Red River Shore (1997?)

This haunting and painful song, left off of Time Out Of Mind, but released for Tell Tale Signs in 2008, has a tight rhyming structure, a/b/c/b from beginning to end, typical ballad stanzas chosen for a ballad of lost love. 16 stanzas keep to this rhyme scheme, eight of which, in an alternating pattern have end rhymes with “shore.”  The sound of those rhymes with “shore” dominate the song, consistent as the water that laps on a river shore.

For sure, many  words rhyme with “shore,” many there that Dylan does not use, “bore,” “core, “four,” and so on, so many more (“more” being another, part of “anymore,” again, used twice.) Curiously,  he repeats two of the rhymes in the  course of those 8 “shore” rhyming stanzas.  Stanza 2 and 14 repeat “door”/”shore,” 6 and 16 “anymore”/shore.  So that makes them linked at least by sound.  Or is there more? Does Dylan want us to tie something together with them?  Here’s 2 and 14 together:

Pretty maids all in a row lined up
Outside my cabin door
I’ve never wanted any of ’em wanting me
Except the girl from the Red River shore

Well, the sun went down on me a long time ago
I’ve had to pull back from the door
I wish I could have spent every hour of my life
With the girl from the Red River shore

In the first, the singer is inside his own cabin, with women outside it wanting him.  In the second, he has to “pull back from the door,” a door shut to him, wishing for (wanting?) the girl he could never have, or at least never again.  The 8 lines do tell a story of its own.


Well, the dream dried up a long time ago
Don’t know where it is anymore
True to life, true to me
Was the girl from the Red River shore


Well, I don’t know what kind of language he used
Or if they do that kind of thing anymore
Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all
Except the girl from the Red River shore

In both of these, uncertainty is present, not knowing where the dream went, not knowing if a certain language is used anymore, one that convinces a lover to leave for another lover, the language of love, wooing, courting, the kind associated with poems? In 6, dreams vanish, in 16 so can a person–not being seen at all, but somehow this Red River girl was true to him, maybe only up to that point of their story (from stanza 6 on, we only look back at the past), but maybe true in some other way that 16 ends the song suggesting, that to be seen by a loved one even when no one else can or cares to, is to be remembered, never perhaps forgotten.

But some other truth pervades, one tied to how he defies the last words she says to him, “Go home and live a quiet life.” This balladeer is restless, roaming some countryside, the minstrel, forever caught in love’s thrall, far from quiet, far from home, on a never ending tour.

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1 Comment

  1. Rw

     /  July 8, 2017

    I always felt “go home and lead a quiet life” was do to the fact that the narrator was not suited for the life with this woman who really never loved him. This makes this a song then of unrequited love rather than one of missed opportunity.


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