In the Court of the Crimson King – A Tapestry of Archetypal Drama


You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning
  4. The Prophetic Piper and the Choir of Ages
  5. The Irony of Oppression and the March of Time
  6. The Juxtaposition of Creation and Destruction
  7. Unraveling The Song’s Hidden Meaning
  8. Memorable Lines That Resonate Through Time

Lyrics

–The Court Of The Crimson King–
including The Return Of The Fire Witch
and The Dance Of The Puppets
(McDonald-Sinfield)

The rusted chains of prison moons
Are shattered by the sun.
I walk a road, horizons change
The tournament’s begun.
The purple piper plays his tune,
The choir softly sing;
Three lullabies in an ancient tongue,
For the court of the crimson king.

The keeper of the city keys
Put shutters on the dreams.
I wait outside the pilgrim’s door
With insufficient schemes.
The black queen chants
the funeral march,
The cracked brass bells will ring;
To summon back the fire witch
To the court of the crimson king.

The gardener plants an evergreen
Whilst trampling on a flower.
I chase the wind of a prism ship
To taste the sweet and sour.
The pattern juggler lifts his hand;
The orchestra begin.
As slowly turns the grinding wheel
In the court of the crimson king.

On soft grey mornings widows cry,
The wise men share a joke;
I run to grasp divining signs
To satisfy the hoax.
The yellow jester does not play
But gently pulls the strings
And smiles as the puppets dance
In the court of the crimson king.

Full Lyrics

King Crimson’s ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ reaches beyond the mere vibrations of sound, weaving a complex tableau that imprints itself onto the soul of progressive rock. From its surreal album cover to the rich tapestry of sounds within, the legendary track, laden with lyrical metaphors, oversized melodies and philosophic contemplation, takes listeners on a journey that transcends time and evokes imagery as vivid and diverse as any epic poem.

The album of the same name, released in 1969, set a precedent in the world of progressive rock, marking the inception of a movement within the genre that would come to blend literary depth with musical innovation. With its grandiose storytelling and the haunting complexity of its arrangements, ‘The Court of the Crimson King’ presents a labyrinth for the listener to traverse, filled with symbolic characters and enigmatic visions.

The Prophetic Piper and the Choir of Ages

The opening verse of the song introduces a ‘purple piper’ and a softly singing choir, delivering us into a medieval scene filled with arcane ritual and coated in royal shades of melancholy. Yet, these aren’t simple musicians; they represent the bearers of history and tradition, their tunes echoing across the expanse of human consciousness, suggesting the cyclical nature of life and the inevitability of repeating the past.

As the piper plays and the choir sings ‘three lullabies in an ancient tongue’, we’re reminded of the role storytellers have in shaping and passing down culture. These melodies serve as a backdrop for a stage where humanity’s grand themes play out — a constant overture to life’s ongoing drama.

The Irony of Oppression and the March of Time

The mention of ‘rusted chains of prison moons’ breaking signals a release from captivity and a beginning of a change. The sun – a force of illumination – scatters the darkness and sets the stage for a tournament that is life’s endless struggle. However, with the ‘keeper of the city keys’ who ‘put shutters on the dreams’, we find the dichotomy of freedom and control, light and darkness at play. The song seems to be commenting on the often unseen power structures that govern our lives, dreams, and aspirations.

Furthermore, ‘the black queen chants the funeral march’, introducing a motif of death and transformation amidst the haunting imagery of ‘cracked brass bells’. This march possibly denotes the endless cycle of rising and falling empires, civilizations, and the figures of power that lead us.

The Juxtaposition of Creation and Destruction

A gardener planting an evergreen while trampling a flower — this vivid imagery hints at the delicate balance between the acts of creation and destruction that underscore our existence. King Crimson ingeniously uses this paradox to convey how even our attempts to nurture and build can unwittingly lead to ruin or sacrifice.

The ‘pattern juggler’ and the ‘prism ship’ within the verse, meanwhile, serve as metaphors for the complexity and multiplicity of life’s experiences, both bitter and sweet. Here, the song delves into the nature of reality, suggesting that our perception of it is as mutable and subjective as a reflection in a shifting prism.

Unraveling The Song’s Hidden Meaning

At the core of ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ lies an allegory rich with archetypes — a king representing authority and order, a jester pulling the strings, a queen signaling change through death, and a piper, operating as the chronicler of this eternal court. Together, they paint a scene that could be plucked from the depths of Joseph Campbell’s works — a narrative that taps into the universal consciousness, mingling mythology with the modern psyche.

The ‘court of the crimson king’ could be perceived as a metaphor for mind or society, where each character plays its part in the grand scheme — a farce or a tragedy depending on the moment. The king’s court stands as an emblem of the theater of life, with the ‘crimson’ hue possibly alluding to the blood and passion that fuel our will and decisions, ensnaring us in the coils of destiny.

Memorable Lines That Resonate Through Time

The pathos and poetry within the closing lines, where ‘the yellow jester does not play / But gently pulls the strings / And smiles as the puppets dance’, evokes a chilling sense of manipulation and the intricate dance of control over the naive and unwitting. In these lines lie a timeless reminder of the masked influencers who navigate the corridors of power, and of our collective susceptibility to be led, blindly or otherwise, by unseen hands.

King Crimson’s opus endures not only for its musical experimentation but also for its lyrical depth, which resonates with layers of meaning that audiences have peeled back for decades. The enduring memory of ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’s’ verses rests in their ability to mirror our own world, refracting our lives through the spectral light of their enduring words.

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