"Calliope woman, spinning that curious sense of your own..." roses logo for the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics

The Annotated "St. Stephen"

Another installment in the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.

By David Dodd
1997-87 Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California, Santa Cruz

A deconstruction of "Saint Stephen" by Dave Blackburn. Check it out!
Copyright notice

"St. Stephen"

Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
("Saint Stephen" composed and written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. Reproduced by arrangement with Ice Nine Publishing Co., Inc. (ASCAP))
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

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

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

Lady finger dipped in moonlight
Writing `what for?' across the morning sky
Sunlight splatters dawn with answers
Darkness shrugs and bids the day goodbye

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

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

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

Fortune comes a crawlin, 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?

High green chilly winds and windy vines in loops around the
twining shafts of lavender, they're crawling to the sun

Underfoot the ground is patched with climbing arms of ivy
wrapped around the manzanita, stark and shiny in the breeze

Wonder who will water all the children of the garden when they
sigh about the barren lack of rain and droop so hungry 'neath the

William Tell has stretched his bow till it won't stretch no
furthermore and/or it may require a change that hasn't come

Saint Stephen

Recorded on

Covered by the Solar Circus on their album Juggling Suns. (1989)

Blair Jackson, in Grateful Dead: the Music Never Stopped, says:

"AOXOMOXOA's most famous song, perhaps because it translated so beautifully to the group's live repertoire, is `St. Stephen,' a cryptic rocker (again with an unusual, irregular cadence, almost a combination of waltz and march rhythms in a rock motif) about a character who embodies the confusion of the period. Stephen has neither the Big Answers nor even the Big Questions. But he is a seeker, with a capital `S.' in his own way. And since, as the song says, `One man gathers what another man spills,' there is still as much of a chance that Stephen will shape his own destiny in a positive way, as there is that he will fritter away his life. In the end, it all goes beyond the dreams and concerns of one person to a higher plan, for example, if Stephen has his own house in order, is that enough? `Can you answer? Yes, I can,' the song's final verse teases, and then poses a larger question: `But what would be your answer to the answer man?" (pp. 94-95)
In an interview published in Relix, v. 5, # 2, the following exchange took place:
"Relix: Was St. Stephen anyone specific?
Hunter: No, it was just St. Stephen.
Relix: You weren't writing about someone, you were writing about something?
Hunter: Yea. That was a great song to write..."" (p. 28)

Saint Stephen

[image of St. Stephen] Illustration: The Expulsion and Stoning of Saint Stephen. From the Chapel of Nicholas V in the Vatican. Fra Angelico, ca. 1447-1449. (The larger version of the image is around 170,000 kb.)
(Other good images of Saint Stephen abound: Adam Elsheimer's "The Stoning of Saint Stephen" (ca. 1600) is an incredibly powerful painting with angels hovering overhead while Stephen gets his head bashed in. And there's a beautiful wood carving by Tilman Riemenschneider (ca. 1500).

Jurgen Fauth sent this unidentified photo of a painting of Saint Stephen in the Vatican art gallery which he took this summer.

From the New Catholic Encyclopedia: "First deacon and apologist for the Christian faith. ... Stephen (from the Greek for 'crown') was a Hellenist, one of the Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora...." He was the first ordained by the Apostles as one of seven deacons. His complete story, such as it is, may be found in the Acts of the Apostles 6.1-8.2. He was stoned to death for preaching that Israel had become more progressively opposed to God's word.

He died circa A.D. 34, and his feast day is December 26.

According to The Dictionary of Christian Art, "When held by a martyr, the red rose signified 'red martyrdom' or the loss of life." (p. 296) However, paintings of St. Stephen usually depict him holding either a palm, a censer, or a stone. (p. 311)

There are quite a number of other St. Stephens. Most notable is Stephen I, King of Hungary (997-Aug. 15, 1038). This Stephen is generally considered the real founder of the state of Hungary. Again, according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia: Stephen was aware that his seminomadic people could survive only if they embraced Christianity. He eliminated all the pagan representatives of the old order with grim determination and quite ruthless methods to achieve this integration into the Christian commonwealth." His feast day is September 2.

Other St. Stephens:

And this note from a reader:

Subject: St. Stephen
Date: Thu, 6 Sep 2001 23:07:25 EDT
From: FIRESTONEPAMISUE@gateway.net

St. Stephan's Episcopal Church on Belvedere Island is where the memorial service for Jerry Garcia was held. Thought it would be an important and interesting fact to add to your site.

Mark D. Firestone -
Cotati, Ca.

Deadlit Topic 84 from the Well--selections

A very interesting discussion regarding the possible identity of St. Stephen as Stephen Gaskin is to be found on the "Deadlit" conference, topic 84, on the WELL. Gaskin is the driving force behind the Farm commune, and was a significant member of the Haight-Ashbury community at the height of hippie culture. Here are some selections from that discussion: (Used with permission of the authors.)


This note from a reader:
Date: Mon, 06 Mar 2006
From: Damian G Stephen
Subject: St. Stephen hints

I love your Dead annotation website. I was born a little too late and kept in the dark too long to be a full-blown Dead fan right now. Am working on that... In the meantime, I love what you're doing with the lyrics. It's a great project. I wish I knew more about the Dead, but I enjoy your pages regardless. I learn something new with every browse.
In the meantime, I came across the song "St. Stephen" this weekend. As you might be able to guess from my last name, I have an interest in things Stephen.
What jumped out at me was the word "garland." The Greek word for "garland" is "stefanos"--if I had Greek fonts, I'd give you the actual spelling--essentially the name of that first martyr.
That brings me to point #2: "martyr" is Greek for "witness," an individual who is asked to answer truthfully.
Why Stephen wouldn't know how to answer, I'm not sure about that one.
Keep up the awesome work,

Calliope woman...

[Image of the muse Calliope](Seated muse, Calliope, Roman, 2nd century A.D.)
The image is linked to a larger view from the Vatican Pio-Clementine Museum, approx. 45 kb.

[Image of the muse Calliope](Illustration from a mural in the Library of Congress, painted by Edward Simmons, as reproduced on a circa 1910 postcard)

Calliope is "the Muse of epic poetry, and chief of the Muses. She was the mother of Orpheus by Apollo or King Oeagrus." Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. She was also the muse of playing on stringed instruments.

[Image of the musical instrument calliope] Of course, a calliope is also a keyboard instrument, usually associated with the sound of circuses and carousels. So a "calliope woman" could be "spinning" on a merry-go-round.

The calliope is an American invention, attributed to Joshua C. Stoddard of Worcester, Massachusetts, who filed a patent to produce the instruments in 1855. They were extensively mounted on showboats. According to New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, "Most calliopes had a limited range (13 to 20 whistles); many had 32, the largest 588. Reputed to have been audible as far as eight miles away, the calliope played popular dances or marches..." (p. 628)


"Bucket hanging clear to hell..."

A version of the ballad "The False Knight Upon the Road" (Sharp, #2) contains the line: "I think I hear a bell. Yes, and it's ringing you to hell." (p. 3)

There is also a parallel to Bob Weir's song "Hell In a Bucket."


This has two associations (at least):
1) Simply a woman's finger.
2) A pastry called a lady finger. Here's a recipe:
About 30 Small Cakes Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Have ingredients at about 75 degrees. Sift before measuring:
1/3 cup cake flour
Resift it 3 times. Sift:
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
Beat until thick and lemon colored:
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks

Whip until stiff, but not dry:
2 egg whites
Fold the sugar gradually into the gg whites. Beat the mixture until it thickens again. Fold in the egg yolk mixture and:
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Fold in the flour. Shape the dough into oblongs with a paper tube, on ungreased paper placed in a pan; or pour it into greased ladyfinger or small muffin tins. Bake for about 12 minutes." --The Joy of Cooking, p. 633.

"Wrap the babe in scarlet colors..."

A version of the ballad "The Cruel Mother" (Sharp #10, version D) contains the line: "O baby, O baby, if your were mine, ... I would dress you in the scarlet so fine." (p. 57)

The Answer Man

The name of a radio show, which went on the air in 1937. To quote from Tune In Yesterday, "The Answer Man was a radio show on which the listeners submitted the questions and the "Answer Man" provided the answers-- that was all there was to this syndicated show. Still, it proved a popular 15-minute entry, supporting star Albert Mitchell, producer Bruce Chapman, and their staff of up to forty workers for more than fifteen years. ... The show was marked by Mitchell's rapid-fire answers, creating the illusion that he had the answer to anything at his fingertips. This was almost true--the headquarters of The Answer Man were just across the street from the New York Public Library." (p. 37)

William Tell:

"Swiss legendary hero who symbolized the struggle for political and individual freedom.
"The historical existence of Tell is disputed. According to popular legend, he was a peasant from Burglen in the canton of Uri in the 13th and early 14th centuries who defied Austrian authority, was forced to shoot an apple from his son'e head, was arrested for threatening the governor's life, saved the same governor's life en route to prison, escaped, and ultimately killed the governor in an ambush. These events, togher with others, supposedly signalled the people to rise up against Austrian rule." --The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed.

Keywords: @rose, @saint, @garden, @light, @dark
DeadBase code: [STEV]
First posted: February, 1995
Last revised: March 8, 2006