Sunday, February 28, 2010

When death surrounds us

Image courtesy of Reckonings, John Roosevelt Boettiger

This week I am mourning the tragic passing of a friend who died young, leaving a teenage daughter, a loving partner and grieving family. A profound melancholia and sadness has taken me since I heard the news. In our 20's and 30's we spent time together, although less in recent years. It's a reminder that I have reached a stage of life when more and more people from my earlier life are dying.

At times like these poetry and music provide some solace. Two pieces provide some comfort. In The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry I read his poem Ripening
The longer we live together
the larger death grows around us
How many we know by now
who are dead! We, who were young,
now court the cost of having been.
And yet as we know the dead
we grow familiar with the world
Bob Dylan's song Not Dark Yet from his 1997 CD Time out Of Mind has been playing over and over. There is a profound somberness to the song, the result of its musical construction (drums, organ and guitar), that a evoke a funeral cortege* and Dylan's vocal style which is contemplative and world-weary. The lyrics are, as always, eloquent, obscure and ambiguous.

In the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia Michael Gray has this to say about the song:
"If you were asked for a work that expresses with dignity and fortitude the conviction that only decline lies ahead- decline of your powers and your capacity for openness to the world of colour and feeling- you could hardly ask for a better attempt than this: a better fusion of scrupulously concentrated singing, fittingly contemplative melody and resonant words"

Not Dark Yet

Bob Dylan

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 it’s getting there

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

Well, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree
I’ve followed the river and I got to the sea
I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes
Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

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
* This point is made by Michael Gray in the Bob Dylan Encyclopedia under the entry for Not Dark Yet

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