"Clockwork Angels" as written by and Geddy Lee Weinrib Neil Peart....
High above the city square
Globes of light float in mid-air
Higher still, against the night
Clockwork angels bathed in light

You promise every treasure, to the foolish and the wise
Goddesses of mystery, spirits in disguise
Every pleasure, we bow and close our eyes
Clockwork angels, promise every prize

Clockwork angels, spread their arms and sing
Synchronized and graceful, they move like living things
Goddesses of Light, of Sea and Sky and Land
Clockwork angels, the people raise their hands - As if to fly

All around the city square
Power shimmers in the air
People gazing up with love
To those angels high above

Celestial machinery - move through your commands
Goddesses of mystery, so delicate and so grand
Moved to worship, we bow and close our eyes
Clockwork angels, promise every prize

Lean not upon your own understanding
Ignorance is well and truly blessed
Trust in perfect love, and perfect planning
Everything will turn out for the best

Stars aglow like scattered sparks
Span the sky in clockwork arcs
Hint at more than we can see
Spiritual machinery

Lyrics submitted by blood is thin

"Clockwork Angels" as written by Geddy Lee Alex Lifeson


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  • +4
    Song MeaningWow, quite a reaction, and based on a completely wrong interpretation (IMHO) of the entire album. The conclusion that it's anti-God is wrong. However, we have to go into some history of philosophy. Clockwork Angels is, almost step-for-step, from Voltaire's _Candide_. FYI, Candide is usually considered one of the top 100 books of Western literature. I'm sure you've heard of him. Candide is a reaction to the dominant philosophy of the time (late 1700s) whose chief proponent was Leibniz (check the spelling). This is the same Leibniz who invented calculus at the same time as Newton. Leibniz believed in a philosophy called Optimism. It states that this is the best of all possible worlds, given the limitations God placed in the Universe. (For the mathematically inclined, this is the mathematically optimal world, as a dynamic programming solution is optimal for its parameters) The Church agreed with this philosophy.

    Voltaire did not agree. He thought this world was the result of free will run wild. Each of the first 9 songs parallel a chapter or incident in _Candide_, sometimes surprisingly closely. Much of Voltaire's pessimism is driven by the aftermath of the Lisbon earthquake & tsunami of 1755, which destroyed the town. He slams all corrupt institutions in Europe, including a repeated, strong condemnation of the treatment of women. Royalty, the Inquisition, greed, slavery, and much more are condemned. The Church banned the book, not surprising given his strong and repeated attacks on the Church (but not Christianity). He also just avoided the Inquisition.

    The lyrics that disturbed you diverted you from the complete reversal that followed. Peart specifically *rejects* Voltaire's philosophy and the issues to which you object. First, note that the direct and indirect mentions of the Watchmaker (vaguely analogous to a divine being) imply he is benign. This is a complete *rejection* of Voltaire and a strong leaning towards Leibniz. This part really surprised me.

    The 11th song on the album, Wish Them Well, can't be more Christian. In _Candide_, the protagonist, named Candide, tries to get revenge on those who have wronged him. The lyric "Turn your back and walk away" can't be clearer. The song makes repeated references rejecting revenge and instead walking away from those that treated, or treat, you badly. This is the complete opposite of what Voltaire is advocating in the book.

    The 12th song, "The Garden", is simple...but conceptually dense. The Garden is the theme of the last chapter (chapter 30 if you want to grab it off the net). At the end of Candide's uniformly negative adventures, he retires to a farm and turns his back on the world to concentrate on growing vegetables. He is rejecting the world. The allegory to the Garden of Eden is obvious, but reversed. Adam and Eve were kicked out, but Candide finds refuge in a garden. Also notice that the benign Watchmaker reappears.

    The lyrics say:

    The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect
    So hard to earn, so easily burned
    In the fullness of time
    A garden to nurture and protect
    (from songfacts.com/…)

    The other half of "The Garden" invokes both the arrow of time and slices of time in present, moving into the future. This strongly reminds me of some lines from Tennyson's _Ulysses_, beginning at approximately line 19, if I remember correctly:

    Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
    Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
    For ever and for ever when I move.
    (text from Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…)

    Just like Candide, and the protagonist in _Clockwork Angels_, at this point Odysseus has returned from the Trojan Wars, a 10 year journey. Many challenges beset him and killed all of his crew. He's thinking about his present life, and trying to get his remaining men (from his kingdom) to join him in one last quest. That quest was obviously going to fail.

    But Peart changes the end of Tennyson's _Ulysses_ and Voltaire's _Candide_ by saying:

    The future disappears into memory
    With only a moment between
    Forever dwells in that moment
    Hope is what remains to be seen
    (same URL as above)

    There are two more themes in The Garden, a density I rarely find in Rush's lyrics, especially given the short length of the song. (This doesn't mean they are not there, it just means I didn't find them yet). This is approaching the thematic density of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower", 12 lines that one could write a 20+ page essay on.

    Lastly, two more points about _Clockwork Angels_. (1) It's a work of art, not a statement of religious belief. I've always found it odd that people assume what the author of art/fiction/poetry is a statement of the author's own personal beliefs. I don't see any basis anywhere in _Clockwork Angels_ for making that assumption. (2) Lastly, did you notice that each song is context-independent? Each song can be appreciated by itself without reference to any other song on the album. I can think of a lot of "rock operas", but none that have that amazing feature.

    As I think I mentioned in a comment somewhere else, maybe Amazon, I think this album is nearly perfect. There are a couple things musically that are jarring (to me), which keep it from being rated (for me) "perfect".
    lensman19067on October 10, 2014   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAlways refreshing to hear music like this being put out in modern times. Beautifully written, touches on so many bases, and the entire album is simply such an awesome story!

    RUSH Forever!
    Rush4Peaceon February 04, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOh zut alors, I replied to the wrong comment! I always mix people! :)
    Oolalaon April 03, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI’m late in discovering this album. I’ve lately been reading a few of Neil’s books and they sparked an interest in listening to this record and studying the lyrics.

    To the christians:
    I don’t interpret the song Clockwork Angels as an anti Christian view. To me it is just observing how people rely on their faith to explain the unexplainable. Or to give them hope in low times.
    The line
    “You promise every treasure to the foolish and the wise”
    Is just a statement of fact. Even fools and wise men have faith in some thing.

    Here’s the problem with blind faith in anything. It doesn’t allow deeper thought to see other sides of an issue.

    I think his views are more agnostic than atheist. He’s such a deep thinker that I think his lyrics have many meanings.
    Don’t let your faith cloud your thinking so much that you can’t be open to other answers.
    Mindopenwideon January 27, 2019   Link
  • 0
    My OpinionThis is mostly a response to lensman. First I'd like to say; good job on doing all that research. I respect anyone that does a lot of research.
    In fact, I would agree on quite a few of the things he said. Looking at the lyrics of "Wish Them Well", they are very Christian indeed.
    The one thing I completely disagree on is that this isn't about Neil's personal beliefs. In fact, I think that understanding Neil, and people like Neil, is the only way to understand this album.
    Looking at "Wish Them Well", it's easy to see that Neil is really a great guy. He's not a jerk.
    However, saying that this album "supports" Christianity is probably not right. I mean, have you listened to BU2B? Some songs may have the same moral beliefs from time to time, but it's very anti-Christian. Notice in this song, the part that starts with "lean not upon your own understanding" is sung very ominous, as to sort of reveal that this is the wrong way to think.

    This song, and most of this album, is just Neil's Philosophical interpretation of life. Sometimes using sarcasm against other religions, or sometimes coming out and saying things very bluntly. The album Clockwork Angels is his religion.
    TrooperSevenon June 14, 2019   Link
  • -1
    My InterpretationAs another Christian I wanted to say that I lost a lot of interest in the band after becoming a Christian - to the point where I stopped listening altogether. I know I know, a bit of an overreaction. But that was just for a time, out of my own overzealous approach to things. These days I evalutae music on a song-by-song basis. I don't see anything outside blatantly anti-Christian here - but I do feel Neil might be giving a jab with the "trust not in your own understanding" part. There was a period in my life when I didn't believe, as I do now, and remember what it was like. I don't hate myself thinking back to that, and I certainly don't hate Neil either. He's on a search and no doubt has a lot of scars and pain he's working through. There's even characters in the bible who have vented their frustration towards God. In the song "The Stars Look Down" I really feel Neil does know God exists - otherwise why would he spend so much time and songs focused on Him. There's been people far more against Christians in the past, who have done a complete turn around later in life. Neil's story is far from over. As for the story of this particular song. The "angels" in this for me are basically false idols offering false hope. So I relate to the song that way - agreeing that there's a lot of false idols setup which is nothing more than human religion. There's a lot of that going on in groups thumping the bible (sects, cults) which have given genuine believers in Christ a bad name. I feel a lot of frustration and anger when I see how these groups hurt people. So I can to some degree relate to Neil this way. So that's how I can listen to this song, interpreting it that way. Another reason why I do so, is because of the other song "Carnies" where "sometimes the angels punish us by answering our prayers" which shows that these were indeed false idols, offering false hope. Neil seems to view every religion that way. For all but one, he's actually correct. He's simply got the Christian faith thrown out with the bathwater. That's what I believe. You're welcome to believe whatever you want :-)
    jonathanvdon February 25, 2014   Link
  • -2
    General CommentSo, Neil takes the "I hate Christians" route out. He doesn't just disagree with them. His anonymity here makes it too obvious. If it weren't for the line from the Bible, this could easily be seen as another 2112 (it really is, just with God, not the music industry being the "bad guy"). One thing I don't get: what on earth did any Christians ever do to Neil that he should lash out like this? I mean, did they hit him with a Bible or something? Neil has shown himself to be a very bitter man, which makes it difficult for me to appreciate their music the way I used to. In high school, they were my idols, people I connected with, because the Subdivisions song was very true to what I was dealing with. I'm an Orthodox Christian with relatively strict moral principles, so I didn't party or go to certain movies like my fellow classmates did. I only keep in touch with two from high school, really. I mean to say...Christians never did Neil Peart wrong! All we want to do is support Rush's music and then he slaps us in the face. What's up with that? Well, those are my thoughts on this song, and the album as a whole, given it's the theme of it. And, even though jimcornete sounds like he may just be a moron, he makes some good points.
    Findolion October 26, 2013   Link
  • -3
    My OpinionThe album Clockwork Angels has really really broken my fan-ship of Rush....and having me question if I'm a fan of theirs anymore. I have been to EVERY local concert of Rush since the 1983 Signals Tour. I've seen them in concert, I think, 36 times.

    When I played the song BU2b and read along with the song for the first time, I gasped at what I heard:

    "All is for the best
    Believe in what we're told
    Blind man in the market
    Buying what we're sold
    Believe in what we're told
    Until our final breath
    While our loving Watchmaker
    Loves us all to death"

    After researching this further on the internet, I come to find out Neil Peart is heavily influenced by an atheist (name escapes me) who wrote books that the only form of god is "Time". The books refer to this god of time as the "watchmaker". Meaning, you live your life, you love and do the best that you can, then you die...and zap....thats it. you dont exist anymore. No heaven, no hell. That there is no God of the Bible.

    And what's on the front album cover? A big clock/watchface which, in military time, is 21:12. 21st hour, 12th min. Clever, yes.... but it still goes back to this atheist theme of god being just time. just waiting for our time to live and love and then to die into nothingness. I'm unbelieveably ashamed to even think along those lines.

    But in a different interview about his song "Faithless" on Snakes and Arrows Neil states; "You just become adaptable and try to lead a good life in ways that make sense, regardless. Because I know at the end of it, if I’m going to meet Jesus or Allah or Buddha, I’m going to be all right.” Really Neil? Sound to me like you are sitting on the agnostic fense not even choosing who represents God....Jesus, Allah or Buddha.

    My soul just HURT after researching this as I'm a true believer in God of the Bible. I'm also believe the only way to have a relationship with God is starting with a relationship with Jesus Christ. (i know, i know.... you're thinking I'm a Bible-thumper....Jesus-freak! I'm not. I've lived a horrible, terrible, very sinful life)

    Like Neil, I have suffered great pain and suffering in my life. To the point, where I had daily panic attacks. Such panic and anxiety that it led me to lose my job and drove me to become a hermit in my own house.....full of depression and guilt.

    I understand Neil's pain of losing his daughter in an auto-crash and his wife to cancer within months of each other in the late 1990s. But I'm thinking Neil ran in one direction away from God. In fact his actions is that he took a year off to drive his motorcycles across all of North America. If that's his way of dealing with the pain, by running all over North America, who an I to cast the first stone.

    With these last two albums, its my interuptation that Neil's soul is lost. Many songs and lyrics reflect that he hurts, doesn't understand his hurt..... maybe because he hasn't let God of the Bible into his heart to help heal him. Who am I to say though, that's between him, his beliefs and the God I believe in.

    I personally have run the other way TOWARDS God in the midst of pain and panic and anxiety.....I have run TOWARDS what I was "Brought Up To Believe!".....and God is now rebuilding me from the inside out by trusting and believing in Him. I have invited God to work with my pain from with inside me. And God is changing my life in sooooooo many ways. Awesome ways..... Too personal to go into here on this post.

    I'm very disappointed reading into the lyrics of the title song, Clockwork Angels.....where Neil pretty much questions people who raise their hands to the skies to praise and be thankful to God for all their blessings:

    "You promise every treasure, to the foolish and the wise
    Goddesses of mystery, spirits in disguise
    Every pleasure, we bow and close our eyes
    Clockwork angels, promise every prize

    Clockwork angels, spread their arms and sing
    Synchronized and graceful, they move like living things
    Goddesses of Light, of Sea and Sky and Land
    Clockwork angels, the people raise their hands
    .....As if to fly"

    In these lyrics I interupt the meaning that those who believe and raise their hands to the skies in belief of God and his Angels are wasting their time..... Again, thinking I don't believe it and don't want to listen to.

    I was also very very disappointed when Geddy Lee was asked a question about God and his answer was, "the only time I've ever prayed was on the tennis court."

    All very disappointing from the members of Rush who all have been given such AWESOME musical talents from God. Just think how many lives the members of Rush touch, yet they are ungrateful to God for their musical talents.

    As for my 37th concert of Rush, which is scheduled to appear at Riverbend July 2nd, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio...... my concert streak ends right here and now.....as I have to make a stand for what I believe in: the God of the Bible...and can't invest $100 of my own money on a band that sits on the AGNOSTIC fence of life.

    I love the members of Rush, Geddy, Neil and Alex as brothers of God's creation. I'll pray for them that they might one day find their own true meanings within their own lives......

    Wishing and praying all of you, as you read this, to seek out your own answers to your own life. I challenge you to just ask God to enter your life and make a difference....then sit back and watch what happens ;)
    jimcorneteon March 18, 2013   Link

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