by Tony Attwood. Revised April 2018, with links to recordings by Dylan and other artists.
“I try to live within that line between despondency and hope.” Bob Dylan 1997.
Not Dark Yet is one of the triumphs of Dylan’s later work – a pivotal point on the album, the darkest moment (despite the title) which then leads the way towards light.
It is a song that manages to create a dreamlike quality of drifting in and out of sleep, while considering the past, and waiting for the end.
And as such it is in many ways a return to the Taoist concept of “Darkness within Darkness, the way to all understanding” – not least achieved by the way the song stretches itself out, with the unexpected additional beat between bars, and the lack of any instrumental lead during the non-vocal verse.
From the “Shadows are falling” line, we find the simple link between the end of the individual’s life, and the end of the day, to be as one.
Shadows of course don’t fall – they creep across the garden, the walls, the beach, the road. And that’s the point. There is nothing literal, because what happens next, when life is ended, is not real, not in any sense that we can understand at least.
But for the moment time and life are united in a situation – it is autumn, the elderly man stares at the sunset, ready to take his leave but knowing that the time has not yet quite come. Wondering why he has to continue with memories, achieving nothing new, just being.
There are no regrets here, no sadness, not really a desire for it all to end – just an acceptance that this is how it is although at the same time somehow not quite sure why this is how it has to be.
I’ve always had the feeling since I first heard the song that it is hard to understand it unless you have known an elderly relative or friend who is living alone, or in a home, finishing their days with less fun and enthusiasm than you would have liked them to have. The song captures every element of that reality of the experience and the song itself become entangled totally in life. All that is left are memories: “I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal.”
I am of course by no means the first to contemplate whether the source of the idea was: Ode to a Nightingale (John Keats, 1819). Larry has already considered Dylan and Keats, and one might remember the New York Times fascinating headline “Keats with a guitar”.
This isn’t the place to rework the argument, but in case you don’t know it here is the first verse (of eight) of Ode to a Nightingale…
I could continue across page after page writing about all this song means to me and how it brings back the memories of sitting at my mother’s bedside, just her and me, as she lay dying. I could, but no I can’t. It’s still, so many years later, far too much.
Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer – this is the performance which still sends additional shivers down my spine, even after knowing this song for so many years.
What else is on the site
1: 500+ reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews