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Watcher of the Skies

This song is by Genesis and appears on the album Foxtrot (1972) and on the box set Archive 1967-75 (1998).

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Watcher of the Skies
Watcher of the skies, watcher of all
His is a world alone, no world is his own
He whom life can no longer surprise
Raising his eyes beholds a planet unknown

Creatures shaped this planet's soil
Now their reign has come to end
Has life again destroyed life?
Do they play elsewhere, do they know
More than their childhood games?
Maybe the lizard's shed its tail
This is the end of man's long union with Earth

Judge not this race by empty remains
Do you judge God by his creatures when they are dead?
For now, the lizard's shed its tail
This is the end of man's long union with Earth

From life alone to life as one
Think not now your journey's done
For though your ship be sturdy
No mercy has the sea
Will you survive on the ocean of being?
Come ancient children hear what I say
This is my parting council for you on your way

Sadly now your thoughts turn to the stars
Where we have gone, you know you never can go
Watcher of the skies, watcher of all
This is your fate alone, this fate is your own


"Watcher of the Skies" was in essence written by Rutherford and Banks during a tour in Italy. The two had been staring out over the landscape at the back of a hotel in Naples. Banks talked about it in an interview: "Early one morning, it was totally deserted. It was incredible. We had the idea of an alien coming down to the planet and seeing this world where obviously there had once been life and yet there was not one human being to be seen."

Watcher of the Skies is the first track on Genesis' 1972 album Foxtrot. The title is borrowed from John Keats' 1817 poem "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer":

"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken."

The basic premise is loosely based on Clarke's "Childhood's End", which is about mankind evolving to leave Earth and their bodies behind and to join a cosmic consciousness called the "Overmind" ("do they know more than their childhood games"). A highly influencial book, Pink Floyd also had a song entitled "Childhood's End".

An alien (played live by Peter Gabriel in his Batwing headgear and inverse mohawk) comes to Earth, only to find it deserted. It begs the question - is it deserted because the creatures here destroyed themselves ("has life again destroyed life") or because they have left Mother Earth behind to go elsewhere (do they play elsewhere). Whatever the cause, like a primitive lizard leaving it's tail behind it, humanity as a whole has gone beyond it's union with the mother planet.

This alien is old, and has traveled a vast amount of space. Perhaps it is huge, or is organically grown into a massive ship, for we are told that the alien is a world unto itself, and that no world he passes is his.

After observing conditions on the planet, the alien imparts a bit of it's age-old wisdom to the vanished inhabitants, saying:

"From life alone to life as one, Think not your journey's done For though your ship be sturdy, no Mercy has the sea, Will you survive on the ocean of being?"

(Mention of the Ocean of Being here is important symbolism.)

Then, sad because it is still alone, the Watcher turns and heads back to the stars.

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