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In My Darkest Hour

A song heard in a dream, 1967, by Arlo Guthrie


Arlo Guthrie performed live in Springfield, Massachusetts on November 17, 2007. The indefatigable Emily Joy was there, and reports that he introduced "In My Darkest Hour" as follows:

I don't usually write songs in my sleep.

There was one time, though. I was sleeping, and in my sleep I was dreaming, and in my dream somebody was singin' this song.

When I woke up, I wrote it down...and then I went back to sleep. And when I woke up again the next morning, there was this song sittin' there...and I didn't know if it song, or what?

But then I thought, what the heck. It's my dream.


It's the tenth of January and I still ain't had no sleep.
She comes waltzing in the nighttime made of wings;
She is dressed up like a bandit with a hundred sparkling rings,
Looking for my company to keep.
Coming closer to me, she doesn't say a word,
In the shadow of the carved rock tower
Where the sounds of the night were the only things we heard
In my darkest hour.

She don't want to hear no secrets; she would guarantee me that.
She knows there ain't no words that can describe her;
With her white silk scarves and her black Spanish hat,
She knows there ain't no way I can deny her.
Yes her blue velvet perfume filling up the night...
The guards are all asleep that watch the tower.
The moonlight held her breast as she easily undressed,
In my darkest hour.

Her father's in his chambers with his friends all gathered 'round;
They are plotting their enemy's demise.
With their last detail done, they await the coming sun
While I am staring in my lover's eyes.
Her brothers and her sisters are all through for tonight,
Pretending that they've just come into power;
But she far most of all, knows that they can only fall
In my darkest hour.

Hungry wings; their melodies, while my love awakens me
In the midst of the sunburst's first light...
Her hands are holding up the skies, as I hid my opened eyes,
Every move just for herself, and that's so right.
Soon I went along my way, with no words that could explain,
As she began descending to the tower.
Her safety now concerns me, her circumstance to blame
In my darkest hour.


Among dream-songs, this one stands out, for it isn't art by the waking mind telling a dream, but a direct dream-creation--an artistic statement born full-grown! And a complex statement: it simultaneously...

  1. Shows dreaming's ability to take the initiative, not just act as a creative assistant! Arlo hadn't gotten stuck halfway through writing a song; he wasn't asking for a ballad. It just came, unbidden. His dream wasn't solving a problem set by the conscious. I think that matters. Dreams choose for themselves.
  2. Deliberately echoes other narrative songs of its era, notably Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower". Each verse ends with the same line, like Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" or Dylan's "Tangled up in Blue." I suspect fans of sixties rock and protest songs will spot more allusions I'm missing.
  3. Makes a political point. The story's not just a love-lyric, but a story, opposing two groups: Arlo and his lover versus her family. Words like "bandit" and her outfit (sparkling rings, silk scarves, Spanish hat) all suggest a hippie outsider but one coming from privilege: a rebellious drop-out. Guthrie himself, especially at this point, was a well-known counterculture figure who stood firmly against the Vietnam war and the Nixon Administration. So I think you can guess who I'm suggesting her rich dad is, in his stone tower, plotting vengeance and power with his cronies. No wonder Guthrie fears for his lover's safety!
But she far most of all, knows that they can only fall
In my darkest hour.
And fall they did, all his crooked crew. Something to remember now, in our darkest hour.

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: dream music - dream poems - nocturnes - dream lovers - dropouts and rebels - castles and towers - families - secrecy - politics - power - presidents - two more dreams of Tricky Dick: Nixon Nose and Nixon's Blanket Policy - Emily Joy

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