“Forever Young” (1974)

Dylan wrote “Forever Young” in Tucson, AR around the time he was working with Sam Peckinpah on Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.  He hoped to avoid sentimentality in the song, admitting he was, “thinking of one of [his] boys (Jakob?) and not wanting to be too sentimental.  Christopher Ricks feels Dylan gets his wish since the song can’t avoid “sensing something dark that is in the air.”  In the first verse, one such line with that sensing includes the word “stars”:
May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young
Ricks argues that the William Blake poem “For Children” (which may or may not have been familiar to Dylan) contains the “dark sensing” that Dylan’s song alludes to.  In the Blake poem, “A tiny man mounts a ladder propped against a quarter moon,” and in the background are seven stars, the caption under the illustration at this moment in the poem reads, “I want, I want.”
Better to build ladders directly to the stars, yes?  And do it with some humility–Dylan’s song after all is about granting, not wanting (no “I want you” or any one or thing for that matter in this song).  It’s about wishes, may you, may you, may you over and over again, and you will never want, in the sense of lack, for nothing.
Here’s the immortal version of “Forever Young” from The Last Waltz:
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