Nick Drake’s Apocalyptic Pink Moon

Saw it written and I saw it say
Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get ye all
And it’s a pink moon

Yes, a pink moon
Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink moon
Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink moon

Yes, a pink moon

Like many who have been fortunate enough to have heard the beautiful song “Pink Moon,” I have wondered what the “Pink moon” is referring to. It is hard to remember how many times I heard the song before I had my “revelation” of what since then I think it refers to, since I have been listening to Nick Drake since about 1978. But at some point, probably in the early 1980’s, I seemed to have heard as if for the first time the words “I saw it written and I saw it say, Pink moon is on its way.” (What follows is a logical narration for what was actually my momentary realization, because I already knew of a likely literary work about a certain “Pink moon” that fit the imagery in Nick Drake’s song.)

Was this the key? The “Pink moon” was something Nick Drake had read about somewhere! He “saw it written” and he “saw it say.” So where might be a piece of literature in which he could have read something about a “Pink moon?” Also, there were details about the “Pink moon” that he apparently “saw.” The Pink moon was “on its way.” The Pink moon is coming. When the Pink moon comes it will have this effect on people: “none of you stand so tall…Pink moon gonna get ye all.”

To summarize, these are all of the elements of the picture that Nick Drake had “seen” somewhere: A Pink moon is coming that will “get” all people and humble them. So now the question becomes where could Nick drake have “seen” this picture? I believe the book of “Revelation” is the answer. (Technically speaking, it is possible he could have read some secondary source that contained the imagery, but the primary source for the imagery is the book of The Revelation. In the following excerpt I have emphasized the elements of the imagery that are in “Pink Moon.”

12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14  The sky vanishedlike a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16  calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17, ESV)

Some may object and say that blood is not pink, but red, and if he had been basing the song on this image he would have said “Blood moon” or “Red moon.” But if this biblical picture was his inspiration, I believe that Nick Drake probably changed the color to “Pink” just as a matter of his artistic sensibility. That “Pink” works better artistically  is probably best demonstrated by simply substituting “blood” or “red” in the place of “pink” in the narration of the song.

So if the biblical passage from Revelation was the source where Nick Drake “saw it written” and “saw it say,” then the rest of the song was what he saw in the passage and what it said: “Pink moon is on its wayAnd none of you stand so tallPink moon gonna get ye all…”. 

The rest of the song (apart from the repetition) is curious:

And it’s a pink moon

Yes, a pink moon
Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink moon
Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink moon

Yes, a pink moon

The song here seems to change from a past tense narration of what he saw written and what it said, to a present tense narration of what he is now seeing: ” And its a pink moon…Yes a pink moon, Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink moon…

So what Nick drake has done in his song is to bring the future coming into the present by saying that the “Pink moon” that is on its way is now visible. Why he did this is probably impossible to know. But this feature adds the following things to the song, any or all of which could have been reasons he did it. It makes the song more interesting; it makes the song more ominous; he may have actually seen a “Pink moon” some night; it makes the song into a sort of premonition; it is the record of his own reaction to the “Pink moon.”

This last observation, the narration of his own reaction, points to something extremely curious about the song. It is very ambivalent in its mood. Here is the premonition of an apocalyptic event, but the overall mood seem upbeat and almost joyous (in comparison to his other melancholic songs like “Rain Man” or “Day is Done.”) Another feature that adds to the ambivalence is the use of “Pink” instead of “blood” or “red.” The mood that “pink” conveys is certainly much less threatening, possibly almost comforting. Was this the meant to reflect Nick Drake’s inner feelings of ambivalence in regard to the continuation of life? I am not here claiming that I see a definite suicidal tendency but I do detect an ambivalence toward life that seems to be a feature in depression. (I am one of those who tends toward the view that his tragic death was accidental.)

Whatever the reasons for the ambivalence, it seems to ironically add a haunting melancholic quality to an apocalyptic image that usually only evokes fear (or possibly shame). It thus ably communicates something of the psychology of individual mental suffering, in the context of apocalyptic human existence. In Nick Drake’s song “River Man’ we see this same mingling of universal apocalyptic with individual ambivalence in the words:

Betty said she prayed today

For the sky to blow away

Or maybe stay

She wasn’t sure…

It seems to me that much of the recorded corpus of Nick Drake was mainly asking and exploring a certain question. That question was whether it was possible (or even necessary) to harmonize the realized subjective lives of individuals with the received objective truths of Christendom. Rather than trying to answer that question, I will be content here to submit that his asking such a question seems to prove one thing: The English world was certainly “post-Christian” and the “postmodern man” now found himself in a strange new world where the very atmosphere breathes ambivalence.

I had titled this post Nick Drake’s Apocalyptic Pink Moon…

but perhaps it should have been titled

Nick Drake’s Ambivalent Pink Moon

Written by BMC 2/25/12

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Note: A few days after writing this post I noted in a book I am reading the following, which shows the relationship of postmodernism to the religious crisis that I alluded to just above:

“In doing such an analysis I am working from the assumption that (1) the intellectual crisis of our time, which has been visible since World War One and has been diagnosed by Jaspers and many others, is decisively co-determined by the religious crisis, and that (2) without diagnosing and solving the religious crisis, no diagnosis and solution of the intellectual situation of our age can be successful and no clear views of it will be possible.” (Hans Kung, “Theology for the Third Millennium“, 1988, p.6)

BMC 2/29/12

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One thought on “Nick Drake’s Apocalyptic Pink Moon

  1. […] Propensity” posts I presented thoughts on Nick Drake’s most famous song. “Pink Moon,” I touched there upon the question of Nick Drake’s life and thought in relation to […]

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