a moonlit stair
Spreading his hands on the multitude there
A man who cried for a love gone stale
And ice cold hearts of charity bare.
I watch as fear took the old men's gaze
Hopes of the young in troubled graves
I see no day, I heard him say
So grey is the face of every mortal.

Oh Oh people on the earth
Listen to the warning
The prophet he said
For soon the cold of night will fall
Summoned by your own hand.

Oh Oh children of the land
Quicken to the new life
Take my hand
Fly and find the new green bough
Return like a white dove.

He told of death as a bone white haze
Taking the lost and the unloved babe
Late too late all the wretches run
These kings of beasts now counting their days.
From mother's love is the son estranged
Married his own his precious gain
The earth will shake in two will break
And death all around will be your dow'ry

Oh Oh people of the earth
Listen to the warning the seer he said
For those who hear and mark my words
Listen to the good plan.

Oh Oh - and two by two my human zoo
They'll be
runnung for to come
running for to come
out of the rain

Flee for your life
Who heed me not, let all your treasure make you
Fear for your life
Deceive you not the fires of hell will take you
Should death await you.

Oh Oh people can you hear me?
Oh People can you hear me?
And now I know, and now I know
And now I know, and now I know
And now I know, that you can hear me

The Earth will shake and two will break...
The Earth will shake and two will break...
The Earth will shake and two will break...

Death all around, around, around
Death all around, around, around
Death all around, around, around

And now I know, and now I know...
And now I know, and now I know...
And now I know, and now I know...
And now I know, and now I know...

Listen to the wise man, listen to the wise man
Listen to the wise man, listen to the wise man

Come here, Aye you
Come here, Aye you
Come here.....

Listen to the man, listen to the man
Listen to the man, listen to the man
Man......

God give you grace to purge this place
And peace all around may be your fortune.

Oh Oh children of the land
Love is still the answer, take my hand
The vision fades, a voice I hear
Listen to the Madman!

But still I fear and still I dare not
Laugh at the Madman.

There are a few websites on the internet that discuss songs and their meanings, such as SongMeanings and Songfacts. Here are a few thoughts people posted on Songmeanings about what they figure this song meant:
i think this song is about howhumans are self-destructive.
Oh Oh people on the earth
Listen to the warning
The prophet he said
For soon the cold of night will fall
Summoned by your own hand.
but we are too stupid and stubborn to do anything about the warnings we recieve. And it is probably about Noah's Arc. Everything was flooded and noah built an arc for his family and two of every animal blah blah blah, its basically in the lyrics. "two by two" and "Fly and find the new green bough
Return like a white dove. "noah sent a dove to find love after the rain was over and it brought back a olive branch to show there was still land where they could go.
Noah was the phrophet. no one beileved him and then they all drowned. thats what i think this song mean. it applys to the bible and modern times. i agree with indy about the engineering of the song it just amazing queen was made up of genius'
-by spacehogpop8


When I first heard this song, I immediately identified it with the influential philosophical work Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, but I doubt that was the sole intention of the song - although the character of the prophet himself may have been based on the Persian prophet Zoroaster (as was Nietzsche's character) if only as a reference to Freddy Mercury's religious background: as a Parsi Iranian whose parents where originally from India. However, it really stuck out as being about Nietzsche's intepretation to me for a few reasons: When the lyrics use both the terms 'wise man' and 'mad man' to describe the prophet, it seems to perfectly describe the character of Zarathustra as I read him. I also heard the lyric "so grey is the face of every mortal" as "so grey is the face of every martyr" - the latter tying in much more strongly with Nietzsche's philosophy, that those who sacrifice themselves for something they believe is higher than themselves are in the end gaining nothing. A similar concept is explored further in the lines "Late too late all the wretches run/These kings of beasts now counting their days. " The 'kings of beasts' describes how Nietzsche sees most of humanity, as being nothing more than a powerful animal. The line "The Earth will shake and two will break" may also refer to this dichotomy of humanity, that on the one hand we have the majority of content but ultimately soulless masses, and on the other the few 'mad men' who will find the "new life" and return to humanity to encourage them to follow them back...

I'm not claiming that Nietzsche's ideas expressed in Thus Spoke Zarathustra where what Brian had in mind when writing this, as a lot of it doesn't ring true at all; but thats what the song means to me.
-by Hazhar


it's a song about change and how peace represented by the dove and change represented by the new green bough. The wise man and the mad man are beings of your conscience but we never understand fully out of the wiseman and the madman which one is the good and which is the bad.
-by Chrisi


The impression I recieve from this song is actually that of tribal Africa, and it's invasion by christians. Could it be that "people of the earth refers to people living not neccesarily on the planet, but instead living on the soil, or earth? It seems to me that the "prophet" and "seer" are two different people, the seer being an African priest or priestess, an the prophet being a missionary.

I see the very first stanza is a warning from the priest or priestess. The second bit looks like a division between the priest and the christians. And after that begins an all out war, a competition for faith of the Africans, both parties claiming to be prophets, both preaching a religion.

Also the "cold of night" could be a metaphor for the result of the lacking of religious grounding from the Africans. Also I believe that the "wise man" is the priest or priestess, wheras the "mad man" is the christian.

Or maybe I'm wrong...
-by Pursuitoflife


Isnt this song based on Japanise proverb, not Christian or African. At the time Queen did loads of eastern style music, Teo Torrette for example. This is the best song on Night at the Opera by a mile.
-by Immigrant
This and Bohemian Rhapsody are the most operatic songs on the album, which even ends with God Save the Queen like an old time performance at a British Opera house. In any case it is a very underrated, unknown song I recommend giving a listen.
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1 comment:

Lyn IS Ganda said...

Some points:

1. It was Brian May's song, based on a vivid dream that he had.
While Queen has helped each other with songs that any member puts in the table, the one whose original idea it was got the songwriting credits, until they created the album Innuendo, when they agreed to name Queen collectively in the songwriting credits.

2.".. although it has a short bit in the third section of the song that is pointlessly repetative and annoying to me." (sic)
How dare you not recognising the artistry of this bit! Brian May was fascinated by fugue that he incorporated that technique into some of his guitar solos (like Brighton Rock).

Freddie took it into another level when he sang the bit, and if you listen to it in headphones, you will hear the counterpoints starting in different points of your audio: centre, left, and right, as if echoing each other and merging with one another in harmony, something that is quite difficult to do vocally - and technically too.

You may want to watch this documentary on the making of The Prophet's Song