If Not For You

‘Babe’, which occurs twice, makes the song seem to be addressed to a woman. In addition, some of what’s said in other places could be addressed to a woman. On that interpretation, however, this would just be a love song.

Many of the lines don’t fit that interpretation, however. Certain lines suggest that the addressee is God or Christ – or both. Quite literally, on a traditional view of God,  there would be no morning light if not for him. If he’s seen as keeping things in existence, then without God ‘the sky would fall’ – the sky is in a sense kept in position by him. The same applies to ‘Winter would have no spring’ and there being robins to hear singing. Spring can represent the spiritual renewal brought by Christ. The robin singing would therefore be a sign of that renewal.

The declaration

‘Without your love I’d be nowhere at all’

and the almost despairing

‘Oh! what would I do’

tell us not just that the speaker’s existence – being anywhere – is due to God, but that he needs God’s love in order to exist in a more worthwhile way – as someone who can ‘do’, i.e. be active in the world.

‘It wouldn’t ring true’ suggests that existence would seem pointless if not for a God to account for, or justify it.

There’s a suggestion, too, that the speaker’s life is only worthwhile due to Christ without whom he:

‘… couldn’t find the door

Couldn’t even see the floor’

The reason he can’t find the door, or see the floor, is because he’s in darkness, which – like winter – represents a pre-Christian existence. The door would perhaps be the way to a morally worthwhile existence, and seeing the floor would represent having a sense of moral orientation (since without being able to see the floor he wouldn’t be able to find the door).  The line

‘I’d be lost if not for you’

is reminiscent of the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15: 1-7). Were it not for Christ, the speaker would not be able to lead a worthwhile life. The line which follows, ‘You know it’s true’, perhaps indicates the closeness he feels to God. It’s because of the closeness of the speaker to God that God knows the truth of what the speaker is saying. This hint at the identity of the speaker with God might seem to be foreshadowed in ‘Without your love I’d be nowhere at all’ – suggesting that the speaker only exists as a result of God’s love, and therefore is an embodiment of that love. The speaker is an embodiment of God’s love to the extent that he is an active part of the world, capable of doing good.

The speaker, then, is not just close to God but is an embodiment of God’s will. Were it not for God ‘rain would gather’. In other words, if the speaker and God didn’t form a unitary whole, there would be a different sort of coming together, a coming together of the negative things which Christ replaced and which are represented here as the ‘gathering’ of rain.

Christ brought renewal, and an opportunity for moral regeneration – represented by spring following winter, and the new morning light following the night. This light seems all pervasive since it doesn’t just shine, or shine in, but ‘shine in through’.  The unnatural expression here seems to indicate that this is not ordinary light. There is perhaps a suggestion too in these images that the renewal brought by Christ is not just a one-off, but needs to be constantly  repeated. Spring is an annual event and new mornings arrive daily.

One thought on “If Not For You

  1. It strikes me as rather bold for Dylan to call Jesus “Babe”!

    There’s a lot of ‘reading into” of religious doctrine on the part of the analyst into the lyrics in the article above.

    The song could also be interpreted as rather Existentialistic, and spiritualistc at the same time – Nature, or “God”, if you wish, seems not to be interested in what happens to Mankind, but an individual’s feeling that s/he’s ‘loved,’ and, yes, love that’s accompanied by the sensation of sex, can lend meaning to human existence where there otherwise appears to be none.

    An exclusively Christain interpretation need not be the only one considered applicable to the song’s lyrics..


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