He came and went. He was here but now he’s gone. Many Dylan songs are about comings and goings, arrivals and departures. Most of them have to do with lost loves, relationships gone south but with the yearning for them still in place (“Most Of The Time“) or the suffering from the yearning expressed (“Love Sick“). The need to travel on, move ahead, be gone, sever ties, are shared in them, painfully sometimes, if not most times. “Boots Of Spanish Leather,” “One Too Many Mornings,” Down The Highway,” “Tangled Up In Blue” and “If You See Her, Say Hello” come immediately to my mind.

Other comings and goings involve death. The ballads are about people who went to their deaths, often abruptly, unjustly, tragically.  Songs like “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “A Pawn In Their Game,” “Only A Hobo,” “7 Curses,” and “Who Killed Davey Moore” are not only memorable as finger-pointing songs but for the feelings pity and tragedy evoke in us.

Like the film I’m Not There, the latest video version of “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine” traces the comings and goings of Dylan’s personas:


The “went” rhyme in “Life Is Hard” conveys something gone but how we’re left with the traces, past being never dead, not even past:

The evening winds are still
I’ve lost the way and will
Can’t tell you where they went
I just know what they meant
I’m always on my guard
Admitting life is hard
Without you near me

Way and will are gone, but their meaning remains with the speaker. If you think about it that is the way with all meaningful things gone–they are gone but what they meant to us remains; hard to shake what brings meaning to our lives, partly why life is hard.


Tin Angel” is about by desertion. It’s the Boss’s wife we learn from the start who has gone and left her husband:

It was late last night when the boss came home
To a deserted mansion and a desolate throne
Servant said: “Boss, the lady’s gone
She left this morning just ‘fore dawn.”

Later, on the road to revenge his men desert him:

Well, they rode all night, and they rode all day
Eastward, long down the broad highway
His spirit was tired and his vision was bent
His men deserted him and onward he went

The Boss goes, too, ardent-hearted, bent on going, vision bent, narrowed to the narrow way, “bent”/”went” rhymed for emphasis, this theme tune following him wherever he goes, which is to his own death:

He crawled to the corner and he lowered his head
He gripped the chair and he grabbed the bed
It would take more than needle and thread
Bleeding from the mouth, he’s as good as dead


Roll On, John” consists of eight stanzas with an irregular rhyming pattern, perhaps partly caused by lines coming directly from so many of Lennon’s lyrics.  The first stanza fools us into what could be a consistent a/b/c/a/c rhyming:

Doctor, doctor, tell me the time of day
Another bottle’s empty
Another penny spent
He turned around and he slowly walked away
They shot him in the back and down he went

The “e” in “empty” and “went” have assonance and then “spent” hooks up with “went” for a perfect rhyme. But the “roll on, Johns” break up the continuity, a broken pattern to fit a world broken by Lennon’s departure, his “journey’s end:
Shine your light, move it on, you burn so bright, roll on John
From the Liverpool docks to the red light Hamburg streets
Down in the quarry with the Quarrymen.
Playing to the big crowds Playing to the cheap seats
Another day in your life until your journey’s end
Shine your light, move it on, you burn so bright, roll on John

The “roll on, John” lines aside the rhyming goes a/b/a/b.

By verse three, the rhyming is disrupted into a/b/c/d/c:

Sailing through the tradewinds
Bound for the sun
Rags on your back just like any other slave
They tied your hands and they clamped your mouth
Wasn’t no way out of that deep dark cave

Like Iago in Othello who will create discordance by setting down the pegs (““O, you are well tuned now,. But I’ll set down the pegs that make this music.”), John’s death disturbs the world’s harmony  that he helped nurture. I think Dylan is conveying to us how hard it is to find words in harmony when speaking of such tragedy and loss.
Where were you when you heard that news that day, oh boy? Me? Someone spoke and I went into a dream.
The trick in “Most Of The Time” is how time is played. We swiftly realize that in this song what happens most of the time pales in contrast to what happens least of the time.  Time is fooled. In the world of Dylan it can “move to fast” like a jet plane or pass slowly.  But more of it doesn’t mean better, especially if most of the time you’re spending is done fooling yourself.
The “went” rhyme is found in the last verse:
Most of the time
I’m halfway content
Most of the time
I know exactly where it went
I don’t cheat on myself, I don’t run and hide
Hide from the feelings that are buried inside
I don’t compromise and I don’t pretend
I don’t even care if I ever see her again
Most of the time

So we’re forced to play the opposite game–at the very most he doesn’t know exactly where it all went 49% of the time. More crippling is that most of the time he’s only halfway content, which means that most of the time he’s only 50% content, never 100%, that’s most of the time; least of the time he’s well, malcontented, which turns out in this song to matter more anyway.
I love the song; so do my students. What ambiance, what tone . . . I’m always content to hear it, not halfway, and not most of the time:
You Ain’t Goin Nowhere” creates a similar brain twister with the double-negative “ain’t”/”nowhere.” Imagine the degrading comment “You Ain’t Goin Anywhere” or worse “You Are Goin Nowhere.” So “You Ain’t Goin Nowhere” is actually a positive message because it means you are going somewhere or at least nowhere is where you won’t be going.
This is an easy-breezy front porch singing kind of song. Relax, enjoy life, don’t have a care in the world.  And the “went” rhyme made with “sent” and stretched into “tent” in the second of four verses helps that tone:
I don’t care
How many letters they sent
Morning came and morning went
Pick up your money
And pack up your tent
You ain’t goin’ nowhere
Whoo-ee! Ride me high
Tomorrow’s the day
My bride’s gonna come
Oh, oh, are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chair!
Letters were sent, and the morning done went, but you’re not staying; nope, you ain’t goin nowhere, so pack that tent cause you’re going somewhere, and whoo-ee won’t that be fun, cause the future is not now, not today; today is about the road and the joy of living life day by day, even minute by minute on it.
Such an enjoyable song to listen to.  Here’s a version of it sung by The Byrds: