A Man For All Seasons


“Some call on Jehovah / Some cry out to Allah / Some wait for the boats that still row to Valhallah”

This is Al Stewart here, so please have your encyclopedias at the ready to look up all historical references and big words. Thomas More and Henry Plantagenet I trust you’ll know of. Actually, Stewart is fudging his history a bit here, presumably for poetic reasons. Henry II aka Plantagenet ruled from 1154 to 1189; Thomas More’s beef was with Henry VIII, four centuries later. That Henry was not even a member of the Plantagenet dynasty. (I know these things because I’ve been to England a couple of times, and the knowledge just magically seeped in.) The title of the song is a reference to the title of a play, written in 1954 by Robert Bolt, based on the life of Thomas More (mostly the exciting end bits.) The play paints More – who as you may remember had the gall to outspokenly disapprove of  Henry VIII’s marital habits and was eventually beheaded for his troubles – as an idealized man of conscience who stood by his moral convictions all the way to the executioner’s block. More has been held up as an embodiment of the Renaissance Man in general; he was widely accomplished as a political figure, as well as a thinker, writer and philosopher. What Al Stewart is asking in his song, is whether all the intellectual and spiritual ideals of such a ‘man for all seasons’ really mean anything when you’re locked in the Tower of London awaiting an ax to the neck; was all that accomplishment worth it, in the bitter end?

What if you reached the age of reason
Only to find there was no reprieve
Would you still be a man for all seasons?
Or would you just have to leave
We measure our days out
In steps of uncertainty
Not turning to see how we’ve come
And peer down the highway
From here to eternity
And reach out for love on the run
While the man for all seasons
Is lost behind the sun

Henry Plantagenet still looks for someone
To bring good news in his hour of doubt
While Thomas More waits in the Tower of London
Watching the sands running out
And measures the hours out
From here to oblivion
In actions that can’t be undone
A sailor through the darkness
He scans the meridian
And caught by the first rays of dawn
The man for all seasons
Is lost beneath the storm

And I should know by now
I should know by now
I hear them call it out all around
Oh, they go
There’s nothing to believe in
Hear them,
Just daydreams, deceiving
They’ll just let you down

What if you reached the age of reason
Only to find there was no reprieve
Would you still be a man for all seasons?
Or would you just disbelieve?

We measure our gains out in luck and coincidence
Lanterns to turn back the night
And put our defeats down to chance or experience
And try once again for the light
Some wait for the waters of fortune to cover them
Some just see the tides of ill chance running over them

Some call on Jehovah
Some cry out to Allah
Some wait for the boats that still row to Valhallah
Well, you should try to accept what the fates are unfolding
While some say they’re sure where the blame should be falling
You look round for maybe a chance of forestalling
Bot too soon its over and done
And the man for all seasons
Is lost behind the sun

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