"...got to make it somehow on the dreams you still believe"

The Annotated "Comes a Time"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California, Santa Cruz
"Comes a Time"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Comes a time
when the blind man takes your hand
says: don't you see?

got to make it somehow
on the dreams you still believe
Don't give it up
you've got an empty cup
only love can fill
only love can fill

Been walking all morning
Went walking all night
I can't see much difference between the dark and the light
And I feel the wind
And I taste the rain
Never in my mind
to cause so much pain

Comes a time
when the blind man
takes your hand
says: don't you see?
got to make it somehow
on the dreams you still believe
Don't give it up
you've got an empty cup
only love can fill
only love can fill

From day to day
just letting it ride
you get so far away
from how it feels inside
You can't let go
cause you're afraid to fall
till the day may come
when you can't feel at all

Comes a time
when the blind man
takes your hand
says: don't you see?
got to make it somehow
on the things you still believe
Don't give it up
you've got an empty cup
only love can fill
only love can fill

[The following verse was sung in performance at least once, according to Brett Heisler, at the Harding Theater on 11/7/71:]

When the words come out like an angry stream
You hear yourself say things you could never mean
[original line is: When you cool down you find your mind]
sung as When the heat goes down and you find your mind]
You got a lot of words you've got to stand behind.

"Comes a Time"

Hunter has posted the manuscript of an early draft of the song in his archives.

Recorded on

First performance: October 19, 1971, at Northrop Auditorium, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota. "Comes a Time" appeared in the first set, following the first ever "Mexicali Blues," and preceding "Playing In the Band." Other firsts in the show, which was Keith Godchaux's first, were "Tennessee Jed," "Jack Straw," "One More Saturday Night," and "Ramble On Rose." The song never made it into a permanent rotation, but reappeared periodically over the years.

blind man takes your hand...

This note from rec.music.gdead, reprinted by permission of its author:
Date: Fri, 10 Nov 1995 01:55:23 -0600
Subject: 'Comes a Time'<->"Cathedral" by Carver

Just listening to a 'Comes a Time' from '85 and got to thinking about the similarities between this song and a Raymond Carver story called "Cathedral" (or "The Cathedral"). Anyone else notice this? Is the idea of learning to see from the blind a theme that appears anywhere else?

BTW, the Carver story is EXCELLENT!


Tom Zubal

And this note from a reader:

Date: 15 May 1996 09:12:22 U
From: Rob Meador
Subject: Comes A Time
Hi David!

Recently, I thought about "Comes A Time," in particular the line "blind man takes your hand, says don't you see?". It reminds me of a line from a Dylan Thomas poem called 'Was There A Time'. The line I'm referring to is the last line of the poem, but it's short, so here's the whole thing:

Was there a time when dancers with their fiddles
In children's circuses could stay their troubles?
There was a time they could cry over books,
But time has set its maggot on their track.
Under the arc of the sky they are unsafe.
What's never known is safest in this life.
Under the skysigns they who have no arms
Have cleanest hands, and, as the heartless ghost
Alone's unhurt, so the blind man sees best.



And yet another note from a reader:

Subject: annotated grateful dead lyrics
Date: Wed, 20 May 1998 15:28:11 -0500
From: "Shimer College" BBowen@shimer.edu

Greetings David!
First, I would like to thank and compliment you for your hardwork and inspiration regarding annotating the grateful dead lyrics. I recently graduated from a tiny (about 100 students), liberal arts, great books college near Chicago. We like to make jokes about how casual conversations at Shimer College are always foot noted. All of our classes are based on original source readings, so we are perfectly accustomed to integrating a variety of idea. Anyway - as you can imagine - I've been a huge dead fan as long as I can recall breathing. Since I fancy myself a poet and something of a singer, one of the many aspects of their music I adore is their lyrics. I have always especially enjoyed noticing or guessing what their lyrics may allude to. Hence, I am obviously enjoying the opportunity to see what you have come up with... which leads to the real reason of this babbling note.
One of my favorite songs is (as if I didn't have thousands of "favorites") "Comes A Time". You asked if anyone was aware of other examples of the blind man leading or teaching. My example strikes me as so obvious that I am kind of embarrased to mention it, but since you didn't mention it, perhaps no one else has noticed yet. The "blind man" allusion always reminds me of Sophocles' plays about Oedipus. Tiresias is the blind man, as well as the prophet. Although I don't think I have a very good translation, here is choice quote: "If my eyes of flesh are closed, it is so that I can see better with the eyes of the spirit."
I appreciate how you mentioned in your introduction that you wouldn't focus on which is the most accurate interpretation, as we all know where that kind of subjective mumbo jumbo could lead. Nonetheless, if I were you, before giving my suggestion too much though, I think you should check out the Oedipus plays yourself, just to make sure I'm not way off the mark. Thanks for inviting input. Keep up the good work. Take care and have fun!
Smile - Smile - Smile,
Brandi Bowen
Assistant Director of Admissions, Shimer College

This note from a reader:

Subject: The Annotated "Comes A Time"
Date: Wed, 24 Nov 1999 10:20:46 PST
From: "Ed Watson"


Like many emails you get, I'd like to start by saying how totally blown away I have been, and continue to be by the amazing work you have done annotating the lyrics of the Grateful Dead. Your site has become a regular reference point for me as I study different songs and shows performed by the boys.

On that note, I am contacting you today concerning the song "Comes A Time". Yesterday, I was reading on your site about the first playing of this song on October 19, 1971. This was not only the first gig with Keith, but six different songs (all to become classics) had their first playing on this night. What a show it must have been.

I immediately set about tracking down this show through my contacts in the Sugarmegs community (perhaps you've heard of Sugarmegs?). It's a truly amazing group of people and FTP sites. As usual, they came through for me, and by the end of the day I had a great sounding MP3 copy of the show. The first thing I listened to was "Comes a Time", and I immediately noticed two things. First, that "extra" verse you mention on the site is present in this first playing of the song. I think it adds a lot to the power of the piece and am mystified why it would have disappeared. Secondly, throughout the song, Jerry sings "...when the blind man takes your arm...", not "hand". My wife and I agree that "arm" works better in this context as a blind person usually takes hold of someone's arm, as opposed to their hand.

Thanks again for such a wonderful body of work. I also read your resume. If I ever need to hire a librarian, I know exactly where to go.

Have a Grateful Day!


Ed Watson
AOL IM - EdW1964

empty cup

Again, as in "Ripple," Hunter invokes the image of an empty cup. In tarot, the cups represent the emotions, and indeed, "Comes a Time" seems to be addressing that malaise of feeling nothing--being so afraid to fall that you learn to turn off your feelings. "The day may come when you can't feel at all."

The line echoes a poem by W.B. Yeats, "The Empty Cup":

"A crazy man that found a cup,
When all but dead of thirst,
Hardly dared to wet his mouth
Imagining, moon-accursed,
That another mouthful
And his beating heart would burst.
October last I found it too
But found it dry as bone,
And for that reason am I crazed
And my sleep is gone."

can't see much difference between the dark and the light

An interesting correspondance to the line in "Touch of Grey": "Every silver lining's got a touch of grey" might be seen here. See the essay on Light and Dark in Hunter's lyrics.
First posted: October 19, 1995 (24 years after first performance)
Last revised: November 24, 1999