Highlands

Introduction

The final song on Time Out Of Mind is again in the form of a monologue presenting the narrator’s thoughts. Things have moved on, though, in that the narrator is no longer obsessed by his failed relationship. His former lover isn’t even mentioned. His intention now is to arrive at a state, represented by the Scottish Highlands, which will make him happy.

It’s made clear, however, that his approach is wrong. It leads him increasingly to withdraw from the world, with the result that there’s no lifting of his former depression.  It also becomes clear that the spiritual fulfilment he craves will only be achieved by his engaging more fully with those around him.
.

The Narrator’s Character

A number of character traits in evidence on earlier songs are just as apparent here. The narrator’s earlier indecisiveness is shown in a ludicrously exaggerated way in the restaurant. Not only can’t he decide what food to order, but he can’t even decide whether he knows he can’t decide! Furthermore his former relationship and his reaction to its break up seem to be mirrored in his rather arbitrary choice of food and his response when it isn’t available. In each case he doesn’t even consider alternatives open to him, but responds by wandering around aimlessly.

An excessive concern for material wealth also seems to be in evidence here, as it was on Million Miles and Cold Irons Bound. In this song he sees even his conscience only in terms of monetary value:

‘What would I do with it anyway? Maybe take it to a pawn shop’

There’s no recognition that spiritual fulfilment requires acting in accordance with one’s conscience.

Similarly, any impression that his declaration:

‘I don’t want nothing from anyone’

is an expression of commendable self-sufficiency immediately evaporates when he follows it up with ‘ain’t that much to take’. The highwayman of Cold Irons Bound is again in evidence.

In addition to implying he’d willingly be parasitical on others, this last comment can also be seen as an instance of his ongoing pessimism. It’s not the only one. Others include his dismissing life as a ‘rat race’ and saying he’s on ‘anything but a roll’. He says resignedly that ‘there’s less and less to say’, an impression perhaps resulting from a tendency to rely too much on himself for company. The result of his pessimism is his acting without any precise, clearly attainable objective in mind. Instead he just drifts.

In the light of all this it’s difficult to see that the narrator has made much progress. He does have the aim – albeit a misguided one in the literal sense he means it – of getting to the Highlands, but he seems to have no more idea about how to achieve this than he had about how to revive his defunct relationship. He claims to be determined to ‘figure out’ how to get there, but even so it’s notable that ‘figuring out’ doesn’t require any physical exertion. One suspects that soon the Highlands will have ceased to matter to him, in much the same way as his former lover has.

There is however some indication that he’s acquiring the self-knowledge which would be required for him to live happily. He’s clearly aware now that he thinks in monologues, something which in earlier songs had been apparent only to the listener. That might be the spur to getting him to engage again with other people. There also seems to be some cause for hope in that he’s modest enough to admit to being ‘lost’ and  to having ‘made a few bad turns’.

Finally, with respect to his character, whereas in Cold Irons Bound he’d only found it odd that he was hearing voices, there’s more indication now that he’s aware he might be on the verge of mental illness:

‘Insanity is smashing up against my soul’

The expression is ambiguous, however. It’s unclear whether it’s his soul or insanity which he thinks is being destroyed. For him to have a chance of surviving it needs to be the former; he needs to realise that insanity is close to destroying him. Even on this interpretation, though, there’s no suggestion that his realisation will result in action. By treating insanity as something external to him he can distance himself from it as if rectifying it is no concern of his.
.

The Waitress

The restaurant episode is important for bringing out further faults in the narrator’s character – including the song’s main concern, an unwillingness to relate positively with others. It does so by enabling us to compare him with, as well as assess the way he relates to, the waitress.

Despite a roughness of manner, compared with the narrator the picture we get of the waitress is positive. She comes across as resourceful since she’s able to supply the pencil and paper necessary for his drawing. Not only can she supply what he can’t, but this has the effect of drawing attention to a failing which might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Pencil and paper are the very things which, as an artist, one might have expected him to have.

We’re told too that she ‘studies’ him ‘closely’, and from this we can assume her impression of him is going to be accurate. That this is so is corroborated by her being able to tell he’s an artist. He, by contrast, comes to an immediate and highly superficial impression of her:

‘She got a pretty face and long white shiny legs’.

It addition to being superficial, this observation shows him to be sexist. Although she doesn’t hear the above description as the listener does, she’s alive to this. Her later remarks

‘…”You don’t read women authors, do you?” ‘

and

‘… “you just don’t seem like you do”‘

clearly imply she sees it. The simplistic and unflattering drawing, and his adding insult to injury by insisting it’s a true likeness, are enough for her to have come to a judgement. That she’s right to see him as sexist is further corroborated by his later dismissively referring to ‘fake’ blondes, when he admits he ‘can’t tell a real blonde from a fake’, and by his reference to the young men in the park as being with ‘their young women’.

In the light of the narrator’s ongoing sexism it’s ironic that the one woman author he is able to admit to having read is a feminist.

The narrator is, then, both unresourceful and sexist.  Instead of engaging positively with the waitress, he ridicules her. His rudeness continues right up to his departure, for when she has to leave him briefly (for ‘a minute’) he impolitely just gets up and goes. It is this unwillingness to engage with others which threatens to be his undoing.
.

The Highlands As Unreal

It’s made quite clear that the narrator is wrong in assuming that life in the Scottish Highlands will more than make up for his failure to engage with other people in his present surroundings. This marks a difference between the song and Burns’ short poem My Heart’s In The Highlands, the wording of whose title is borrowed by Dylan. Burns, like Dylan’s narrator, presents the Highlands nostalgically:

‘My heart’s in the highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer,
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go’

The difference is that there’s no indication in the Burns poem that the Highlands are far from ideal. In Dylan’s song there is.

The narrator’s romanticism fools him into thinking that life in the Highlands would be significantly different from life in America. This comes across in a number of ways. The fire which we learnt took hold of his house in Till I Fell In Love With You is still present in the Highlands’ capriciously ‘blazing’ bluebells. And because they blaze despite the presence of ‘Aberdeen waters’, it seems that being on fire is likely to be no less of a problem in the Highlands than elsewhere.

That the narrator has misjudged the Highlands also comes across in his description of:

‘Big white clouds like chariots that swing down low’

While these are not rain clouds, they are still clouds, and so can be seen as representing imperfection. Furthermore, they are presumably not dissimilar to the clouds at home which failed to produce rain at the time of his house fire. And if their whiteness is the attraction, perhaps because it symbolises good, there are white things where he is anyway – notably the waitress’ ‘long white, shiny legs’.

Even if white were to symbolise good, it’s clear that there’s less white than one might expect. The lake is called the Black Swan – and black often serves to represent bad. It cannot be auspicious if the swan, the one thing one would expect to be white, is black.

Another reason for thinking he has a too rosy view of the Highlands is that it seems to conflict with what he really likes. He yearns for the wind which:

‘… whispers to the buckeyed trees in rhyme’

but his longing for the soft sounds of whispers seems to conflict with his liking loud music so much he’ll risk angering others by turning the sound up.

Similarly his romanticising the ‘horses and hounds’ seems to conflict with a readiness to avoid a dog in Boston on the dubious ground that it’s mangy.

His delusion that life in the Highlands would be perfect is also made apparent in his yearning for:

‘… the twang of the arrow and a snap of the bow’

His romantic outlook prevents his associating bows and arrows with death. As far as animal welfare is concerned, things are no better in the Highlands than in Boston where one might buy a ‘full length leather coat’ without pausing to consider where the leather comes from.
.

Everday Life As Positive

It’s clear that the picture the narrator presents of the Highlands is of a place far more fault-ridden than his yearning suggests should be the case. Conversely it’s also clear that the narrator’s everyday environment has positive qualities which don’t appear in his picture of the Highlands. In Boston he sees:

‘… people in the park forgetting their troubles and woes’

It’s significant that they’re ‘in the park’ since it implies it’s not necessary to go ‘way up in the border country’ in order to forget ones troubles. That they’re succeeding in doing so suggests that their approach to life is one the narrator would do well to adopt.

Similarly whereas the only colours mentioned in connection with the Highlands (other than the blue in the bluebells) are black and white, it’s significant that in Boston people are:

‘… drinking and dancing, wearing bright coloured clothes’

The bright colours in particular are clearly an attraction the Highlands lack.

It’s not the case, then, that ‘the party’s over’, as the narrator puts it. On the contrary, everyday life seems to have at least as much to recommend it as life in the Highlands.
.

Religious  Imagery

The narrator’s misguided attempt to achieve spiritual fulfilment in the Highlands is reflected in the song by the use of traditional religious images. On one level the Highlands represent a better existence which the narrator thinks is achievable by turning his back on his present surroundings. On another, they represent an ideal state – Eden before the fall, or heaven perhaps.

The heaven interpretation is supported by the narrator’s announcement that he’ll go there when he feels ‘good enough’ to do so. It’s also supported by the Highlands, like the traditional heaven, being high up.  The narrator has an affinity with things which are ‘up’ and an aversion to those that are ‘down’.  He wants the music turned ‘up‘ and he slides ‘up‘ out of his chair. Conversely he’s told to turn the music ‘down’ and sits ‘down’ in the restaurant. ‘Down’ here represents the misery he associates with engaging with others – authority figures, perhaps, and the waitress.  Nevertheless, despite their being presented as a sort of heaven, the Highlands – at least as he envisages them – are illusory. What the narrator craves is more likely to be found in ordinary, everyday, social existence.

Eggs are another religious image. Often they’re taken to symbolise new life, and particularly new spiritual life. But spiritual life is not a commodity to be obtained directly by paying for it. Accordingly their unavailability in the restaurant can be seen as representing the narrator’s inept approach to spirituality. The sun too can be seen as representing this:

‘The sun is beginning to shine on me
But it’s not like the sun that used to be’

If ‘sun’, in the first line, is read ‘Son’, the suggestion now is that the narrator’s future happiness will depend on living in accordance with Christian precepts (such as ‘love your neighbour as yourself’) which can be done only by engaging with others.

Earlier, on getting up to leave the restaurant he’d relinquished the opportunity to engage with humanity as represented by the waitress. Far from emulating Christ, he became the snake in the Garden of Eden – slithery:

‘I slide up out of my chair’
.

Eternity And The Present

What the narrator hasn’t realised is that if he engages fully with the people and things of this life, he will in the process be experiencing eternal life. Eternal life, so understood, is to be seen not as an escape from time into some sort of eternal realm, but as life which is lived fully in the present.

Instead of his seeing his life as eternal, in this sense, it’s clear that the narrator sees the world in purely temporal terms – past, present and future. Yet he has some intimation that such a view is impoverished. He says, for example:

‘I wish someone would come
And push back the clock for me’

thereby showing a desire to escape from the present into the past. This desire to escape the present is misguided since it’s only in the present that he can find eternal value (a fact perhaps reflected in the song’s being written entirely in the present tense). What matters is what he does now.  Instead he tries to avoid the present. He even seems to try to convince himself that he’s not actually in the present, but either in the past or the future. So, he seems to be in the past when he says:

‘I’m listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound
Someone’s always yelling “Turn it down!”‘

Judging by the frustrated, somewhat intolerant response, ‘Turn it down,’ he seems to have regressed to his time as a (possibly annoying) teenager. The opposite is the case in the restaurant where he speaks as if he’s in the future:

‘I don’t do sketches from memory’

As the waitress points out, there cannot possibly be any reason to consult his memory. Memory is only ever of use in looking back from the future. Ironically his illusion that he’s in the future does actually show a need the clock to be pushed back. He has, as the waitress puts it, ‘chosen the wrong time to come’.

It’s not just that the narrator has chosen the wrong time (the temporal as represented by the past and future, rather than the eternal as represented by the present) in his search for a better life. He’s also chosen the wrong place – the Highlands rather than his present surroundings.

Despite these confusions, the narrator makes a curious statement which might show that he has at least some understanding of the mindset he needs to adopt. Referring to the Highlands, he says:

‘That’s where I’ll be when I get called home’

At first glance this seems nonsensical. He seems to be saying he’ll already be there when he gets called there! But in a sense this is true. If the Highlands represent eternal existence then he is already there, at least in the sense that his present surroundings can provide that eternal existence. Accordingly, in saying he’ll be there when he gets called there, the narrator seems to have a glimmering of the truth that he doesn’t need to go anywhere to find the sort of eternal life he craves.
.

Failure To Engage

Despite this, the narrator shows little recognition that the Highlands as he tends to envisage them are a poor substitute for the eternal existence already available to him. In the restaurant he fails to properly notice to the waitress. As she puts it, ‘I’m right here in front of you, or haven’t you looked!’ He hasn’t looked. And he doesn’t look. If he looked, it wouldn’t be the case that he couldn’t see ‘any other way to go’ than that represented by the Highlands.

It’s not just the waitress he doesn’t see. He thinks ‘there’s nobody in the place’, ‘there’s nobody around’ and, once he leaves,  there’s ‘nobody going anywhere’.  Whether or not there actually is ‘nobody’ is unclear, but he’s so detached from the world it wouldn’t be surprising if this were an illusion.  Up to a point he recognises this detachment, when he tells us he feels:

‘… further away than ever before’

and that to him:

‘Everything looks far away’

Such recognition is of little value, however, if it’s not a precursor to doing something about it, and for that he shows little inclination. If only he realised it, his seeing what he mistakes for eternal life as ‘over the hills and far away‘ is another case of seeing as distant something in fact present to him.

While on leaving the restaurant he forgoes one chance of engaging with humanity, and so acquiring eternal life, there’s a suggestion that he’ll soon have another such chance:

‘I step outside …’

Since he’s already recognised that he can achieve eternal life ‘one step at a time’, his stepping outside indicates that he’s doing something towards that end. That there is such an opportunity becomes apparent when he sees examples of happiness which one feels could provide a model for his own spiritual wellbeing:

‘I see people in the park forgetting their troubles and woes
They’re drinking and dancing, wearing bright coloured clothes’

He also notices:

‘All the young men with their young women looking so good’

If they’re to be a model, it’s pertinent that they’re ‘looking so good‘ because he’s already recognised he can only acquire eternal life – what he mistakes for life in the Highlands – when he’s ‘good enough to go’. It’s also pertinent that he says he’d be willing to become like them ‘in a minute, if I could’. We’re reminded that it was ‘a minute’ which cost him his previous opportunity to acquire spiritual fulfilment –  when the waitress left him for that amount of time.

There are two reasons one feels he won’t seize the new opportunity. First, he’d like merely to ‘trade places’ with the people in the park – that is impose his misery on them in exchange for their happiness, rather than simply become like them. He’s seeing happiness, like his conscience earlier, merely as a commodity to be traded rather than as something of spiritual value. Secondly, as if anticipating criticism for not being more outgoing, he pompously declares:

‘Some things in life, it gets too late to learn’

– which he’s only too willing, it seems, to believe.
.

Conclusion

The last verse of the song, and of the album, holds out some hope for the narrator. Whereas in earlier songs the emphasis was on night, now it’s on dawn with its suggestion of a new start:

‘Well, my heart’s in the Highlands at the break of day’

As the album has progressed there have been a few signs of improvement in the narrator’s outlook – notably on Can’t Wait where the possibility of adopting a new eternal outlook seemed to have been glimpsed. However, while this song continues the trend, it’s clear that the turnaround is far from complete. He expresses some new found optimism in thinking he’s some way towards getting the life he covets – ‘I’m already there in my mind‘ – but even this level of optimism is unfounded. The hope offered by the Highlands – taken literally as he does -is a false hope. Rather than working out how to get there physically he needs to see that physically, in the only sense that matters, he’s already there. What’s lacking is being there in his mind – in the sense that he hasn’t yet realised the importance of engaging with the people and things around him.

 

Last revision 4.10.2016

Can’t Wait

Introduction

Throughout Time Out Of Mind there has been a gradual development in the narrator’s mental state. This development not only continues in Can’t Wait, but speeds up considerably. At the beginning of the song the narrator seems desperate for his lover to return. He’s no longer kidding himself as he was on Make You Feel My Love that she hasn’t ‘made her mind up yet’. Now he accepts she has and this puts him at the end of his tether. Unexpectedly, however, by the close of the final verse his longing has all but disappeared.

The main aim of what follows is to assess various candidate explanations for this development. These are the narrator’s beginning to adopt a new perspective on the relationship, changes in his emotions and sexual desires, and the possibility of his simply having given up. There will be a little discussion of his lack of purposive behaviour, but some familiar character traits – such as his pessimism and lack of discrimination – will be taken for granted.
.

Time v Eternity

The song begins with a sense of urgency – ‘I can’t wait’ and ‘It’s late’. It’s being ‘way past midnight’ suggests that something the narrator wants is long overdue. We can assume that what he’s waiting for is for his lover to return. The refrain, too:

‘And I don’t know how much longer I can wait’

constantly reminds us that the narrator feels he can tolerate only a limited amount of further delay to his desire being satisfied.

And an even greater sense of urgency might seem to be created in the final verse by the observation:

‘… the end of time has just begun’

If time itself is ending, the narrator’s hopes are doomed.

By the end of the song, however, there’s been no panic. Contrary to our expectation all sense of urgency seems to have dissipated.  The ending of time is apparently no more than ‘mighty funny’, and by this stage the narrator is capable of merely ‘strolling’ through his memories (‘the lonely graveyard of my mind’) as if he no longer has a care in the world. So  in what sense has the end of time just begun if this doesn’t demand urgent action?

One possible answer is that ‘the end of time’ refers to timelessness, or eternity. If so, action cannot be urgent because action outside time cannot exist at all. Instead ‘the end of time’ can offer consolation to the narrator in that it gives a non-temporal permanence to things which he values, but which from a non-temporal perspective are transient. What matters isn’t that timelessness, or eternity, has literally just begun (that’s to view it from a temporal perspective) but that it exists. To what extent the narrator appreciates this, if at all, remains unclear.

The possibility of non-temporal, or eternal, existence also has consequences for the way some of the narrator’s other comments are to be interpreted. Just as with ‘the end of time has begun’, the perspective – temporal or eternal – makes a difference. So for example, when the narrator complains:

‘… after all these years you’re still the one’

it’s only a plea for sympathy if interpreted temporally. He’s saying he continues to love her in the way both he and she originally loved each other. But viewed non-temporally, the years drop out. We’re left with the non-temporal permanence of their original shared love.

The same applies to the statement:

‘I left my life with you somewhere back there along the line’

This can be interpreted non-temporally if ‘back there’ is given a purely spatial reference. The effect will be that the statement now expresses a different truth. It will no longer be saying that his life with her has an existence only in the past. The way is open for it to be seen as non-temporally permanent.

The possibility of his interpreting ‘the end of time’ in this way holds out some hope for the narrator. What matters ultimately is not the future of the relationship, but its eternal (timeless) nature. In the light of this, his claim that he’s ‘standing at the gate’ might be seen as meaning he’s on the threshold of eternity.

Whether the narrator has taken on the full significance of the end of time having begun is unclear. While it’s true he’s no longer bedevilled by a sense of urgency, it’s also the case that the primary meaning of the comments just quoted is temporal. If he were fully aware of its significance, it’s unlikely he’d dismiss it as ‘funny’ or, at the end of the song, still regret not having been ‘spared’.
.

Love

It’s possible, then, that by ‘the end of time’ the narrator has in mind something unconnected with eternity. It’s plausible that it’s an allusion to the effect on him of the break-up. It would be an exaggeration, but it would be in character for him to exaggerate. There’s no obvious reason why he shouldn’t have come to accept that the relationship is over and such an acceptance would in itself explain the lack of urgency evinced at the end of the song.

There is some positive reason too for thinking he might have come to accept the end of the relationship. In Cold Irons Bound he’d bemoaned that his love was ‘taking such a long time to die’. By the end of Can’t Wait it might be that it has died. This seems likely given that in the next song, Highlands, his former relationship doesn’t even get a mention. It would also explain why he sees the end of time as ‘mighty funny’. Given the emotional turmoil he’s been in since the break up, it might well seem strange that his lover doesn’t matter to him anymore.
.

Sex

That he’s been able to accept that the relationship has ended would seem to be supported by a comparable change in his attitude towards sex.

When in Cold Irons Bound the narrator bemoans that his love is taking ‘such a long time to die’, he might be using ‘die’ to allude to reaching sexual climax.* His complaint would thus be about a lack of opportunity for sex as a result of his lover leaving. That that’s the case in the second verse here too is suggested by his answer to the question about what ‘keeps me loving you so’. In the very next line he says:

‘I’m breathing hard, standing at the gate’

The language is clearly sexual, suggesting that sex might his true motivation for wanting her back. The same applies to the expressions ‘the sweet love that we knew’, and even his use of the clichéd ‘honey’, given that ‘sweet death’ is a synonym for orgasm.

Support for the view that by the end of Can’t Wait his attitude towards sex has changed comes from there being an increasing lack of intensity in the sexual language he uses.  ‘The air burns’ is less intense than the equally sexual ‘burning to the sky’ found in Till I Fell In Love With You. ‘I’m breathing hard, standing at the gate’, being purely anticipatory, is less intense again. Already it would appear that a gradual diminution in intensity is underway.

Finally, towards the end of Can’t Wait, his saying:

‘I’m looking for anything that will bring a happy glow’

suggests all intensity has gone. Indeed the final quotation’s ‘happy’ and ‘glow’ both have positive connotations suggesting he no longer sees his well-being in terms of sexual satisfaction.
.

Death

Another meaning the narrator might have in mind when referring to ‘the end of time’ is his own death. If at the end of the song he’s come to accept that his life is over, this would explain the lack of urgency. That he allows death to dominate his thoughts is suggested by his regular use of dark terms such as ‘night’, ‘doomed’ and ‘graveyard’. When he tells his lover:

‘… my heart can’t go on beating without you’

in effect he’s telling her that by ending their relationship she’s killing him. He might even  be interpreted as telling her that if he dies, it will be her fault. That he’d see her as the cause of his death is supported by the immediately preceding line which makes her responsible for the blow giving rise to his heart failure:

‘Your loveliness has wounded me, I’m reeling from the blow’

Since she wouldn’t literally be killing him, we’re left with the impression that the death he’s envisaging would be self imposed. Rather than having killed him literally, she’d have driven him to suicide.

On this view the narrator can end up taking one of two courses. He can either see his life in terms of eternity, and so recognise its non-temporal, permanent value, or reject it by killing himself. By the end of the song it’s still not clear which way he’s going to go.
.

Lack Of Purpose

Given his early sense of the need for urgency, it’s all the more ironic that the narrator still has no plan of action beyond ‘looking for anything that will bring a happy glow’. His strategy for reviving the relationship has been merely to wait for it to happen. Now that that’s failed, he’s got nothing to put in its place. If he does act, he acts aimlessly:

 ‘It doesn’t matter where I go anymore, I just go’,

 and he’s indecisive:

‘…I don’t know what I would do’

It seems he’d allow a similar lack of purpose to dog any renewal of the relationship since he’d expect the two of them merely to ‘roam together’ rather than go anywhere in particular.

His excuse for just letting some things happen is that he can’t control himself:

‘I’d like to think I could control myself, but it isn’t true’

It’s true that he doesn’t control himself when it’s all too easy to wallow in misery, but merely not doing something is not the same as not being able to do it. The context of this quotation is the thought about what might happen if he saw his lover ‘coming’. If this is interpreted non-sexually to mean ‘approaching’, he seems to be saying much the same as In Cold Irons Bound where his reaction to seeing her was ‘One look at you and I’m out of control’. And yet on that occasion he seemed to be anything but ‘out of control’ – he did nothing. Even if ‘coming’ is interpreted sexually, it’s still seems unlikely he’d find it difficult to control himself given the waning of his sexual desire.

The narrator’s explanation for being unable to control himself is:

‘That’s how it is when things disintegrate’

– ‘things’ presumably referring either to the relationship. This is unconvincing. It’s more likely that being out of control would cause things to disintegrate than the other way round. It’s difficult to see why the disintegration of his relationship should cause him to lose control.

Although the narrator realises he needs to justify his lack of purpose, his appeals to lack of control and disintegration fail to do this.
.

Conclusion

By the end of the song the urgency which the narrator showed at the beginning has waned. The refrain has become an expression of helplessness rather than one of desperation.  Although the urgency is associated with a desire to resume the relationship, including a sexual relationship, its dissipation is not obviously to the narrator’s moral credit. It’s not as a result of positive action on his part that he’s no longer so unhealthily obsessed, but simply that his love and his lust have died. He may even be seeing his own death as the most likely way of resolving his problems.

Nevertheless there are indications that a renewal of the narrator’s moral existence is a possibility. Such renewal would come about if he interpreted  ‘the end of time’ as timelessness or eternity instead of as death. Viewed as timelessly permanent, the relationship –  whose loss he bemoans when viewing it from an ordinary temporal perspective – will be seen to have a value which cannot diminish. Ultimately his moral survival will depend on whether he continues to be as aimless and focussed on death as he appears here, or whether these traits can give way to a full realisation of eternal permanence in the things he values.

* Compare Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap and be buried in thy eye”.

Make You Feel My Love

For those not very familiar with the song it’s worth pointing out a couple of things about it before beginning the analysis. It’s the ninth of eleven songs (all by Dylan, and all of whose lyrics are analysed this site) on the 1997 album Time Out Of Mind. These songs seem to share a common, fictitious narrator whose character seems to develop from song to song as the album progresses. A better appreciation of the song will be had by seeing it in the context of the others.

By this song, the narrator is in a distraught emotional state which, at least initially, gains him our sympathy. While on the surface this seems to be a highly romantic love song, as doubtless it is intended to be by the narrator, it is more than that. Throughout, as on previous songs, the narrator unintentionally exposes weaknesses in his character. In so doing he not only loses some of our sympathy, but makes his lover’s rejection of him all the more understandable.


Sees Lover As A Reflection Of Himself

The narrator’s egocentricity comes out fully in the first verse. The opening lines have him sympathising with his lover, but for being in  a situation which is near to what he sees as his own:

‘When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case’

‘In your face’, in its colloquial sense, might seem to apply to what she sees as him in his relationship with her, rather than the other way about. Also what, we might ask, is meant by ‘your case’? The expression has a pathological feel to it, and would therefore be more obviously appropriate to the narrator whose ‘hearing voices’ in Cold Irons Bound suggested he was becoming insane. Also, rain imagery seems more apposite to him than to her. As early as Love Sick he was complaining that the ‘clouds are weeping’, and in Dirt Road Blues he was ‘rolling through the rain and hail’. In applying his situation to her, it’s as if he’s found an opportunity to feel sorry for himself. It’s wrong, he thinks, that the sympathy he gives her hasn’t been extended to him .

Despite this, the language of the second line goes even further, by implying not just that their situations are the same but that the narrator and his lover are identical. The phrase ‘the whole world is on your case’, makes us remember that in Cold Irons Bound his lover was his world – or so he told us (‘I found my world in you’). There he also felt ‘like the universe had swallowed me whole‘ – thereby unconsciously identifying or merging himself with the universe or whole world – and therefore with her. One consequence of this mutual identity is to make apparent the wrongheadedness of the narrator’s self-centredness. By being concerned only about himself, he brings about a division between himself and his lover, whereas if he were to focus on her needs he would at the same time – given their identity – be addressing his own.

A further consequence of seeing his lover as a version of himself is that he makes her lot out to be as bad as he thinks his own is. This is presented in the song by his references to things associated with night – shadows and stars:

‘When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears’

But why stars? Stars are beautiful and not a cause for tears, as the lines imply. Their inclusion is an indication of the narrator’s pessimism – his failure to recognise when things are going well. And we’ve been given no reason to suppose that his lover should be attributed with a similar one-sided outlook.


Untrustworthiness And Other Faults

It’s clear, particularly from the third verse, that the narrator is not to be trusted. First, he seems disingenuous when he says ‘I know you haven’t made your mind up yet’ because in Till I Fell In Love With You he’d referred to ‘the girl/who won’t be back no more’. In addition, the fact that she had reason to leave him makes one treat with suspicion his assurance that he’d never do her wrong. Furthermore, he says he’d known this ‘from the moment that we met’ – but why only from then? There seems to be an unconscious implication that he’d normally be just the sort of person to do her wrong. And when he tells her he’d be able to make her dreams come true, the obvious thing to wonder, if that’s possible, is why he hasn’t he already done so.

Then there’s his claim in the fourth verse that in order to satisfy his lover, there’s ‘nothing that I wouldn’t do’. Like ‘make your dreams come true’ the phrase is vague, as if the narrator is at a loss to think of things he’d actually be willing to do for her. The fact that he is reduced to repeating it in the final verse seems only to reinforce the idea that he can’t think of anything specific he’d be willing to commit himself to.

‘I could offer you a warm embrace’ he says. On the surface it sounds both romantic and caring, just as the narrator intends. But why does he say ‘I could offer you…’? If he were really overwhelmed with love for her, wouldn’t he just embrace her? The formality of an offer suggests he’s more reticent than he wants us to believe.

In addition to being oddly reticent, he seems domineering, even misogynistic:

‘No doubt in my mind where you belong’

This seems to imply that his mind is superior to hers, and the word ‘belong’ implies he thinks of her as his property. Even though he’s referring to himself, the phrase ‘I’d go black and blue’ also carries hints of a dominant temperament. One wonders why the phrase even entered his mind if he’d had no thought of physically forcing her to comply. That he wants to force her is further supported by the wording of the title, repeated in the refrain – he wants to make her feel his love.


Space And Time

In addition to being vague he has a penchant for absurd exaggeration. It’s absurd for him to say he’s known how he’d behave ‘from the moment that we met’.  It’s equally absurd when he goes to the other extreme, claiming:

‘I could hold you for a million years

Even if being held is what she needs, she doesn’t need it for that long. One feels that the narrator is just mindlessly expressing his own feelings. Furthermore, while in one way a million years is ludicrously long, in another it’s too short. Why the time limit? You’d expect him to say ‘I could hold you forever’, and that he doesn’t do so seems further evidence of a lack of commitment.

The phrase ‘million years’ reminds us of the phrase ‘million miles’ used in the song of that name. There he used it to refer to the distance which had grown between them. That distance, a million miles, seemed exaggeratedly long , just as here a period of a million years (compared with forever) can be seen as too short. This inability to successfully represent his relationship in spatial and temporal terms hints at an underlying non-spatiotemporal, eternal nature. That it has at least the potential for such a nature is supported by the notion implicit in the narrator’s language of unity or identity between his lover and himself. Just as this unity overrides spatial distinctions, so the inadequacy of temporal language gives the lie to temporal distinctions.


Need To Change

The narrator seems to recognise at least in principle, though, that he needs to behave differently:

‘Storms are raging on the rolling sea
And on the highway of regret’

Presumably the ‘storms’ represents the turmoil in the narrator’s mind as he contemplates the course of his life – represented by the sea and the highway. Apparently the storms have resulted in his regretting his past behaviour and in an intention to change:

‘The winds of change are blowing wild and free’

The intention seems unfocused though (‘wild and free’) as if any change or series of changes will do. His boast:

‘You ain’t seen nothing like me yet’

shows that he fails to see that change is unlikely to be worthwhile if it’s not purposeful. It looks at best as if the narrator is just going to try out a series of personas, even to the extent of demeaning himself (by ‘crawling down the avenue’). The result will be not just that his lover hasn’t seen anything like him, but that she’s not going to.

At least, though, he recognises that fault might lie with him; there’s been little indication of that up till now.


Conclusion

Like other songs on the Time Out Of Mind album, but perhaps to a greater extent, Make You Feel My Love can only be fully appreciated in the context of the album as a whole. Phrases regularly draw attention to related phrases, and so to themes, dealt with in earlier songs. As a result we see the narrator imposing his own mental state on his lover, showing inconsistency regarding his prospects of reviving their relationship, and conceiving the relationship in terms incapable of doing justice to its at least potentially unified and eternal nature. As in other songs, our sympathy for him is tempered by his constant, and unconscious, revelation of flaws in his character.

Updated 29.10.2019

Cold Irons Bound

In the eighth song on Time Out Of Mind the narrator presents himself as distressed to the point of insanity. He remains as self-centred as on earlier songs, but now appears dangerous having become newly pre-occupied with destruction. Nevertheless, while dark thoughts predominate, one instance of his behaviour suggests he has not totally lost hope.


Pessimism

That he’s hearing voices doesn’t augur well for the narrator. In Million Miles he was more positive about them – they were ‘trying to be heard’. In condemning them there as ‘mind polluting’ he seemed to be treating them as no more than the misguided attempts of others to convince him of his mistakes. In the present song there’s a subtle difference. He’s no longer just irritated by the voices  but, because there’s no one around, he sees them as a symptom of illness, perhaps insanity. It’s as if the world is winning its battle against him.

The narrator’s pessimistic outlook is in evidence from the very start. Time is passing, but he interprets this negatively:

‘Now I’m all used up and the fields have turned brown’

This colour of the fields suggests that it’s the height of summer. However rather than being enthused, the narrator  shows only that he’s aware of life having dried up. And he’s thinking primarily of his own life – or, as he puts it, ‘I’m all used up’. In fact, given that the line begins with the expression which includes ‘ up’, one might have expected it to end with ‘down’ to reflect his state of mind. As it happens, the same effect is achieved by the use of the similarly sounding ‘brown’.

In one way, however, his outlook has become slightly more positive. In the previous song, Not Dark Yet, he bemoans not hearing the murmur of a prayer. Now he acts in a more spiritually positive way:

‘I went to church on Sunday and she passed by’

The result is that he’s rewarded for his effort in going to church by a glimpse of his lover, although the line immediately following shows he doesn’t seem to appreciate this. He doesn’t, for example, take advantage of the opportunity to speak to her. Instead, he just complains:

‘My love for her is taking such a long time to die’

The expression ‘passed by’ above reminds us how, in Till I Fell In Love With You, ‘the clouds passed by‘. There the narrator was bemoaning the lack of rain instead  of acknowledging what could be seen as a blessing. It’s occurrence here likewise suggests that things are not as bad as he likes to imagine – ‘nothing but clouds of blood’.

His pessimism continues. In going over in his mind people he’s known, he seems to exaggerate:

‘I thought some of ’em were friends of mine, I was wrong about ’em all’

Them ‘all’? That suggests he was wrong about those he thought were not his friends. If he’s wrong about them, then he’s wrong to assume everyone’s got him ‘pinned up against the fence’ as he puts it in Till I fell In Love With You. Even so, there are signs of progress in that he’s rarely been prepared before to admit that he was wrong, albeit that the admission here is based on a misjudgement.

There’s a further way in which his outlook has become more positive. In Million Miles the narrator believed he was a million miles from his lover. At least now he’s become far more realistic. He’s twenty miles from her – or at least from the town where he saw her on the Sunday.

Nevertheless he still retains his earlier excessively pessimistic outlook. This is apparent from the refrain and the title which it echoes. The expression ‘cold irons bound’ is ambiguous. It could refer to his intended destination, a place called Cold Irons. Or it could be telling us he’s in chains – bound in irons – and so incapable of moving anywhere. The fact that he’s already moved twenty miles suggests that the former describes his situation better. But the place name, and the use of ‘bound’, nevertheless indicate a perverse state of mind. Even though he’s clearly capable of making progress, he’s determined to convince himself that he isn’t. Exactly the same over pessimistic outlook is present in Not Dark Yet: ‘I know it looks like I’m moving’, he says ‘ but I’m standing still’.


Egoism

‘The walls of pride are high and wide’

the narrator tells us, presumably accusing his lover of being so proud he’s unable to get through to her. The listener might well wonder, though, if it isn’t the narrator’s pride which is preventing him from admitting his own faults. That his pride is insulating him from necessary engagement with the world is perhaps suggested when he goes on to say:

‘But you can’t see in and it’s hard looking out’

This suggests that he, rather than she, is the one whose built up a wall of pride.

Pride is not the only sign of his being self-centred. He’s given little indication that he’s had the woman’s interests at heart. This is apparent when he suddenly says:

‘It’s such a sad thing to see beauty decay’

While he might be referring to beauty generally or the beauty of the relationship, the context makes it seem at least as likely that he’s referring to his lover’s physical attractiveness. If her overriding attraction to him is her beauty, the line might indicate that his interest in resuming the relationship is likely to wane once her beauty has gone. To put it another way, he seems to appreciate her for her effect on him, rather than for herself.

Self interest again seems to be the underlying motivation when he says:

‘Well the fat’s in the fire and the water’s in the tank
The whiskey’s in the jar and the money’s in the bank’

It’s tempting to think that the lines are meaningless – that they’re an attempt by the narrator to convince himself he’s achieved things when he hasn’t. Alternatively they could be taken as an attempt to reassure himself that he’s got what it takes make a good partner – to provide security or ‘protect’ her, as he goes on to put it. But the choice of expression is open to a range of further interpretation. I’ll suggest just one for each half-line.

‘The fat’s in the fire’, a common enough expression, suggests he’s taking satisfaction in the impending disaster he sees his lover as having brought on herself by rejecting him.

‘The whiskey’s in the jar’, though perhaps a way of seeking sympathy by telling us he’s got the means of drowning his sorrows, reminds us of the Irish folk song of that name in which a highwayman misjudges his lover who betrays him to the authorities. The phrase therefore suggests the narrator is likewise guilty of misjudging his lover.

Given that he’s being seen in some sense as a highwayman, ‘the money’s in the bank’ might bev taken to suggest he’s at least glad to have extorted something from the relationship (though it’s unclear what), even though the other person has suffered in the process.

And ‘the water’s in the tank’ reminds us of how in Till I Fell In Love With You he said that his house was on fire. It implies he has the means to put out the fire – whether this stands for his lust or the end of the relationship – but equally that he’s not making the effort to use it.

What’s clear is that in each of his four phrases so interpreted the narrator is unconsciously putting himself in a bad light.


Preoccupation With Destruction

Whereas in Not Dark Yet the narrator’s pre-occupation was with his own approaching death, here the possibility of death is extended to other things. His solution to his problems seems to be to destroy what he sees as their causes. However, he realises that this is impossible:

‘There are some kind of things you never can kill’

 What these things are is unclear. It might be his lover’s present disdain for him, or it might be his ‘love’ which ‘is taking such a long time to die’. Or it might be his lover herself. That it’s his lover seems likely given that ‘kill’ is normally used for the ending of life.

Similarly murderous sounding is the line:

‘It’s harder still to feel your heart torn away’

which, though on one level it refers to the narrator’s broken heart, might also be interpreted as a threat to the lover.

The fact that many murderers hear voices just as he now is suggests that he might be more likely to commit murder than most people.*

A fourth reason for seeing his lover as a potential victim stems from his claim that:

‘Reality has always had too many heads’.

It seems that what he’d really like to do is decapitate it – chop at least some of its heads off. There are two obvious candidates for such destruction – his lover and the Chicago winds.

That his lover is an aspect of reality, and so something he’d like to destroy, is apparent from his seeing her as a world:

‘I found my world … in you’

His reason for destroying her is her having destroyed him – her having ‘torn‘ his heart away.

It’s in that the winds, in his eyes, have also attempted to destroy him that they too might be taken as an aspect of reality that needs destroying. As he puts it, they’ve:

‘… torn me to shreds’.

The use of the word ‘torn’ in connection with both the lover and the winds helps establish that the narrator sees them as equally threatening to him, and so equally in need of annihilation.** But the twofold nature of the task – and presumably the impossibility of taking revenge on the wind – puts him off. It becomes an excuse for not undertaking any of it, and so his lover survives.

That he finds an excuse for inaction is fortunate in that it results not only in the survival of his lover but perhaps of himself. Inaction won’t render his lover an ongoing threat since he’s only imagining that she’s destroying him – she isn’t in any literal sense tearing his heart away. But if he’s right in seeing her as a world of which he is a part, in destroying her he really would be destroying himself. The sense in which this would be so is that, as Donne famously puts it, ‘no man is an island’.

That destroying her would lead to his own destruction is reinforced when the repetition of ‘found my world’ in:

‘I’ve found my world, found my world in you’,

makes us link what he’s saying to another claim involving repetition:

‘It’s almost like, almost like I don’t exist’

Given the near identity of the narrator and his lover, destroying her would be tantamount to bringing about his own non-existence.


Identity With God

Not only does he identify his lover with reality, but also it would seem with God:

‘Looking at you and I’m on my bended knee’

– ‘bended knee’ having connotations of genuflection. This is reinforced by his pronouncement:

‘I’ve found my world, found my world in you’

which, though addressed to the lover, has a religious feel to it. It’s what a devout Christian might say in praying to God. To the extent that the lover is both reality (the world) and God, the world and God are identified. The narrator should therefore welcome being ‘swallowed’ by the world ( ‘universe’) because that will amount to becoming one with God. As it is, he’s too self-centred to relish losing his identity in God. He wants it back so that he can pursue his selfish interests.

That he needs to take a different approach is further indicated in his observation:

‘… the road is rocky and the hillside’s mud’.

‘Rocky’ suggests the foundations of the church (cf Matt 16:18), and ‘hillside’ suggests Calvary. There’s an implicit suggestion, then, that he needs to stop idolising his lover and adopt a more Christian approach to her – that is, having dealings with her for her own sake and not just his. His saying that he ‘went to church on Sunday’ may be an indication of the beginnings of a more positive outlook.


Conclusion

The differences in the narrator’s outlook from earlier songs on the album are subtle. He is still self-centred and pessimistic to the point of seeming to contemplate a violent solution to his problems. However he’s sufficiently in control to be aware of encroaching insanity, and that his destructive approach is self-defeating. Although the language used to present his thoughts suggests a way of resolving his problems, his going to church is as yet the only sign of his taking more positive action.

 * Of course most people who hear voices are neither insane nor potential murderers. Nevertheless that there’s some connection between them suggests that the narrator’s having a propensity for murder should at least be considered.

**The double use of ‘torn’ also makes us want to link the claim about the winds with the one about the heart in another way. The fact that the former is such an absurd exaggeration suggests that the latter might be too. It’s not obvious that having one’s heart broken is worse than another’s loss of beauty.