Radiohead – Pyramid Song- Dante’s Journey

Pyramid Song - Radiohead

Midway through the journey of his life, early 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri found himself lost. Roaming a dark, mysterious forest he comes upon a mountain, the sun reassuringly shining on its illustrious peak. His attempts to climb to the light are blocked by three beasts, a leopard, a lion and a she-wolf. Frightened, he returns to the dark forest and encounters the ghost of the great Roman poet Virgil, his muse, who guides him through his journey from Hell to Heaven. When they arrive at the gates of Hell, Dante notices the inscription “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE.” Charon, the ferryman of lost souls, then takes them across the river Acheron, the true border of Hell.

This renowned passage served as inspiration for “Pyramid Song” from Radiohead’s Amnesiac, released in June of 2001. According to bassist Colin Greenwood, it was the image of “people being ferried across the river of death” that caught Yorke’s attention. The song references imagery taken directly from Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven which includes the black-eyed angels, a moon full of stars and jumping into the river. Yorke was also influenced by a visit he made to an exhibition of Egyptian art in Copenhagen, of which he said, “That song literally took five minutes to write, but yet it came from all these mad places. [It’s] something I never thought I could actually get across in a song and lyrically. [But I] managed it and that was really, really tough. Stephen Hawking talks about the theory that time is another force. It’s [a] fourth dimension and [he talks about] the idea that time is completely cyclical, it’s always doing this [spins finger]. It’s a factor, like gravity. It’s something that I found in Buddhism as well. That’s what ‘Pyramid Song’ is about, the fact that everything is going in circles.”

“Pyramid Song” is melancholy yet beckoning and captures the somber and surreal mood that must have filled Dante’s heart as he made his way back to the dark forest to begin the shadowy journey that would chart the course of his soul. The pervasive sense of loneliness conveyed by the chilling repetition of a funereal classical line, the sonic undertow and terrifying wails of Jonny Greenwood’s ondes Martenot (an unusual electronic device) and by Yorke’s ominous delivery is balanced only by the prospect of self discovery, “And we all went to heaven in a little rowboat…There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt.”

“I jumped in the river and what did I see?
Black-eyed angels swam with meAmnesiac
A moon full of stars and astral cars
And all the figures I used to see
All my lovers were there with me
All my past and futures
And we all went to heaven in a little rowboat
There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt
I jumped into the river
Black-eyed angels swam with me
A moon full of stars and astral cars
And all the figures I used to see
All my lovers were there with me
All my past and futures
And we all went to heaven in a little rowboat
There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt
There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt
There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt”