Not Dark Yet: Reflections on Dylan’s Song of Despair
Something I’ve often wondered is why we’re so fascinated by things that frighten us. When I say “we” I do not mean to suggest that this is universal, but it does seem fairly pervasive. When sitting around a campfire we enjoy ghost stories that succeed in actually scaring us. We get a rush out of the horrors that give us nightmares. It’s a strange thing when we’re forced to choose between competing desires, whether to cover our eyes or to stare.
Sometimes I wonder if Death, or what is euphemistically called the Void or the Grim Reaper, is the real horror behind many of these stories and thereby the thing that fascinates and frightens us most deeply. Just as Victor Frankl identified the search for meaning as man’s ultimate quest, so it is that death renders all our quests meaningless. Meaninglessness is the close companion of Despair.
Despair is a scary matter that has been part of the human condition from the beginning. The Bible addresses this strangely suffocating mindset in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes. From the outset the tone is set: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Many of the passages in this book were so devoid of hope that Martin Luther wanted to extract it from the Sacred Scriptures.
And yet, the despair found in Ecclesiastes may well be one of the foundation stones of wisdom.
There’s something compelling about despair in a certain sense. It’s akin to resignation, a resignation to fate, to a recognition of one’s powerlessness and life’s futility, a futility that may be the first step toward the humility that gives birth to wisdom. It’s the ultimate undercutting of one’s sense of self-importance, as Borges lays out in A Yellow Rose .
“Not Dark Yet” speaks directly to this matter.
Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day
It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
It’s not dark yet, but…