Bob Dylan's "Not Dark Yet" - an analysis by Kees de Graaf - Part 2
In this episode we take a closer look at verse 2 of this song.
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 writing what was in her mind
I just don’t see why I should even care
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.
Verse 2 seems to deal with suffering on a human level. The words “Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain” may be a personal – albeit accurate- statement about the dreadful state of the human condition, usually uttered as a result of negative personal experiences.
“My sense of humanity has gone down the drain” draws our attention to the Biblical book of Job. In chapter 21 of Dylan’s book “The Philosophy of Modern song” (2022) we find a passage which shows that Dylan has been quite familiar with the Biblical book of Job. Dylan writes: “Supposedly, early readers of the Bible were disturbed by the harshness of God’s behaviour against Job, but the prologue with God’s wager with Satan about Job’s piety in the face of continued testing, added later, makes it one of the most exciting and inspirational books of the Old or New Testament”.
Job lost all of his children and all of his possessions (Job Chapter 1). But not only that. Job was “ infected with terrible boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. And Job took a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself as he sat among the ashes” (Job 2:7 BSB).
Down and out, his friends came to Job to comfort him. But these friends ended up adding insult to injury. Job complains bitterly. Listen to hear what he has to say, not only to his so-called friends, but also to humanity: “One should be kind to a fainting friend, but you accuse me without any fear of the Almighty. My brothers, you have proved as unreliable as a seasonal brook that overflows its banks in the spring”. (Job 6:14,15 NLT).”They despise me and won’t come near me, except to spit in my face.” (30:10) “They come at me from all directions. They jump on me when I am down” (30:14).
Job’s sense of humanity had gone down the drain and Job suffered from the same experience as Dylan once described in his song “Ain’t Talking”: “they”-the world- “will jump on your misfortune when you're down”.
“Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain” may be interpreted in various ways. According to the stoic cosmology, of which the philosopher Heraclitus (about 540-480 BC) was the forefather, there is a unity of opposites which suggests that the unity of the world and its various parts is kept through the tension produced by the opposites. In this sense, good and evil, light and darkness, life and death and also beauty and pain form an inextricable unity; a unity which is inherent in creation and essential for the cosmos to exist.
The Judeo-Christian view however, believes that God’s initial creation was good (Gen. 1:31). In the beginning, there was no evil or pain in paradise. Not until man fell into sin, disintegration could come in. Disintegration like death and decay and pain entered the creation.
However, the restoration of fallen mankind in its original status is the most beautiful thing that ever happened in the history of mankind. But there is pain behind that beauty. In order to amend the downfall of mankind, it took a very painful sacrifice. It was Christ who suffered all the pain. He paid the price, not only for mankind, but for the whole downfallen creation.
Paul Simon – in his song “I am a Rock” – may have written that “a rock feels no pain and an island never cries” but that does not apply to this Rock (of ages), Christ. On the contrary, for all beautiful things in the world a price was paid by Him and it is the reason why we can say: “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain”. Beauty, in its true shape, can only be recognized when we see the price- the pain - that was paid for it to make beauty possible again. Just like Dylan says in his song “Dark Eyes”: “But I feel nothing for their game where beauty goes unrecognized”.
But the poet is not in a mood to recognize that something beautiful might be underway: “She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind, she put down in writing what was in her mind”. We do not know if the repetition of the word ‘down’ – in ‘down the drain’/’down in writing’ and the word “kind” in “kind of pain” and in “she wrote it so kind” is deliberate to make us link these points.
Was his disillusionment with humanity caused and strengthened by the letter he received from her? His disillusionment may have gone so far that he had become unfeeling and suspicious of any kind of gesture of sympathy, prompting his bitter response to her letter: “I just don’t see why I should even care”.
It all seems to suggest that you may become so defiled in this world that you are no longer capable to respond to sympathy others bestow on you, you simply do not care anymore. It reminds us of what Dylan once said- paraphrasing Psalm 27:10 - at the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991: “He (Dylan’s father) said, you know it's possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you, and if that happens, God will always believe in your own ability to mend your own ways”.
This may be one of those situations when you cry out that “Every nerve in your body is so vacant and numb” and say: “I just don’t see why I should even care” and you have no choice but to leave things in the hands of God to give you the power to mend your own ways.
In our introduction of this analysis we wrote that the lyrics of “Marching to the City” represent a sort of draft from which i.e. “Not Dark Yet” eventually evolved. What was going on in the mind of the poet when he wrote: “I just don’t see why I should even care”? Well maybe this line from “Marching to the City”: “I been hit too hard, seen too much, nothing can heal me now, but your touch”. People cannot help him, not even a kind letter from a beloved person, only the touch (of God) may help him to mend his ways.
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John Keats: Ode To A Nightingale
— Larry Fyffe17-05-2023 14:02
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My senses, as though of hemlock I had drunk
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
— Larry Fyffe17-05-2023 13:57