Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not Dark Yet

One of the things that put Dylan on the map in the Sixties was his straight up "tell it like it is" posture that pulled no punches. While the Beach Boys sang about surfing, he was singing, "You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend, when I was down you just stood there grinning" and "a hard rain's gonna fall" and in Masters of War, "even Jesus would never forgive what you do." These songs and others like them were harsh, delivered with both edge and insight. And for some people, this is the Dylan they look for, hoping he will re-emerge.

As any Dylan fan is aware, the deeply self-reflective Dylan has also been present for the duration of a career and the song "Not Dark Yet", from his late nineties Time Out Of Mind album, emerges from the shadows of this kind of deep soul searching.

The song is a lamentation, much like the prophet Jeremiah's Lamentations.

1 I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of his wrath.

2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;

3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

4 He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.

5 He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.

6 He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.

"Not Dark Yet" is about the alienation and despair caused by living in a troubled world. In another place on this album Dylan states, "I've seen too much." There are many in this world with sensitive souls who can identify with that feeling that one's soul has turned into steel as a result of this broken world's harsh realities. Scars, pain, always a fly in the ointment... this is life. "Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear," Dylan relates.

Not Dark Yet

Shadows are fallin' and I've been here all day
It's too hot to sleep and time is runnin' away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I've still got the scars that the sun didn't heal
There's not even room enough to be anywhere
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writin' what was in her mind
I just don't see why I should even care
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

Well, I've been to London and I been to gay Paris
I've followed the river and I got to the sea
I've been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain't lookin' for nothin' in anyone's eyes
Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

I was born here and I'll die here against my will
I know it looks like I'm movin' but I'm standin' still
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don't even hear the murmur of a prayer
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there.

What's interesting is that Dylan included this song as part of his playlist in a set of 2002 Stockholm concerts which were explicitly Gospel oriented, opening with Solid Rock and including the hymn Rock of Ages, among others.

The last line of each verse speaks of an endpoint to this world's sorrows, this world full of lies. "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." As he has elsewhere sung, "Everything's broken" but it is not so forever. Life is a burden, but we have a basis for hope. As the prophets of old stated and re-stated:

"Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail."

(Lamentations 3:21-22)

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