Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 6: Dimming of the Day

patreon

Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

doc.gif

Dimming of the Day

Dimming of the Day is a song written by Richard Thompson (formerly of acclaimed British folk-rock band Fairport Convention) and released by himself and his then wife Linda Thompson in 1975 on their album Pour Down Like Silver.

The singer laments the circumstances – a “broken promise” or a “broken heart” – that keep the lovers separated, and implies that this feels worse at sunset: “the dimming of the day.”

……………………………………………………………..

The Contents page …

The song makes use of hyperbole (ie lays it on thick) and the “pathetic fallacy”.

The latter describes an outlook in which Nature is seen as having human attributes – often mirroring the feelings of the narrator.house.gif

Thus her/his house is falling down, and “all the bonnie birds” are flying away just because the singer is having a hard time.

It’s also – if we take it to be a normal love song – a bit self-contradictory.

  • The singer is attracted to the other “like the moon pulls on the tide”
  • The absent lover knows the singer’s “better side”
  • Could be her/his “confidant”
  • There is a reference to the singer living for “the night we steal away” – which implies a plan to do so
  • The question “Why don’t you come and ease your mind with me?” suggests that the other is free to do, and the singer can’t understand why this does not happen

So, if they know each other so well, and are planning to “steal away” together, who broke both the “promise” and the “heart?”

Nevertheless, the imagery of the song strongly evokes both attraction to, and loss of, a lover. Thus it has an emotional impact on the listener who doubtless relates it to their own experiences of love affairs that were beset by difficulties.

……………………………………………………………..

However, that may not be what the writer intended at all!dervish.gif

The year before the album was released, Richard and Linda Thompson had joined a mystical sect of Islam called Sufi – popularly called in the West “Whirling Dervishes” because of the graceful twirling dance that accompanies their meditations.  Sufi has a poetic tradition of expressing love for God as though it were a human love affair. 

It has been suggested that’s what Thompson is doing with this song.

If Thompson were indeed writing within this tradition, then most of the apparent contradictions disappear.

  • The emotional state expressed by the house falling down, and the birds flying away, may refer to unanswered prayer, or to wrestling with religious doubt
  • The “broken promise” and “broken heart” could, again, reflect episodes of doubt – and therefore alienation from God – in the singer’s past
  • The power in the attraction of the Moon for the tide may reflect God’s power
  • God would obviously know the singer’s “better side”
  • The “confidant” reference could apply to prayer
  • The “night we steal away” could refer to the singer’s departure from this life

One part of the song, however, doesn’t seem to fit this analysis: “Why don’t you come and ease your mind with me?”

What comfort could Richard Thompson offer God? And why would God need such mind easing?doubt.gif

I shall leave it to you, the listener, to decide. Let me know how you get on! 

……………………………………………………………..

Lend an ear and an eye …

eye.gif Dimming of the Day

Richard & Linda Thompson © 1975 Richard Thompson

Dimming.jpg

……………………………………………………………..

A most Shakespearean metre …

With only some small variation, the song is written in the Swan of Avon’s favourite form: iambic pentametre – which regular readers, and the classically attuned, will know means dah-DUMs per line!

The variations occur in V1-L1 – foot

  • This old house is falling down around my ears

where the first foot (as we say in the trade) is an anapest  (that’s the one that goes dah-dah-DUM).

And there’s another anapest in  Bridge2-L2

  • Come the night you could be my confidant

……………………………………………………………..

V2-L2 and Bridge2-LL1&2 both omit the first “dah” of the iamb in the lyric, but the music fills the gap, so the rhythm is maintained.

In fact, I have a sense of Thompson wrestling to get it as close to a perfect iambic pentametre as he could, because V1-L3 deliberately abbreviates the rhythmically inappropriate but semantically correct

  • “When all my will is gone, you hold me in your sway”

to

  • “When all my will is gone, you hold me sway” 

which makes no literal sense, and depends wholly on that old chestnut
“You know what I mean …” to permit Thompson to get away with it.

It’s a pity because “My will is gone, you hold me in your sway” would have done perfectly well. Maybe he was having a hard day!

……………………………………………………………..

Rhyme Time …

The rhyme  pattern is absolutely solid all the way through. It’s in rhyming couplets – so the end-rhymes go 
A  A  B  B  C  C  D  D  etc., e.g.

rt.gif

  • ears, tears
  • sway, day
  • tide, side
  • apart, heart etc.

……………………………………………………………..

Modulation matters …

The tune is very nicely put together. The song stakes out the same folk-ish territory that Fairport Convention inhabited musically.

So the verse has a simple construction using the three principal chords of the key of F: that is F majorBb major, and C major.

Stylistically, the type of accompaniment, and the flavour of the melody sung over that, are very much in the tradition of the Celtic ballads Richard Thompson learned from his Scottish aficionado musician father.

Then the bridge slides almost imperceptibly into the key of C major, making use of the fact that the  chord is common to both keys.

Then it does exactly the same thing in reverse to get back into F for the next verse.

That key change is not so typical of the folk tradition, but he does it so smoothly, you hardly notice. Round of applause for Mr T.!

……………………………………………………………..

gavel.gif

The verdict? …

The lyric could do with some tidying up from the point of view of logic and grammar, but succeeds in evoking the desired emotional response, so maybe logic isn’t everything!

Otherwise, Dimming of the Day is extremely tightly constructed, closely approaching a perfect iambic pentametre, and has an appealingly folky melody with a well-executed key modulation in the bridge.

There’s no chorus, but the title, repeated 4 times in the course of a relatively brief song, and strongly placed at the end of each verse, functions as an effective and memorable hookline.

And, of course, you can’t argue with popularity. 

Dimming of the Day has been covered by, amongst others, The Corrs, Bonnie Raitt, Mary Black, Emmylou Harris, The Blind Boys of Alabama, David Gilmour, Tom Jones, and Alison Krauss.

Can’t argue with that. A hit! A very palpable hit!

……………………………………………………………..moose.gif

Next time, we’ll examine another of my own mousterworks!

……………………………………………………………..

Click here for next page.

……………………………………………………………..

Click here to return to Home page

Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s