Not Dark Yet



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.

I’ll consider the album as a whole on another occasion, but the song itself manages to create a dreamlike quality of drifting in and out of sleep, while considering the past, and waiting for the end.

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. Time and life united in its 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.

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.”

This entry was posted in Essential Bob Dylan, The Songs, Time out of mind. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Not Dark Yet

  1. Jim says:

    Another nice read. Just as an aside, the opening line of the song, “shadows are falling” is the same as the opening line from Warren Zevon’s “Keep me in your heart”, written several years later. It may just be coincidence, or it might be homage. Of course, it’s often suggested that Dylan took the title for Time out of Mind from a lyric in Zevon’s “Accidentally like a martyr”. Just food for thought. Clearly, there was a great mutual respect between these men.

  2. kalev eli says:

    I can’t say why but I allways considerd Not dark yet as a song who gives you hope and strength to go on and move further.Maby because it leads you to a point that is so low in a way that the only way remain is going up.Any how it is an inspiring masterpiece.

  3. Larry Fyffe says:

    Tony Attwood does an excellant job relating the music to the lyrics of Dylan’s songs, but I think he underestimates the influence of poet John Keats though which Dylan drapes his songs in a melancholic mood:
    “My heart aches and a drowsy numbess pains/
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk/
    Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains/
    ….Where but to think is to be full of sorrow/
    And leadened- eyed despairs/
    Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes”
    (Keats: Ode To A Nightingale)

    Now compare ‘Not Dark Yet’ which Christopher Ricks does also:
    “Well my sense of humanity is going down the drain/
    Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain/
    ….Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb/
    ….It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there”
    (Dylan: Not Dark Yet)

    Keats, being sickly, knows how it feels to be on your own.

  4. Larry Fyffe says:

    The ghost of American poet Edna Millay
    is howling too:

    “So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been,
    time out of mind: /Into the darkness, they go, the
    wise and the lovely”
    (Millay: Dirge Without Music)

  5. Larry fyffe says:

    “Katie’s been gone since the spring time” may not qualify for Mr. Attwood’s Dylan opening lines under “K”, but the lyrics demonstrate Zimmerman and the Band are seemingly well aware of Keats ‘La Belle Sans Merci”:

    “And this is why I sojourn here/
    Alone and palely loitering/
    Though the sedge is withered from the lake/
    And no birds sing”

    “Dear Katie, if I’m the only one/
    How much longer will you be gone/
    Oh won’t you tell me straight/
    How much longer do I have to wait?”
    (Katie’s Been Gone)

  6. Larry Fyffe says:

    Ode To A Grecian Urn: John Keats

    “For ever warm and still to be enjoyed/
    For ever panting and forever young,”

  7. Larry Fyffe says:

    La Belle Dame Sans Merci: Keats

    “I see a lily on thy brow”

    Dylan: Tell Ol’ Bill:

    “Left the coldest kiss upon my brow”

  8. Larry Fyffe says:

    Dylan: Forever Young:

    “May your heart always be joyful/
    May your song always be sung/
    And may you stay/Forever young”.

  9. Larry Fyffe says:

    Millay alluding to Shakespeare:

    “Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
    Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub
    Time out o’ mind the fairie’s coachmaker”
    (Romeo And Juliet, Act 1, sc 1)

  10. Bob Lindow says:

    For almost 20 years now, Not Dark Yet has been my #1 Dylan song. In fact, possibly the greatest piece of recorded music ever. Beautifully written, wonderful production, the band nails it and Dylan’s vocal is perfect.
    A masterpiece, it still gets to me every time I hear it. Thanks Bob…..

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