St. Stephen: “What Would Be the Answer to the Answer Man?”

I figured this would be another good opportunity to use tarot cards to illustrate a famous poem (or in this case, song lyrics). The Biblical “Deacon Stephen” was stoned to death for his heretical beliefs; his theological adversaries couldn’t best him in debate so they killed him. This is arguably my favorite Grateful Dead song because of its metaphysical flourishes (and for those of you who appreciate early Dead more than their later stuff, this one from 1969 is a treat). The card-to-verse correlation was more difficult than I thought it would be; Hunter’s imagery is evocative but slightly skewed, as might be expected from a hippie songwriter of that era. Also, some of the tarot images were interchangeable for my purpose, and I kept shifting a number of them around for a better fit while using each one only once. See if you can figure out why I picked the ones I did. I used the Albano-Waite RWS for this exercise.

“St. Stephen”
[Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia & Phil Lesh]

Saint Stephen with a rose
In and out of the garden he goes
Country garland in the wind and the rain
Wherever he goes, the people all complain

Fool, 9 of Pentacles, 4 of Wands, 5 of Pentacles

Stephen prospered in his time
Well he may and he may decline
Did it matter? Does it now?
Stephen would answer if he only knew how

9 of Cups, 8 of Cups, 4 of Swords, 2 of Swords

Wishing well with a golden bell
Bucket hanging clear to Hell
Hell halfway ‘twixt now and then
Stephen fill it up and lower down
And lower down again

Star, Devil, Moon, Hanged Man

Ladyfinger dipped in moonlight
Writing “What for?” across the morning sky
Sunlight splatters dawn with answers
Darkness shrugs and bids the day good-bye
Speeding arrow, sharp and narrow
What a lot of fleeting matters you have spurned
Several seasons with their treasons
Wrap the babe in scarlet covers, call it your own

High Priestess, Ace of Swords, 9 of Swords, 8 of Wands, 7 of Swords, Sun

Did he doubt or did he try?
Answers aplenty in the bye and bye
Talk about your plenty, talk about your ills
One man gathers what another man spills

7 of Cups, 7 of Wands, Death, 10 of Pentacles, 3 of Swords, 6 of Pentacles

Saint Stephen will remain
All he’s lost he shall regain
Seashore washed by the suds and foam
Been here so long he’s got to calling it home

Hermit, Judgement, Ace of Cups, 10 of Cups

Fortune comes a-crawling, Calliope woman
Spinning that curious sense of your own
Can you answer? Yes I can
But what would be the answer to the answer man?

Wheel of Fortune, Empress, Justice, Magician

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