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  • NYS Writers Institute

Poetry Friday: "Eyes of the World"

Today is the birthday of Robert Hunter (1941-2019), lyricist, singer-songwriter, translator, and poet best known for his songwriting contributions to the Grateful Dead.

Robert Hunter in 2015 when he was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in New York. Photograph: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Robert Hunter in 2015 when he was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. (AP photo)


"Sentinel" by Robert C. Hunter

Hunter was born June 23, 1941, in California. Some biographies claim he was a great-great-grandson of the Romantic poet Robert Burns. He published several collections of his poetry and along with the Dead, collaborated with Bob Dylan, Bruce Hornsby, and Los Lobos. As Hornsby put it, “I’ve loved so many of the [Jerry] Garcia/Hunter songs. They’re just timeless-sounding to me, could have been written hundreds of years ago.”


"He never performed with the band but provided it with the universe of images, ideas, and tales—and all the one-liners, couplets, anthems, and puzzlers—that gave some quicksilver conceptual coherence and old-timey cred to the Dead’s shambling psychedelic Dixieland. He grounded it, if you can say that, in a phantasmagoric reiteration of American folk legend: drifters, thieves, rounders, jailbirds, horndogs, vigilantes, and roustabouts. 'Truckin’, 'Ripple,' 'Friend of the Devil,' 'Stella Blue,' 'Uncle John’s Band'—all written by Hunter. There were very few conventional, charting hits but lots of home runs."


For today's Poetry Friday, we're sharing Robert Hunter's "Eyes of the World," which NPR calls "a lonely agrarian pleasure."


The song's origins are a mystery. Hunter famously avoided explanations or analyses of his lyrics. The phrase "You Are the Eyes of the World" has been attributed to Tibetan Buddhist Longchenpa (1308-1363), and a couplet in the chorus echoes lines from Blaise Pascal's Penseés, published in 1680.

Pascal -- “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.

Hunter -- “The heart has its seasons, its evenings and songs of its own.


Below the poem, watch a live performance of "Eyes of the World" by the Grateful Dead with special guest Branford Marsalis on saxophone recorded live on March 29, 1990, at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.


Eyes of the World

By Robert Hunter


Right outside this lazy summer home

you don't have time to call your soul a critic, no

Right outside the lazy gate of winter's summer home

wondering where the nut-thatch winters

Wings a mile long just carried the bird away


Wake up to find out

that you are the eyes of the world

but the heart has its beaches

its homeland and thoughts of its own

Wake now, discover that you

are the song that the morning brings

but the heart has its seasons

its evenings and songs of its own


There comes a redeemer

and he slowly too fades away

There follows a wagon behind him

that's loaded with clay

and the seeds that were silent

all burst into bloom and decay

The night comes so quiet

and it's close on the heels of the day


Wake up to find out

that you are the eyes of the world

but the heart has its beaches

its homeland and thoughts of its own

Wake now, discover that you

are the song that the morning brings

but the heart has its seasons

its evenings and songs of its own


Sometimes we live no

particular way but our own

Sometimes we visit your country

and live in your home

Sometimes we ride on your horses

Sometimes we walk alone

Sometimes the songs that we hear

are just songs of our own


Wake up to find out

that you are the eyes of the world

but the heart has its beaches

its homeland and thoughts of its own

Wake now, discover that you

are the song that the morning brings

but the heart has its seasons

its evenings and songs of its own




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