“Not Dark Yet” (1997)

In not “Not Dark Yet”, Dylan unites atmosphere and tone so well. Most of the song, except for the third verse, captures a person acted upon by events, subjugated to fate.  In the third verse, he admits to going places, London, Paris, and following a river and making it to a sea. Elsewhere, he’s been stagnant, framed by birth and death, events he feels powerless to control.

What Dylan definitely wills in this song is many rhymes; each two lines are couplets, and he sings each one in such an unforced fluent and achingly beautiful tone.  Yes, the next to last verse shows his movement from Paris to the sea, but the speaker’s mind is stagnant, numb even.  He sings

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

(love that “numb”/”from” rhyme):

Christopher Ricks observes the Keatsian influence in the song–namely to “Ode to a Nightingale.” Much heartache in both, much nearness to the end (not dark yet), fading, even half loving death.  “Do I wake or sleep?,” Keats ends the poem; Dylan finishes the song with the refrain, “not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” “Getting there” … somehow by moving but standing still.

This song never fails to be moving.  In case you want to be moved again by it, here’s the official video:

 

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