Sometimes it feels like Bob Dylan says: "I practice a faith that's long been abandoned, ain't no altars on this long and lonesome road"

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Bob Dylan's "Not Dark Yet" - an analysis by Kees de Graaf - Part 4 (Final part).

In this final episode we take a closer look at verse 4.

Verse 4.

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

The words "I was born here and I'll die here against my will" are a paraphrase of a Talmudic passage from the Pirkei Avot , Chapter 4, verse 22 which reads: "Let not your heart convince you that the grave is your escape; for against your will you are formed, against your will you are born, against your will you live, against your will you die, and against your will you are destined to give a judgement and accounting before the king, king of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He". (Source: Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter Four - Chabad.org).

However, the context of this passage from the Pirkei Avot deals with divine judgement and the impossibility to escape from it. Therefore, the following passage from the Biblical book of Job also seems appropriate as a backdrop for these words because it deals with the fundamental existential question Job raises to God because of his immense suffering. This passage reads:
Why then did You bring me from the womb? Oh, that I had died, and no eye had seen me! If only I had never come to be, but had been carried from the womb to the grave. Are my days not few? Withdraw from me, that I may have a little comfort, before I go—never to return—to a land of darkness and gloom, to a land of utter darkness, of deep shadow and disorder, where even the light is like darkness”( Job 10:18-22 BSB).

In a certain way- and at least partly- the words "I was born here and I'll die here against my will" may also apply to the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. In Gethsemane Jesus fell on his face (cf.“Crawling down the avenue” as it says in “Make You Feel My Love”) and prayed to God saying: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Mat. 26:39-44) NLT). On the other hand, we should not forget that Jesus gave Himself voluntarily, out of love, as a sacrificial lamb (cf. Hebrews 10:7; Psalm 40:7-9).
They say that the words “I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still” have something to do with reincarnation as formulated in the kabbalistic teaching on “gilgul” which is the Hebrew word for “cycle” or “wheel”. One of the properties of a wheel is that it can be stationary and at the same time move by revolving round its axe.

The line “I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still” also draws our attention to the handout of an interesting lecture on the internet from the Rabbi Yossi Paltiel called "The Crime of Standing Still". The idea behind this kabbalistic thought may be that whereas angels are “standing still” and so to say remain in an unchanged and static position towards God, the human soul however, when it came into this world and was unified with the body, attained the capacity to move forward.

According to Rabbi Yossi Paltiel, the human soul, when it entered the earth changed its position from “standing still” to action. God created a world of action in which a person can change his heart from one pole to the another, from evil to good, from darkness to Light etc. “Standing still” and not moving in this world would mean for a person that he or she produces no fruit at all to God.

When it says “I know it looks like I’m moving” this ‘movement’ may be an allusion to the greatest booster of all movement and action: prayer. Then the picture of a Jew swaying to and fro in prayer or religious study comes to mind. In this respect we should not forget that when Jews are in prayer they do not kneel down – like (some) Christians and the Muslims do- but they “stand” in prayer.

When we follow this train of thought “I know it looks like I’m moving” may mean that although it looks as if he is praying- because his body moves to and fro – yet he is not finding any words for his prayer and he is “standing still”, unable to produce anything at all, not even “the murmur of a prayer”.

The poet is “Standing still” because “Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb”, which means that he is so traumatized that he has become completely apathetic, no longer capable to respond to any external stimulus. It even goes so further than that when he says: “I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from”. Some say that this line hints again at the kabbalistic gilgul teachings on reincarnation in which the loss of memory is associated with the transition from pre-existence to re-birth. If this were true the “here” would mean “this world”.

The words “I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from” echo a Laurel and Hardy film “Beau Hunks” (1931) in which Oliver, dumped by his girlfriend, joins the Foreign Legion “to forget”. When they get to Fort Arid in the desert, Stan confesses that he has “forgotten what we came here to forget”.

Within the context of the song we feel that the words “I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from” can best be interpreted as the subconscious feeling fallen man still has that something is terribly wrong with this world and that somehow he is part of it. He has gone astray and desperately tries to find a way to get away from it, but he is unable to break free. He has forgotten what the key is to get out of trouble. He needs help from above but is not aware of it.

“Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer” takes us one more time back to the “Darkness at the break of Noon” (cf. Matt. 27:45), to Jesus on the Cross. Jesus was forsaken by God the Father (Matt. 27:46). All lines of communication with God -which were so vital for Jesus- were broken. Prayer to God, even the “a murmur of a prayer” was made impossible. The door was closed for Him.

Here again, at the end of the poem, when it says “Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer”, we reach the point where “Darkness” was no longer “getting there” it actually had gotten there. It could not have been any darker than this.

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Published on: 29-05-2023 11:45:23

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That in the New Testament, a human sacrifice (Jesus, God's son)is needed to appease the Father ( David's sacrifice of an animal will no longer do) is a bit troubling.

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Larry Fyffe31-05-2023 11:30

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