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Genesis:Time Table Lyrics

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Time Table

This song is by Genesis and appears on the album Foxtrot (1972).

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Time Table
A carved oak table tells a tale
Of times when kings and queens sipped wine from goblets gold
And the brave would lead their ladies from out the room
To arbours cool

A time of valour and legends born
A time when honour meant much more to a man than life
And the days knew only strife to tell right from wrong
Through lance and sword

Why, why can we never be sure till we die
Or have killed for an answer?
Why, why do we suffer each race to believe
That no race has been grander?

It seems because through time and space
Though names may change
Each face retains the mask it wore

A dusty table, musty smells
Tarnished silver lies discarded upon the floor
Only feeble light descends through a film of grey
That scars the panes

Gone the carving and those who left their mark
Gone the kings and queens, now only the rats hold sway
And the weak must die according to nature's law
As old as they

Why, why can we never be sure till we die
Or have killed for an answer?
Why, why do we suffer each race to believe
That no race has been grander?

It seems because through time and space
Though names may change
Each face retains the mask it wore

Time Table is the second song from 1972's Foxtrot album.

From the far future of science-fiction we are transported to a far medieval past, and at the end of the song to sometime long after that. The present? The time when the Watcher visits? Is this an exploration of what happened to humanity? It is interesting to view the album in a continuous way, even if all the songs were not written by one person, or with continuity in mind.

A timetable or schedule is an organized list, usually set out in tabular form, providing information about a series of arranged events in particular, the time at which it is planned these events will take place. This, then, is a slight play on words. It is a literal table, made of Oak, and carved with the images that illustrate some of the more nobler conceptions associated with the medieval period - bravery, valour, honour, chivalry, etc. Kings and Queens are strong and in power as they sip wine from goblets made of gold. It also illustrates a time where right and wrong are determined by who wins battles with lances and swords.

Then we have the chorus, which asks us why we can never be sure until we die. Sure of what? Surety implies complete understanding of all answers. Are we being asked here if we are in a state of uncertainty until we die, and only then will we "know" the truth of things? By looking back on our life? Then we are told that some kill others to find their answers. Once we have killed, there is no turning back, and this is a different kind of certainty.

Then we are asked why people group together - very often around race and racial issues - and then proceed to think that they are superior to all other groups, thus most likely leading to the scenario above where right and wrong is determined through fighting and wars, and answers are sought by attempting to prove which group can outdo the other in battle.

The answer we are given is that "through time and space, though names may change each face retains the mask it wore." Through every age, and in every place on the planet, there have been roles that people have played. Some play the role of the Emperor and some of the Peasant, but these archetypes of behaviour, or Masks, have remained constant with us through it all. Though the names of people in governmental offices have changed, for instance, the precepts of that very office continue a pattern which repeats itself over and over, and can be traced back through all the other faces that have worn this mask...we seem to be caught up in events that are difficult to change...

So, at the end of the song we are shown what has happened to this once powerful group of Kings and Queens. The place is musty and the table itself dusty through neglect. The carving which illustrated these noble concepts and pictures of a great kingdom is gone along with those who made it. Like Darwinistic concepts of evolution, the weak must die, even as old and ancient as this kingdom might have been - weakened by it's notions of warfare and it's neglect of those very concepts that made it noble in the first place. Now, only the rats hold sway. These could be literal rats in this old room that holds the table, or it could be describing the people that neglected to uphold the concepts that kept the kingdom healthy and strong.

This brings to mind the poem by Pery Bysshe Shelley, "Ozymandias"

OZYMANDIAS
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away

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