G.K. Chesterton Inspired the Lyrics for “Hold On” by “Yes?” UPDATED

Jon Anderson of Yes

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been a fan of  Yes. Their sound sort of grated against my nerves. But I got a little more interested for at least one song when I learned that Jon Anderson was reading G.K. Chesterton around the time the group recorded Hold On in 1983.

A friend of mine said Anderson revealed the following information to her in a letter. She was talking about Dorothy Day and how Anderson’s letter set her on the path towards discovering the works of G.K. Chesterton.

I found (C.S.)Lewis’ serious work in my high school library as a sophomore, but the only brush with G.K. I’d had was a letter exchange with Jon Anderson from the band, “Yes,” regarding the meaning of lyrics and the importance of a particular song to me. The library didn’t own any Chesterton, so I was impoverished.

I wrote him in the 9th grade because I couldn’t figure out what the lyrics to “Hold On” meant. His response was actually my introduction to social justice.

So I asked her what it was that Chesterton wrote that inspired Anderson. She retrieved the letter and said it was these lines from “The Speaker”

“In the struggle for existence, it is only on those who hang on for ten minutes after all is hopeless, that hope begins to dawn.”

I asked her what else did Anderson say about the song and it’s meaning?

He told me that the song was about pressing forward into a new world–like moving from black and white into technicolor. We could either accept the end of the world, war, corruption, the extermination of mankind, or we could work toward a bright, peaceful world based on “common sense.”

He wrote–and this is why I’ve always remembered it–that “hang on” doesn’t sound as pleasing when sung as “hold on.”

And there you have it. Something written by Chesterton in 1901 worked it’s way into the chorus of this song 82 years later.

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What’s Jon Anderson reading these days? I have no idea.


An interview with Jon after his illness in 2011.


  • http://www.lesbiansinmysoup.com/ Katy Anders

    Musically, it’s not one of Yes’ better songs.

    But he seems to be someone who has followed his muse wherever it’s led him. Forty-something years and counting…

  • Arizona Mike

    It’s wonderful how G.K. Chesterton’s work reverberates down through the years.

    Mumford and Sons’ song “The Cave” was based on Chapter 5 of Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis of Assisi, as they acknowledged on their website.

    Did you know that Alec Guinness converted to Catholicism due to Chesterton? (And of course, the Grace of God!) The experience of playing Chesteron’s priest-detective Fr. Brown in “The Detective” so affected him that he began to research the faith and converted. He even asked that Chesterton’s famous line about God extending a fishing line out be included in the film “The Prisoner,” in which Guinness played a character loosely based on Cardinal Mindszenty.

  • http://denythecat.blogspot.com Brian Sullivan

    Jon definitely reads a lot while on tour and what he reads finds his way into his lyrics. Usually it’s books like “The Autobiography of a Yogi” or other spiritualised material. Let’s hope the Chesterton is still lumbering around in Jon Anderson’s cosmic mind. Maybe GK’s intercession will bring him to a Catholic khatru?