“I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” (1968)


The song titles on John Wesley Harding have six “I”‘s in them, two in “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine.”  And that first person perspective makes an indelible impact, especially at the end when the word “glass” appears.  The song is an account of a dream involving participation in an execution.  The speaker’s reaction to the dream, the culpability felt from being responsible for someone’s death, is profound, and it is captured immediately upon his return from sleep:


I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive with fiery breath
And I dreamed I was amongst the ones
That put him out to death
Oh, I awoke in anger
So alone and terrified
I put my fingers against the glass
And bowed my head and cried


The reaction of the “I” in the song is accentuated by the “I” sound that appears ten times in eight lines.  The personal response to the dream arguably is dramatized more than the dream, with the figure left caught in a freeze-frame leaning against glass (Robert Shelton asks, “What is ‘the glass’ he touches before crying? A window, a telescope, or a mirror?) “glass” is left un-rhymed, not peculiarly so as a pattern is present.  The odd numbered lines do not have rhyming end words.  Anger, loneliness, and terror combine to cause bowing and crying.  “glass” plays a memorable role in the “I”‘s distraught condition.

In all of Dylan’s “dream” songs this may be the one with the most emotion with the touch of glass the only support for a grieving man. In all, the response seems to be more about the “I” than St. Augustine’s, a self that has died, a self that was once “alive with fiery breath,” a self seen through a “looking-glass” of a dream, a self no longer.


Related image

Here’s Bob and Joan singing it at Madison Square Garden during the Rolling Thunder tour in 1975.

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