A curious characteristic of some Dylan songs is that they can initially seem unimpressively simple while turning out to be anything but. Meet Me In The Morning is such a song. The lines are short; it’s full of simple expressions found in other songs; some versions omit a verse; and the blues style means that there are as many repeated lines as verses. All this is misleading, however, since a closely attentive reading of the full song will throw up a mine of intricacies and subtleties indiscernible to the casual listener.
Throughout, the narrator is addressing a lover with whom he has fallen out. The monologue form here enables the numerous faults of an essentially flawed narrator to be presented through his own words.1 And by way of a masterpiece of succinct writing (it takes only five words), we’re able to compare the narrator with the woman he desires but maligns. Unwittingly he informs us that she, like him, is attempting to mend the relationship. We find that his own efforts, by contrast, are blighted by bouts of pessimism and recrimination.
A subtle feature of the song lies in the way it uses imagery. The narrator repeatedly refers to travel, bad weather, light as opposed to dark, and religion. However, a distinction needs to be drawn between what the narrator might be using an image to show, and what it actually does show. Further, while some images are the narrator’s, others can be attributed primarily to the fictional writer in the sense that it’s unlikely the narrator would himself have used them.2 Examples of the former include his comments on darkness in verse two, and on the rooster in verse three. One can believe that the narrator really might have quoted the aphorism about the darkest hour, and that actually hearing a rooster might well have prompted his subsequent comparison of the rooster with himself. Conversely, the first verse’s references to a road intersection and a journey to Kansas would seem to serve symbolic ends – and therefore the writer’s rather than the narrator’s. That particular meeting point and journey have no significance beyond the literal for the narrator, but they enable the writer to represent symbolically the state of the relationship, and the narrator’s plan for improving it.
It’s in part through images involving travel that the writer presents the narrator’s plans, obstacles he encounters, and his final pessimism about his chances of success. There are three references to travel in the song, in verses one, four and six respectively. In the first, the narrator proposes that he and the woman meet up to undertake a journey. In the fourth he explains why it can’t be undertaken immediately, and in the last verse the journey is implicitly compared by the writer to a sea voyage.
We’re not told why the narrator chooses the particular place he does to meet the woman:
”Meet me in the morning, 56th and Wabasha’
or what the attraction is of Kansas as a destination. But there’s no need. The real function within the song of both the meeting and the journey is symbolic. The writer is representing the narrator’s attempt to rekindle the relationship. The two roads represent the differences between the couple because, like them in their present state, the roads are going in different directions. And since the meeting point is at the intersection of the roads, it can be seen as representing the initial meeting of minds required for harmonising the relationship. Their subsequent work on the relationship is represented by their journeying in one and the same direction towards Kansas.
We’re also not told why the morning is the time chosen for the meeting. However, it becomes apparent that the process of reconciliation cannot get going before then. In terms of the travel image it’s as if:
‘… the station doors are closed’.
The literal reason for the delay will become apparent from a consideration of imagery involving weather and light, which will be discussed below.
In the final verse the narrator anticipates that his attempt to renew the relationship will come to nothing:
‘Look at the sun sinkin’ like a ship
Ain’t that just like my heart, babe’
The setting sun reminds him of a sinking ship and that in turn reminds him of his own sinking feelings. While the full significance of these lines will also be considered below, it’s worth noting that the narrator’s efforts are again being associated with a journey. This time it’s as a sea voyage which ends prematurely with the foundering of the ship.
It’s unnecessary to attribute the travel imagery to the narrator. It seems unlikely he intends the Kansas and station references to be taken other than literally. Rather, it’s the fictional writer who should be seen as imbuing them with a significance for symbolically representing both the narrator’s outlook and his emotional state.
As with travel, there are three references to weather in the song – in verses one, four and five respectively. When at the outset the narrator says:
‘… we could be in Kansas
By [the] time the snow begins to thaw’,
he expects this to be interpreted literally. However, for the song’s purposes the ‘thaw’ is the thawing of the couple’s relationship. The writer is indicating that the healing process won’t be quick.
In the third verse, weather again has a figurative role:
‘The birds are flying low babe, honey I feel so exposed’
Low-flying birds are a sign of an imminent storm. On a literal level the narrator is providing a plausible excuse for postponing the journey till morning. Figuratively, however, it may represent a setback – a violent, further downturn in the relationship. The narrator is fearing the worst but, tellingly, more for himself at this time than for the relationship:
‘I feel so exposed’.
The third weather reference has the narrator remind the woman of past suffering resulting from the state of their relationship:
‘… I … felt the hail fall from above’
This apparently trivial claim is presumably the result of the writer’s recasting in meteorological terms what the narrator actually said. This is because it symbolises the narrator’s supposed suffering in a way that, interpreted literally, would be inconsistent with his desire to win the woman’s sympathy:
‘… I’ve earned your love’
By substituting the weather image, the writer is able to confine the listener’s attention to the self-indulgent manner of the narrator’s attempt to curry favour, when it might otherwise have become distracted by unimportant details.
Imagery involving light is extensive. It figures in verses one, two, four and six, appearing as ‘morning’, ‘dawn’,’ matches’ and’ the sun’ respectively. As well as its conscious use by the narrator to stand for his happiness, it represents the pre-conditions for any successful renewal of the relationship.
The song comprises the narrator’s words, or thoughts, on the evening before the proposed journey. In verse four we’re informed that the metaphorical journey towards reconciliation can’t begin straightaway because of a further deterioration in the relationship, represented by an impending storm. His declaration in the same verse:
‘… I ain’t got any matches’
indicates that he has no resources of his own he can use to lighten the mood. Instead he needs to wait for a more propitious time. Unable to force the process artificially, he must wait for the natural light of morning. He must wait, that is, until things have settled down before beginning the process of reconciliation. At the moment, metaphorically:
‘… the station doors are closed’
In the second verse the narrator refers to both light and the absence of light in a hopeless attempt to convince himself that despite the relationship’s having reached rock bottom, it’s about to improve:
‘They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn’
It’s hopeless because the word ‘darkest’ serves only to remind him of his misery – or what he calls the:
‘… darkness since you’ve been gone’
By the final verse the narrator no longer sees the sun as representing hope. As the evening sun sets, he’s overcome by pessimism. He compares it, and implicitly his hopes, to a sinking ship. And a ship, once sunk, will be sunk forever.
By the third verse we’re able to appreciate how deep-seated the narrator’s pessimism is. He hears a rooster crowing and jumps to put a negative interpretation on it:
‘… there must be something on his mind
Well, I feel just like that rooster’
Since roosters traditionally crow at dawn, one would have expected the narrator to interpret the crowing here as auspicious. That would be behaviour consistent with his previous willingness to see even the ‘darkest hour’ in a favourable light. Instead he decides to exploit it as a way of providing bogus support for the complaint which follows:
‘Honey, ya treat me so unkind’
Support for his complaint derives from a piece of specious and ultimately circular reasoning which, though not explicitly given, can be reconstructed as follows. First, he assumes that because he is unhappy, so must the rooster be. Secondly, he assumes that the cause of the rooster’s unhappiness must have been unkind treatment. Thirdly he assumes that if the rooster has been treated unkindly, then so must he have been. Having so ‘proved’ that he has been treated unkindly, he sets out to use this as ammunition against his lover.
The rooster episode, then, not only reinforces in the listener’s mind how unhappy the narrator is, but shows up weaknesses in the narrator’s character – weaknesses of which he seems unaware.
The narrator’s wilful misinterpretation of the crowing is not its only significance. A rooster’s crowing inevitably invites one to think of Peter’s three-fold betrayal of Christ.3 It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that there’s another allusion to betrayal – this time Judas’ – in the final verse:
‘… you kissed my lips’4
The lover seems to be being compared with both Peter and Judas and, if justified, that comparison would put the narrator in the position of Christ. However, if the narrator does indeed have the Judas kiss in mind, it’s significant that he doesn’t take into account a crucial difference between it and his lover’s. Whereas Judas’ kiss was a formal greeting, the woman kissed the narrator on the lips. From this we can assume that not only is she not guilty of betrayal but, on the contrary, she is attempting lovingly to restore the relationship.
It’s because he misinterprets the kiss as one of betrayal that at the end of the song the narrator is left in despair.
It’s particularly ironic that the narrator should twice mistakenly have portrayed himself as Christ, for there is in the final verse a wholly appropriate reference to Christ which goes unnoticed by the narrator.
The allusion becomes apparent in the final verse when the narrator says:
‘Look at the sun …’
It’s natural to associate ‘sun’ with Son’, yet the narrator himself doesn’t make the connection. Instead, and more bizarrely, he associates the sun with a sinking ship. As a result he’s too ready to accept that his happiness, which the sun represents, is not only gone, but gone forever. Had he made the connection with ‘Son’, he’d have been more sanguine. In other words, if the sun had reminded him of the Son rather than a ship, he’d have had no reason to suppose its sinking, and therefore the demise of his hopes, to be anything other than temporary.
There is an interesting structural comparison to be made between the narrator’s use of simile in this verse and his use of it in verse three. Just as in verse three he’d made a false comparison between the rooster’s feelings and his own feelings, on the basis of a false attribution of mental turmoil to the rooster, so here he makes a false comparison between the sun and his heart, on the basis of a false attribution to the sun of a ship-like quality. Just as in verse three the narrator displays a propensity to indulge in specious reasoning, so does he here, and in the same way. But whereas in verse three it was the woman who suffered as a result, here it’s the narrator who suffers.
Only on the surface is this a traditional love song. It’s much more a study of a complex character. Nevertheless, it is about love too. This becomes particularly apparent in
verse five where the narrator attempts both to impress and blackmail his lover. After listing a number of trials he claims to have gone though, he ends with:
‘Honey, you know I’ve earned your love’
That he has earned her love is in fact unlikely to be true for two reasons. First, love, real love, is not earnt but given freely. And secondly, the things he claims to have done are unlikely in any case to have impressed her as having earned her love. The things he’s claiming to have done – in particular ‘struggled through barbed wire’ and ‘outrun the hound dogs’ – aren’t the sorts of things one might do for someone else. When one escapes and makes an effort to avoid recapture, one is primarily acting in one’s own interests, not someone else’s. One can assume from this that the narrator has done nothing to deserve the woman’s love, and that – desperate to show otherwise – he resorts to citing things he knows to be irrelevant.
That the woman has a much clearer understanding of love than the narrator is evident from her kiss. She doesn’t need him to have earned her love. Nevertheless, even if the kiss is the result of genuine love, there still may be some credit due to the narrator. Though we don’t know why he’s ‘struggled through barbed wire’,’ and ‘outrun the hound dogs’, these at least suggests he’s not inactive and is prepared to take risks. He may not have earned the woman’s love, but by this activity he might at least have triggered it.
The song is primarily a character study showing the gradual development of the narrator’s psychology. In particular it shows the part played by a range of personal qualities, positive and negative, in his battle to resolve an emotional predicament. Sadly his positive qualities – optimism, energy, empathy, and inventiveness – are either misdirected, rendered impotent, or simply outweighed by the negative. Too inclined towards pessimism, resentfulness, egotism and deviousness, the narrator seems increasingly incapable of resolving his predicament. By the end, despite bouts of forlorn hope, he seems resigned to failure.
But the song is about love too, and the role of love in reviving the relationship. It’s about the narrator’s own deficient understanding of love versus the woman’s. The narrator thinks love is consistent with complaining, criticism, pleading, and even blackmail. But the woman’s love is different – a simple love, manifested by a kiss. And despite the narrator’s machinations and depth of emotion taking up most of song, it’s her love represented in a single line which both literally and metaphorically has the last word. If the relationship is to be saved, it’ll be through her love rather than his.
- As will become apparent, it’s not necessarily the case that we have the narrator’s own words so much as an abstract representation of them.
- The fictional writer and the actual writer may coincide. The concept of fictional writer can be useful though if one wants to attribute a view to the writer (as distinct from the narrator), but without necessarily attributing it to the actual, real-life writer.
- “I assure you,” Jesus said to him, “tonight-before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times!” (Matt 26.34)
- So he went right up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. (Matt 26.47-8)