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Conquistador -- Keith Reid

       
(Poem #743) Conquistador
 Conquistador -- your stallion stands in need of company
 And like some angel's haloed brow you reek of purity.
        I see your armor-plated breast
        Has long since lost its sheen
        And in your death mask face
        There are no signs which can be seen.

 Though I hoped for something to find
 I could see no place to unwind.

 Conquistador -- a vulture sits upon your silver sheath
 And in your rusty scabbard now the sand has taken seed.
        And though your jewel-encrusted blade
        Has not been plundered still
        The sea has washed across your face
        And taken of its fill.

 Though I hoped for something to find
 I could see no place to unwind.

 Conquistador -- there is no time, I must pay my respect
 And though I came to jeer at you, I leave now with regret.
        And as the gloom begins to fall
        I see there is no, only all [?]
        And though you came with sword held high
        You did not conquer, only die.

 Though I hoped for something to find
 I could see no place to unwind.
-- Keith Reid
[Comments]

A late 20th century rock music take on Ozymandias -- well okay, not quite
Ozymandias but that's the most glorious I can make this sound. :) Yes, these
lyrics have their warts -- a couple of prominent ones at that -- but hey,
Keith Reid wasn't writing serious poetry; he was writing artful rock lyrics.
Keep that in mind and you'll see that the above represents a fairly high
standard of lyric writing.

The content is fairly straighforward: a mocking look at heroism and vanity
that has come to nought. There are no strained efforts at rhyming, which in
my opinion is a good thing.

[About the song]

This is a Procol Harum song, from their first 1967 album "Procol Harum"
which I think got retitled "A Whiter Shade of Pale" at some point. The group
had a full-time lyricist Keith Reid who didn't sing and didn't play any
instruments. This makes Reid a truly unique member of the rock megafamily.
Reid's job was simply to come up with interesting, fantastic lyrics that
would get with the Art Rock sensibilities of the group.

Art Rock (aka Progressive Rock, aka Prog Rock) was a movement in Rock that
treated the music as an art form; almost always through complex
instrumentation, flashy rapid-fire virtuosic playing and pretentious sci-fi
or fantasy influenced lyrics. But Procol Harum were rather atypical, never
getting flashy or vitruosic in instrumentation or displaying any sci-fi
influence. And unlike almost all other Art Rock groups, they knew how to
treat Classical Music with respect when they did deal with it; for instance
"A Whiter Shade of Pale" makes truly tasteful use of Bach's famous Air from
his Orchestral Suite #3.

The song "Conquistador" is given a melody that is noticably Spanish in feel
but is otherwise regular, if somewhat complex, rock. The music breaks each
stanza up neatly into a long couplet and a quatrain and I've made the line
breaks reflect this pattern above.

[Warts]

I must admit to being mystified by the chorus lines "Though I hoped for.../I
could see no..."; could anyone explain? It sounds great on the song, but
what do these lines mean?

Even more mysterious is the line "I see no, only all" from the last stanza!
What could this possibly mean? I do believe this is what is being sung but
if someone could supply a reasonable alternative please do so.

Amit.

21 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

My'kl Ens said...

>I must admit to being mystified by the chorus lines "Though I hoped
>for.../I could see no..."; could anyone explain? It sounds great on the
>song, but what do these lines mean?

It means that these guys were on drugs all the time. It might make more
sense if you dropped some acid (not that I recommend that).

>Even more mysterious is the line "I see no, only all" from the last stanza!
>What could this possibly mean? I do believe this is what is being sung but
>if someone could supply a reasonable alternative please do so.

Ok, it may have just been a mondegreen but I always that it was "awe" and
not "all". I don't think it makes much more sense, though. The drug
explanation still holds.

Loved the whole album but never understood a word.

Elizabeth.Karger said...

Oh my! I love this song!

A soon as I started reading I could hear Procol Harum in my mind's ear! A
flood of memories came to me of glorious dreaming in teenage loneliness,
immersed in music!

Thanks for bringing lyrics into discussion. I'm pondering the lines in
question, too!

Grant Campbell said...

Wow. I've always liked this song, and I'm glad it made the list.
One thing, though. The comments above got me wondering about the
actual lyrics and so I went hunting. According to www.procolharum.com
, the actual chorus is

Though I hoped for something to find
I can see no maze to unwind

which makes a little more sense. Keep up the good work!

Carl Tucker said...

And though I hoped for something to find
I could see no maze to unwind

This bit of the song simply means:

The Conquistadors had very high hopes of finding mythical cities such as El
Dorado..

( And though I hoped for something to find...)

Most conquistadors either fell victim to the elements or returned empty
handed lost in the wilderness such as DeSoto...

( I could see no maze to unwind )

Otherwise a very masterful piece of writing of someone pondering the life of
an explorer.

Mr raymond roper said...

Great poem and music. As noted the words in the
chorus are "no maze to unwind".
It seems to me that the song is addressed to the
conquistador, pointing out the ultimate folly of our
gleaming armour and swords. Although not an
anti-Vietnam war song, it is of that era, and I can
read it as a subtle message about the futility of
armed invaders.
"I see there is no, only all" is the best line in the
poem. You can fill in the blanks as you wish. THERE
IS NO....anything I chose (ultimate knowlege, final
answer, democratization of Vietnam or Iraq, etc.)
ONLY ALL....all is folly, we are just chasing the wind.

Gijsbers J.M.G. (Johan) said...

It is my believe that the lyric "I see there is no, only all" should be
"I see there is no aureole"
Where the conquistadores believed they were on a devine mission in
converting the pagan indians from south america.

The song makes clear that the conquistadores where anything but holy and
therefore "there is no aureole".

Johan Gijsbers

Bruce Wilmot said...

You must be about 50 or so? Because you summed it up exactly re:
Conquistador.

cheap viagra said...

Reid then set up his own management firm, Full House, working on a play and relocating to Manhattan in 1986;Little time before he wrote this spectacular poem, conquistador is the name of one of my favorites poems!22dd

Rob Nielsen said...

the line " I see there is no, only all [?]"
is actually "I see NONE, only AWE"
The author came expecting to look down on the corpse of the conquistador in the fading light of day but now understands and admires him

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