Shapes of things before my eyes
Just teach me to despise.
Will time make men more wise?
Here within my lonely frame
My eyes just hurt my brain.
But will it seem the same?
Come tomorrow, will I be older?
Come tomorrow, maybe a soldier.
Come tomorrow, may I be bolder than today!
Now the trees are almost green.
But will they still be seen
When time and tide have been?
Fallin' into your passing hands
Please don't destroy these lands.
Don't make them desert sands.
Soon I hope that I will find
Thoughts deep within my mind
That won't disgrace my kind.
This lyric's verses are in strict rhymed triplets, with the chorus providing the only unrhymed word: today. This word stands out therefore, but within a context that seems entirely future tense. The poet seems to be contemplating destruction of the world, an event in which time and tide no longer exist. The poet seems to be issuing a prayer to Hope, wishing he could be bolder in defense of the world. He pleads with his fellow man to cease the destruction of the Earth, and asks that he may find a way out of humanity's disgrace before the “shapes of things” as we have made them. The triplet rhymes may reinforce a sense of sameness, of an apathy that the poet today is speaking against, in hopes of a tomorrow. [In this sense it encourages responsibility in the audience, whereas Dylan's Tambourine Man, "Let me forget about today until tomorrow" is a prayer that a spiritual ecstasy might transport the poet from the last days, evening's empire...returned into sand.] Shapes of Things is an early psychedelic anti-war song, against nuclear armaments instead of against the Vietnam War, but its vagueness only expresses rejection of the world as the poet finds it, and the desire to make it better.
It has been suggested through Wikipedia that the song title bears a striking resemblance to The Shape of Things to Come, the "future history" book by H.G. Wells which foresaw cities being destroyed by aerial bombing.
It should be noted that the lyric is entirely abstract from its title onward, ending only in humanity as "my kind". The body is but a "lonely frame", the trees but a color against the suggestion of desert, and the "I" a thing without spiritual dimension, having eyes and hands and brains and a mind, but no character or relationship. This was the first Yardbirds' single to chart as an A side that the group had written themselves.
An amorphous hope for the future against bleak fears of destruction provides the lyric for the first recognizably psychedelic music, along with the contemporaneous Eight Miles High by the Byrds. (Both were in the U.S. Top 20 at the same time.) Jeff Beck and Jim McGuinn, in separate records, exhibited the first pitch perfect psychedelic sound. McGuinn spread his improvisational twelve string guitar across the entire song, though there were instrumental passages. Beck accomplished his psychedelic breakthrough with controlled feedback distortion of his Fender Esquire guitar while employing a musical form that the Yardbirds called a “rave up”. Originally the Yardbirds had used the “rave up” in R&B numbers, but the improvisational break would take on a life of its own during the psychedelic period. Beck’s lead guitar and its support by the rest of the Yardbirds in the break sounds very much like the basis of Jorma Kaukonen’s guitar work with the Jefferson Airplane, thus forming a bridge to the San Franciscan scene as it was recorded in 1967. [Pete Townshend of The Who also used electric guitar distortion in My Generation, released in November 1965, thus preceding Shapes of Things by about a season. However, Townshend's slashing chordal attack on his guitar in My Generation was more consistent in sound with future hard / stadium / punk rock than with the psychedelic aesthetic.]