If Dogs Run Free

The song is about the reality and value of unity and creative activity, as opposed to separateness and inactivity. It is extremely concise and exhibits the sort of complexity and compression normally associated with metaphysical  poetry.

The first allusion to the themes is in the title ‘If Dogs Run Free’, a phrase which gets repeated throughout the song. ‘Run’ indicates that the concern is with action. ‘Free’ is ambiguous between free from each other and free from other things. Though dogs can act individually, free from each other, they achieve more if they hunt as a pack, a unified whole, and so in a way not free from each other. Even as a pack, however, they are still running free in that their activity is unconstrained by other things.  Which sense of ‘free’ is apposite at a particular point in the song will depend on whether it is at that point extolling individuality or togetherness.

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Unities arising from togetherness are apparent from the outset. In the first verse the separate, individual sounds the writer hears coalesce to become

… a symphony
Of two mules, trains and rain

‘Symphony’ here refers to a harmony of sound heard in the actual world. In harmonising, the separate sounds become one harmonious sound.

On hearing this sound, the writer is then led to create further harmony to reflect the experience – as he tells us in the second verse:

My mind weaves a symphony
And tapestry of rhyme

This second ‘symphony’ and the  ‘tapestry of rhyme’,  are the writer’s tools for representing the sounds he has heard. And, indeed, the earlier sounds are picked out by words which rhyme -‘two’ and ‘mules’, and then ‘trains’ and ‘rain’. This rhyming harmonises the words in a symphony just as the original sounds in the world were harmonised in a symphony by the writer’s hearing them.

A further unity then arises. For the audience, the first symphony of sound can only be known by way of the second – the writer’s words used to represent it. For the audience, then, there is no distinction between the two symphonies. They are one.

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A related feature of the song is the breaking down of the usual distinctions between stability (or stasis)and movement (and, in consequence, the distinction between the spatial and the temporal). The distinction between movement and stability is lost when the plain is described as ‘swooping’, a term one would be more likely to associate with a plane, rather than something as immobile as a plain! It is lost again with the reference to ‘the swamp of time’. Time, which is in fact dynamic, is represented as static, like a swamp. Since ‘swooping’ has positive connotations,  and ‘swamp’ only negative ones, it would appear that for the writer things are valued only if they retain or acquire a dynamic quality, and not if they retain or acquire a static one.  The static should become dynamic, but not vice versa. The absurdity of time losing its dynamic quality is apparent in the clichéd pronouncement ‘The best is always yet to come’. In a dynamic world this is untrue – the best will not remain in the future but will often be achieved.

A unity out of movement and stability arises again with

Oh, winds which rush my tale to thee
So it may flow and be

The tale’s existence (‘be’) depends on its movement (‘flow’). Since the singer’s ‘tale’ is about reality, the actual world, the suggestion is that there is only true existence where the dynamic and the static are united.  There is no being (static) unless there is flowing (dynamic) – and then since the being is flowing, it cannot be static. This applies to the tale in that, unless it is passed on, it fails to be a tale.

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These mergers (of sounds in the world and the sounds of words, and of stability and movement) parallel another merger –  that of the singular and plural. Rhyme is again involved in drawing attention to this. The first line of the first verse ends in ‘we’, and the first line of the second verse ends in its rhyming, singular counterpart ‘me’. It is, then, when the two ‘me’s’ become ‘we’ that, the writer’s tale achieves its ‘being’. Put another way, it is only when the two individuals involved in writing and hearing the tale come together, that the tale get its ‘being’.

Singulars becoming plurals is also apparent in each of the pairs of rhymes (‘two mules, trains and rain’) considered above. In each pair a singular is coupled with a plural – ‘two’ and ‘rain’ are singular, whereas ‘mules’ and ‘trains’ are plural. At the same time, although singular, ‘two’ represents duality, and thus plurality – and ‘rain’ can be taken to stand for a plurality of water drops. In each case, then, a plurality becomes a unity, a whole – the drops become ‘rain’, and the mules become ‘two’, i.e. a single pair.

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So far it would appear that unities arising from togetherness are to be preferred to their separate, individual constituent parts. This again becomes apparent at the end of the first verse. Here some mindless, clichéd advice – in effect to go it alone – is derided by way of rhyme (which, presumably to emphasise the point, is miserably banal). And although action is advised, unlike in the case of the tale it is independent action:

Just do your thing, you’ll be king

However, having derided the idea of independent action, the song then goes on to explore the alternative to it – to see if there is in fact any virtue in it. Whereas the ‘why not we’ of the first verse seems to deride individual action, the ‘why not me’ of the second  verse seems to see value in it. Furthermore, it is the writer’s mind alone – ‘my mind’ – which produces the symphony and tapestry of rhyme.

Nevertheless, despite this, it is made clear that ultimately individual action is undesirable:

To each his own,  it’s all unknown

The suggestion here is that if the writer’s tale is not shared with someone else (‘To each his own’), its content will remain unknown. And since the tale is about reality, reality – though it will exist  – will remain unknown. There won’t be anything more that can be said about it:

… then what must be
Must be, and that is all

Two lines into the final verse, the writer’s allegiance to unity arising from togetherness has been established.

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The remainder of the final verse relates the claims (that being involves action, and that unity is superior to separateness) to lovers and to reality as a whole.  With respect to the first claim, that being involves action,  we are told, in lines replete with positive connotations, that

True love can make a blade of grass
Stand up straight and tall

While on a literal level what’s being said is obviously untrue (!), it is significant that what is being extolled are the dynamic qualities of true love – it causes the grass to grow. The phallic overtones suggest that the dynamism, more literally, is sexual. Accordingly true love can have no being without sexual activity. Nor can any offspring. The being of each is activity dependant.

Activity is also alluded to in the phrase ‘the cosmic sea’, presumably a reference to the whole of reality. The word  ‘sea’  draws attention to the necessary dynamic qualities of that reality. True love and reality as a whole are both characterised by activity.

The second claim, that unity is superior to separateness, is also apparent here. In the lines

In harmony with the cosmic sea
True love needs no company

true love is deemed to be complete, and to mirror the unity and completeness of the whole of reality. Furthermore it becomes integrated in that reality since, in being a self-sufficient, unified, dynamically-dependant  whole,  it is ‘in harmony’ with it (thus echoing the harmony characterising the symphonies of sound and rhyme). Because it is complete and mirrors the unity of the whole of reality,  true love doesn’t involve two separate individuals, but individuals who in some sense have lost their individuality and become one. And just as the two symphonies not only each integrated separate sounds and words but themselves became integrated, so true love not only brings together the lovers  but enables them to become integrated in the unity of the whole of reality by way of harmonising with it.

Went To See The Gypsy

The song seems to be about spiritual renewal, both for oneself and for others. The narrator wants to achieve that renewal and initially sees the gypsy, presumably a fortune teller or seer, as a way of discovering how to do so. It seems that the narrator has visited the gypsy once before  in Las Vegas, but the success was temporary – leading to his having to repeat it now. This earlier attempt is mirrored by his attempt referred to in the opening line, and this in turn is mirrored by the return referred to in the final verse.

Mirroring is a theme of the song. When the gypsy asks ‘How are you?’, we’re told the narrator ‘said it back to him’, thus merely reflecting the gypsy’s words. And when the narrator makes a ‘small call out’, taken literally this is both mirrored, and amplified, by the dancing girl’s shout. The dancing girl is thus reflecting back to the narrator his own desire to return to the source of his knowledge. The dancing girl even says that the gypsy can bring the narrator ‘through the mirror’ , and that he had done this previously in Las Vegas. The mirror thus in part represents the division between the narrator’s present state and the state of renewal he craves.

Light is another theme. The gypsy’s room has minimal light, it being described as ‘dark’ and the lights as ‘low and dim’. We are then told that ‘Outside the lights were shining/On the river of tears’. And the song ends with the narrator watching ‘that sun come rising/From that little Minnesota town’. There is a movement then from the gypsy’s minimal light, to the greater lights outside – presumably street lights, to – ultimately – the sun. Light might be seen as symbolising the renewal the narrator is seeking, and this increases as the song progresses.

That the theme is renewal becomes apparent from a consideration of the place names. Las Vegas, where the narrator has been, is renowned as the ‘city of sin’, and Dylan himself was born in a ‘little Minnesota town’. By way of the place names, then, Dylan himself is identified with the narrator, a narrator who has been morally deficient. At the same time – if ‘sun’ is read as ‘Son’ – there is also an association of Dylan with Christ, the origin of spiritual renewal. This would enable  the song to be seen as about Dylan’s being both the cause and beneficiary of spiritual renewal. He is the cause of that renewal through his identity with the Son. And he is the beneficiary of the renewal in that he is the one who sees the sun. Nevertheless, as we’ll see, Christ is not the whole answer to the quest for renewal.

That the song has a moral significance can also be seen through the gypsy’s words. The narrator’s reply to the gypsy was a mindless (if polite) echoing of them. This suggests any significance to them was lost on the narrator. Yet ‘how are you?’ shows the gypsy taking on himself the very concern for others, here the narrator, which the narrator needs to take on for himself on seeing others’ misery – the ‘river of tears’.  And the gypsy’s ‘Well, well, well,’ may echo Christ when he contrasts water in the well with the water he gives, water which will become for others ‘a spring of water welling up to eternal life’ (John 4.13) This would suggest that although the gypsy is not the answer in himself, he can provide the means for the narrator to achieving it. He can ‘move [him] from the rear’. Put another way, Christ is not the answer in himself to the narrator’s quest for renewal, but can be the means to his achieving it.

That self-renewal is all but achieved is suggested by what we’re told in the last verse. On his return to the gypsy, the narrator finds the gypsy gone. This is surprising, especially since we had earlier been told that he was ‘staying’ in the hotel. It suggests that there was something chimerical, perhaps unnecessary, about him. Taken at face value it seems like a mockery, then, that his ‘door was open wide’ – welcoming, but leading to nothing. However this might also suggest that the narrator is still not barred from achieving the renewal he seeks. He perhaps no longer needs the gypsy to magically bring him through the mirror. Looked at this way, the gypsy was a stimulus to action – to prosaically walk through a door on his own, rather than through a mirror with magical help. Similarly the dancing girl’s function was to urge him to accept that stimulus. The narrator is able, then, to rely on himself – be the sun from a Minnesota town.

What, then, is the significance of the dancing girl? The reason the narrator returns to the gypsy’s room, it is implied, is her words because they are ‘music in [the narrator’s] ears’. She perhaps represents superficial pleasure of the sort available in Las Vegas. That she might represent superficial pleasure can further be seen in the effect she has on the narrator. Not only does he return to the gypsy’s room, but in so doing either ignores the ‘river of tears’ – watching instead the lights that shine on them –  or thinks that the solution to that problem lies with the gypsy, as distinct from what he himself can do. Alternatively, however, she can be seen as a reflection of the narrator’s own desire to achieve fulfilment. She recognises his need to be pushed into self-reliance. She is the starting point for his moral maturation (just as the water Jesus provides is the starting point for personal salvation).

In returning to the gypsy’s room it was, we’re told, nearly early dawn. The implication is that what happens next is itself actually early dawn – the beginning of the new morning of the album’s title. As he witnesses the sun rise, the narrator is at the same time witnessing his own new morning, rising from ignorance to a new understanding of what he himself can do to achieve spiritual renewal.

Appendix

An article in the Guardian (24.07.15) has suggested that Dylan songs lack the lyrical breadth of the rap artists. Clearly this is a fault in need of urgent remedy. Accordingly I offer the following rewrite of a verse from Went To See The Gypsy as an example to Mr Dylan of what Guardian readers expect from him. It is to be hoped the offering won’t fall on stony ground.

I visited the expectant Bohemian
Residing in sumptuous lodgings.
As I tendered my approach, I encountered
His beam of resigned recognition.
From his camera gloomy and congested,
Where luminosity was sparse,
He enquired whether I was able to flourish,
To which I unenthusiastically reciprocated in kind.

Although some will object that  the improved version has not preserved all (or, indeed, any) of the original rhyme, it should be apparent that this and some inconsequential loss of meaning are more than compensated for by the newly added veneer of lexical richness.

The Man In Me

In this song the narrator tries to present a positive image of himself, but only succeeds in letting the reader know how pathetic he is.

The opening lines are disingenuous. The speaker tells us:

The man in me will do nearly any task
And as for compensation, there’s little he would ask

What we’re in fact being told is that there are tasks he won’t perform, and for those he does perform he expects to be compensated. Although he praises the woman for getting through to the man in him, the context suggests that even the tasks he does are performed only at her instigation. Accordingly, if he requires her as a stimulus to action, he would seem to have little reason to boast about ‘the man in’ him.

The second verse opens on a note of dissatisfaction:

Storm clouds are raging all around my door
I think to myself I might not take it anymore

Again he needs her to ‘find the man in me’ in order to deal with these ‘storm clouds’. If there’s a danger of his not being able to ‘take it anymore’, it would again seem that there’s not much manliness about him. The ‘wonderful feeling’ he has knowing she’s near would seem to be not so much a romantic feeling for her, as he seems to imply in mentioning the effect on his heart, but a feeling of relief that she’s there to sort out his problems. It sets his ‘heart a-reeling’ from his toes to his ears in the sense that she enables him to take heart in the face of his adversities.

That he is in fact unmanly is apparent from what amounts to an admission of cowardice in the final verse. He admits he’ll hide so that he isn’t seen. It’s absurd that he tells us that it’s ‘the man in him’ that will hide since the very fact of hiding suggests there is no ‘man’ in him. He attempts to justify his hiding by telling us he doesn’t want to become a machine, but this sounds like a pathetic excuse. It’s ironic, too, since he is machine-like in that he only acts when prompted by the woman.

The final two lines have ‘Took a woman like you/To get through to the man in me ‘ in place of the earlier ‘Take a woman like you/…’ The implication is that the man in him has now surfaced, due to her, whereas previously it hadn’t. However, what he’s told us in the rest of the song suggests that this is anything but the case. He is as unmanly with the woman as he was without her.

Father Of Night

The song works as a summary of themes and motifs of the album, unifies them, and draws attention to the interconnections between the songs.  Nearly every word or concept is to be found in another song, and quite often in several. Examples from the first verse alone are father (pa), night, day, taketh (take), darkness, bird (birdies), rainbows, sky, loneliness (lonely), pain (tears), love and rain.

The ‘Father’ would seem to be God, but the sense is ambiguous. ‘Father’ could equally refer to the god of Blake’s ‘Tyger’, which is the cause of negative as well as positive things, and could just as well be the devil, as the traditional, all-loving Christian God. It would depend whether the expression ‘Father of loneliness and pain’, for example, is taken to mean ’cause of loneliness and pain’ or ‘someone who consoles when people are afflicted by loneliness and pain’ That the traditional God is at least in part intended is indicated by the perhaps reverential use of archaic, biblical verb forms – ‘taketh’, ‘teacheth’, ‘shapeth’, and the positive things attributed to him. That a devil-god is intended is indicated by the painful things attributed to him.

The language is also simplistic, mirroring the childlike language of Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’. God is presented anthropomorphically as teacher, builder, shaper and turner. This childlike language would suggest that the positive view of God is in fact an inaccurate one. In the light of this, the line ‘Who dwells in our hearts and our memories’ is ambiguous. It’s unclear whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing to have such a god at one’s core.

In the final line, ‘Father of whom we most solemnly praise’, ‘of whom’ might seem an ungrammatical alternative for ‘who’. This would mean we praise such a God. Taken literally, however, the person we ‘most solemnly praise’ would be his son – i.e. Christ. The important thing about God would not be that he is equally the cause of good and bad, but that he is the cause of Christ.

Day Of The Locusts

The song seems to be based on a real event – Dylan’s accepting an honorary degree. What comes across in each of the four verses  is the narrator’s lack of enthusiasm for the occasion. Nevertheless we are made to feel there is more significance to the occasion than the narrator seems to realise.

There is a fair amount of religious imagery – particularly the references to locusts, a tomb, darkness and light, praying, and possibly gates and trucks. Locusts were sent by God to punish the Egyptians by eating their crops; they represent God’s work as well as destructiveness. Additionally there may actually have been locusts (cicadas) around during the year of the award. Apparently swarms emerge from under the ground about once in seventeen years, and that year, I’m given to understand, was such a year. Also, the title is reminiscent of Nathaniel West’s 1939 novel The Day of the Locust. This may be significant for there the locust of the title may (I’m told) refer to the main character; likewise Dylan’s narrator may also be one of the locusts.

‘Darkness was everywhere, it smelled like a tomb’ (verse 2) seems to be a reference to Christ’s burial. The darkness would be the moral state of people before being saved by Christ’s death. The next line, ‘I was ready to leave, I was already walkin”, by implication has the narrator as Christ since he is leaving the tomb. This would explain the subsequent ‘light in the room’. His emergence becomes, then, not just the onset of his own freedom but the freedom of everyone else (just as Christ’s death and resurrection freed everyone else from original sin). In verse 4 the narrator expresses surprise at having emerged alive, reinforcing his identity with the equally surprisingly risen Christ. This fits with the opening line’s mention of ‘tears and perspiration’ since this would be more appropriate to a crucifixion than to a degree ceremony. And the reference to judges in verse 2 creates a judicial atmosphere appropriate to an impending crucifixion rather than an academic occasion. In this context the trees of the opening verse would represent crosses.

Freedom as opposed to confinement is represented by natural images – birds, trees, locusts, hills. It’s ironic that the narrator escapes to the hills, since the hills, ominously, are described as ‘black’. This perhaps indicates that his freedom is not assured; he is still in darkness. And as Christ, he is escaping to more Calvarys.

The implicit ambivalence with respect to his escape is reflected in, and perhaps explained by, a similarly ambivalent attitude towards the locusts. On the one hand they sing with a ‘sweet melody’ and are ‘singing for me’, but on the other their song ‘give me a chill’ (despite the weather being hot) and is a ‘high whinin’ trill’. The suggestion is that on one level the locusts are the people at the ceremony who, while intending to be nice, succeed only in making the narrator uncomfortable. Since the locusts are ‘off in the distance’ the implication is also that the narrator will still be subject to their oppression even when he’s in Dakota.

However, it is also possible to identify the locusts with the narrator. Just as they emerge from underground, so the narrator emerges from the darkness which ‘was everywhere’. Like the locusts, he achieves his freedom when emerging from the darkness. That he never totally escapes, given the description of his refuge as ‘black’, suggests that Christ’s death and resurrection, with which he is associated, is not the be all and end all. More is required – in some sense more Calvarys – before humanity can achieve salvation.

Overall, then, the song expresses the narrator’s ambivalence towards life as represented by the degree ceremony. He sees his presence as bringing light, but neither he (as one of those present) nor the others present (as beneficiaries of his ‘light’) can escape the darkness purely through his efforts.

One More Weekend

The song concerns the characters of two people who seem to have been in a relationship. The reference to children suggests they are, or were, married. Throughout, the woman the speaker is addressing is not present, so we’re just getting an indication of how he might behave towards her if she were. The narrator continually shows that he’s an unpleasant character trying to impose himself on her. If the first line is taken as referring to him, then he’s sly like a weasel – as the first syllable of ‘slidin” might suggest. The phrase ‘One more weekend with you’ seems at first to indicate the speaker’s delight at another weekend with his partner. However, when the phrase changes to ‘one more weekend’ll do‘ it’s clear that he’s not looking for any contact after that date. The impression is given that he wants one more weekend just to satisfy his sexual desires, before ridding himself of her.

That the speaker’s motives are sexual is suggested by the phrase ‘ride on deck’ and the line ‘We’ll fly over the ocean just like you suspect’. Taken literally ‘We’ll fly over the ocean’ seems an enticing prospect, not the sort of thing to arouse suspicion. What the woman ‘suspects’, then, is presumably that the speaker has some nefarious intention.

In the third verse the lines ‘Things will be okay/you wait and see’  show the speaker clearly aware of the woman’s misgivings since he has to try to persuade her. The suggestion ‘why not go alone/just you and me’ is ironic because the woman does want to be alone, but truly alone – without him. It’s similarly ironic that he says ‘We’ll go some place unknown’  since we learn in the final verse that he is intent on searching for her. She’s a ‘gone mama’. In other words she’s already ‘someplace unknown’.

Just as the speaker might be the weasel in the first verse, so the woman may be the rabbit in the fourth. Weasel’s attack rabbits. The idea is likely to arouse the listener’s sympathy for her. However the opening line of the first verse is ambiguous. The weasel could equally be the woman – ‘on the run’ from him. In that case she too is exhibiting characteristics of slyness in avoiding him.

The fourth verse provides two other indications of the speaker’s character. In ‘I’m happy just to see you, yeah, lookin’ so good’ the qualification ‘lookin’ so good’ implies he wouldn’t be glad to see her otherwise. And the parenthetical ‘yes you will!’ shows him to be domineering. It’s left up to the reader to decide what it is he intends her to have no choice in doing.

And in verse five we learn that the speaker realises that he’s unlikely to succeed with any comparable woman – ‘You’re the sweetest gone mama that this boy’s ever gonna get’. From the picture we’re getting of him it’s easy to see why he might never get a similarly attractive partner.

Overall the song, while, exuberant in tone, has the speaker betray both his sinister intentions and the unwillingness of the woman to have anything more to do with him.

New Morning

This, the title song of the album, is superficially joyous throughout, but contains – apparently unknown to the narrator – indications that happiness is temporary.

The narrator’s exultation comes across in a series of positive images – both natural and artificial. These include the sounds of the rooster and the car, the rabbit, water under a bridge, the sun, the groundhog, the woman’s smile and the blue sky. It’s perhaps significant that all but the last involve activity of some sort. The rooster is crowing, the car is approaching, the sun’s shining, the rabbit running, the water flowing, and so on.

However each of these joyous images contains within it the seeds of unhappiness. The rooster’s crowing can be associated with betrayal, the rabbit running across the road is in danger from the car. The sky and the bridge are both introduced with the word ‘underneath’ which draws attention to a contrast: the water is in darkness whereas only the sky is bright – ‘blue’. Flowing water would have positive connotations, but we’re told the water ‘flowed’; from the past tense of the verb it seems that it has dried up.  The groundghog in America traditionally symbolises a long winter. Neither blue skies nor smiles tend to last for long. The car is coming into fashion (‘style’) but fashions are short-lived. The title itself, while referring to a time of renewal, implies that there has been a time of unhappiness.

The narrator does seem dimly aware of the unreality of what he’s taking the sights and sounds to represent when he refers to his ‘dreams’ coming true. And in ‘the night passed away so quickly/It always does when you’re with me’ the ‘passed away’ and the ‘when’ of  ‘when you’re with me’ can be taken as hints of the impermanence of their togetherness. It seems ironic when the narrator declares that he’s ‘So happy just to be alive’ because his happiness in fact seems to depend on more than just being alive; it seems to depend on the woman’s presence.

Even though the narrator declares his happiness, there is some doubt whether that happiness is shared by the woman. Three verses begin with a question ‘Can’t you hear…?’ whereas one might have expected ‘Listen to…’  The doubt implicit in the questions leads one to suspect that the woman, more realistic, is not as overwhelmed with joy as the narrator.

Sign On The Window

The song is about the mental state of the narrator, and the different ways one can react in the face of adversity. Because everything is from the narrator’s point of view, we also get an insight into his character.

The first verse suggests a journey, perhaps a hopeless journey from the narrator’s house to that of an object of his affections.  That there is a journey is apparent in that whereas most lines begin ‘Sign on the … says‘, the second line begins ‘Sign on the door said’, perhaps indicating that the narrator has left his house and – as the third line implies – is on the street as he undertakes a journey. The porch mentioned in the verse’s final two lines would then appear to be at his destination. Whether the journey is actual or imagined, the signs he imagines on the window, door, street and porch are reflections of his developing thoughts. Their manifestation as signs perhaps indicates that he feels oppressed, or that he feels the circumstances of his life are out of his control.

The thoughts themselves give further indications of his character. Feeling lonely, he becomes maudlin and in so doing seems to cast the blame for his unhappiness elsewhere. ‘No Company Allowed’ shows he thinks it is the fault of others that he is not allowed to have the company he desires. We then get an indication in ‘Y’ Don’t Own Me’ that he’s miscasting the blame. The actual reason for his loneliness is rejection on account of his possessiveness. If he is indeed possessive, the fault for his rejection would seem to lie with him. In the transcript of the song the capitals in each line indicate that the narrator sees the signs as cold and impersonal, representing things he can do nothing about. However the colloquial tone – ‘Y” for ‘You’  in ”Y’Don’t Own Me’ – tells us that these are words spoken to him in a conversation he actually had and in which he presumably could have responded if he’d had a suitable response. That he doesn’t respond suggests that he is at least partially responsible for how things have turned out.

While the idiomatic ‘Three’s A Crowd’ might mean that the girl has acquired a boyfriend around the same time as rejecting the narrator, it could equally imply that the girl was already attached and therefore that the narrator’s attentions are out of place. The latter view is lent support In the next verse where the tone – ‘her boyfriend’ – makes the couple’s relationship seem established. If so, it is inappropriate that their leaving for California is presented critically – they ‘changed their tune’ – as if they had no right to run their own lives. Again this suggests that the narrator’s self-pity is out of place.

The rest of the second verse has the narrator again passing the buck. A friend is attributed with having given advice in the form of an absurd generalisation – that girls from Brighton are to be avoided because they are inconstant (‘like the moon’). Clearly the narrator rightly didn’t heed the warning at the time, but now appears to regret not having done so. Given the absurdity of the warning, and the fact that the narrator saw fit to press ahead anyway, the regret at not having heeded it would appear to be a disguised way of achieving solace by disingenuously blaming the girl for not being constant.

There are three place names in the song and these are significant. The girl is from Brighton, the first syllable perhaps a hint that the narrator associates her with brightness – contrasting with the ‘nothing but rain’ with which he characterises his own life. The narrator mentions that the lovers go to California. The name is delicate in sound and likely to be associated in his mind with a leisurely lifestyle, gold and varied geography.  It’s an indication of his jealousy. By contrast he settles on Utah for himself – a state with a harsh sounding name and barren geography.

The maudlin tone of the second verse continues into the short third verse. Rain, wet and sleet can be taken as representing  the narrator’s state of mind. Reference to ‘tonight’ and the idiomatic expression, ‘Looks like’, ‘Sure gonna’ and ‘Hope that’, indicate that we’re getting the narrator’s words as he thought them. It becomes apparent that he’s unduly pessimistic. The judgement that it ‘Looks like a-nothing but rain’ leads to the conclusion that it’s going to be ‘wet tonight on Main Street’.  What started as a prophecy of universal doom has ended up as no more than a temporally and spatially localised nuisance. The final line ‘Hope that it don’t sleet’ suggests that the narrator is enjoying seeing things in an unnecessarily bad light since sleet is not significantly worse than rain. Furthermore, the fear of sleet seems inconsistent with the earlier judgement that there’d be ‘nothing but rain’ – again suggesting that the narrator is determined to see things in as bad a light as possible.

At first the final verse seems to represent the narrator’s determination to put his problems behind him. The reference to ‘rainbow’ in ‘catch rainbow trout’ suggests that he can see the end of his misery represented earlier by rain. That the narrator is in a more positive frame of mind would also be so if ‘Build me a cabin’ and ‘Marry me a wife’ are taken as meaning ‘I will build myself a cabin’ and ‘I will get married’. However the narrator’s actual use of imperatives renders his tone less assertive. There’s a hint of perceived helplessness as if he’d like it if someone else built him the cabin, and even if someone else got him married. Similarly for ‘catch rainbow trout’ and ‘Have a bunch of kids’. He seems to be wanting to abrogate responsibility for his own future happiness. His being called ‘Pa’, something utterly superficial, is itself only achievable in that it would depend on the actions of the children rather than himself.

In the light of these things, the narrator’s, and the song’s, conclusion – ‘That must be what it’s all about’ – can be taken in two ways. It can be seen as positive – him grasping the importance of seizing opportunities and recognizing that unhappiness can be temporary. Or it can be taken as summing up his pusillanimous outlook. On the one hand, then, he can be taken as seeing rainbows where previously there was rain, i.e. seeing that he can marry and have children despite having previously suffered rejection. On the other hand he can be seen as allowing himself to drift along at the mercy of events.

If Not For You

‘Babe’, which occurs twice, makes the song seem to be addressed to a woman. In addition, some of what’s said in other places could be addressed to a woman. On that interpretation, however, this would just be a love song.

Many of the lines don’t fit that interpretation, however. Certain lines suggest that the addressee is God or Christ – or both. Quite literally, on a traditional view of God,  there would be no morning light if not for him. If he’s seen as keeping things in existence, then without God ‘the sky would fall’ – the sky is in a sense kept in position by him. The same applies to ‘Winter would have no spring’ and there being robins to hear singing. Spring can represent the spiritual renewal brought by Christ. The robin singing would therefore be a sign of that renewal.

The declaration

‘Without your love I’d be nowhere at all’

and the almost despairing

‘Oh! what would I do’

tell us not just that the speaker’s existence – being anywhere – is due to God, but that he needs God’s love in order to exist in a more worthwhile way – as someone who can ‘do’, i.e. be active in the world.

‘It wouldn’t ring true’ suggests that existence would seem pointless if not for a God to account for, or justify it.

There’s a suggestion, too, that the speaker’s life is only worthwhile due to Christ without whom he:

‘… couldn’t find the door

Couldn’t even see the floor’

The reason he can’t find the door, or see the floor, is because he’s in darkness, which – like winter – represents a pre-Christian existence. The door would perhaps be the way to a morally worthwhile existence, and seeing the floor would represent having a sense of moral orientation (since without being able to see the floor he wouldn’t be able to find the door).  The line

‘I’d be lost if not for you’

is reminiscent of the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15: 1-7). Were it not for Christ, the speaker would not be able to lead a worthwhile life. The line which follows, ‘You know it’s true’, perhaps indicates the closeness he feels to God. It’s because of the closeness of the speaker to God that God knows the truth of what the speaker is saying. This hint at the identity of the speaker with God might seem to be foreshadowed in ‘Without your love I’d be nowhere at all’ – suggesting that the speaker only exists as a result of God’s love, and therefore is an embodiment of that love. The speaker is an embodiment of God’s love to the extent that he is an active part of the world, capable of doing good.

The speaker, then, is not just close to God but is an embodiment of God’s will. Were it not for God ‘rain would gather’. In other words, if the speaker and God didn’t form a unitary whole, there would be a different sort of coming together, a coming together of the negative things which Christ replaced and which are represented here as the ‘gathering’ of rain.

Christ brought renewal, and an opportunity for moral regeneration – represented by spring following winter, and the new morning light following the night. This light seems all pervasive since it doesn’t just shine, or shine in, but ‘shine in through’.  The unnatural expression here seems to indicate that this is not ordinary light. There is perhaps a suggestion too in these images that the renewal brought by Christ is not just a one-off, but needs to be constantly  repeated. Spring is an annual event and new mornings arrive daily.

Winterlude

Although the song on the surface seems to be addressed to the woman, it comes across as the narrator’s own thoughts – what he would say to her if she were present. That she is not present is suggested by the changes of time. It begins at night, moves to the daytime in the second verse, and back to night in the third. There is also a plea to ‘come out’ in the second and third verses, suggesting she is at home elsewhere. The sandwiching of a day verse between two night verses would seem to represent stages of the relationship. It’s cold, there’s a temporary thaw, and then it’s back to being cold.

In giving his thoughts, the narrator unintentionally presents the negative side of own character. First, he seems guilty of wishful thinking. The expressions ‘my little apple’ and ‘my little daisy’ give away his desire to possess the woman in language appropriate to the desire having already been fulfilled. That this is not the case is apparent from the plea, ‘please be mine’. Not only is the woman not his, but  there seems to be doubt in his mind that she ever will be. The reference to ‘quarrelin” and the injunction ‘don’t be rude’ suggest that the relationship is far from being what the narrator is convincing himself it is. The assurance he tries to impart to the woman might, then, be seen as a futile attempt at self- reassurance. One might wonder how he can be so sure that ‘Ev’rything is gonna be alright’ and ‘Ev’rything will be tight’.

Not only is he guilty of wishful thinking, but he comes across as selfish. First, the injunction ‘be mine’, indicates a possessive attitude. In addition he is egotistical, constantly concerned with himself: ‘I see by the angel…’, ‘You’re the one I adore…’, ‘… give me more’, ‘this dude thinks…’. He also tries to impose his own wants by ordering her about, the word ‘come’ being constantly used:  ‘…come over here and give me more’, ‘come out when the skating rink glistens’, ‘Come on, sit by the logs…’, ‘come out tonight’. In addition, the suggestions about what they might do are all his without any apparent concern for what she might like: ‘…let’s go down to the chapel/Then come back and cook up a meal’. And by his own admission he’s lazy. Furthermore he tries to pass the buck by saying ‘it‘s making me lazy’, when it’s not clear there’s anything for ‘it’ to refer back to.

The repeated use of ‘come’ may also suggest that the narrator’s selfishness extends to seeing the relationship as essentially about fulfilling his sexual desires. The injunction to  ‘…come over here and give me more’ is blatantly so, but ‘The snow is so cold, but our love can be bold’ may also suggest this if he’s suggesting having sex despite the snow. The next line begins ‘Winterlude, don’t be rude’, but the ‘don’t be rude’ seems out of context unless it is in fact a turning back on her what she says in response to his suggestion about being bold.

There are reasons to doubt the narrator’s sincerity. The phrase ‘come over here and give me more’ is preceded by ‘love has a reason to shine’. This suggests that he sees sex as due payment for his love for her; he’ll love her only if she gives him a reason to. It is also somewhat ungrammatically followed by ‘Then Winterlude, this dude thinks you’re fine’. The implication is that he’ll think she’s fine after she satisfies him sexually, but not otherwise.

The narrator’s lack of genuine love for the woman is apparent in the focus he puts on romantic settings with references to ‘the corn in the field’, going ‘down to the chapel’, ‘the skating rink glistens’, ‘the logs in the fire’, ‘snowflakes’ and ‘the moonlight’. But the expression is sometimes somewhat strained as if he’s trying to make the scene as romantic as possible – more than the context requires. This is particularly so with ‘sit by the logs in the fire’ where the more natural expression would be ‘sit by the fire’; the reference to logs shows the narrator’s excessive concern with having a romantic atmosphere.

The title ‘Winterlude’ suggests that the song is about a (real or imagined) interval in an otherwise  icy relationship. That the interval will be short lived is apparent from the narrator’s character and approach to the woman, but also in imagery suggesting impermanence. The moon traditionally represents inconstancy and in ‘… the snowflakes, they cover the sand’, the sand might represent the impermanence of the relationship, and also that the relationship lacks a secure foundation. This lack of stability is only temporarily disguised by the beauty of the snowflakes – the welcomed interval. Whereas previously the narrator had dismissed the snow as ‘so cold’, by his reference to snowflakes he now unconsciously admits it has an attractiveness which belies its coldness. ‘Cold’ perhaps better describes his own emotional detachment.

Religious imagery abounds. The woman is referred to as an ‘angel’, but as the narrator’s ‘little apple’ she represents (in his eyes) temptation which he gives in to. He wants do go down to the chapel, presumably to expunge guilt for giving in to temptation- but includes her as if she has to be as guilty as he is. This partially mirrors Eve’s attempt to include Adam in her guilt. Crossroads are traditionally associated with the devil. If the woman is an angel, he is by implication the devil. She represents the positive in the relationship, the thawing of the iciness – and this is represented in the name ‘Winterlude’. And he is the cause of the relationship not working.