“Scarlet Town” (2012)

In “Scarlet Town,” Dylan keeps to rhyming couplets and mostly perfect rhymes, for example, in the third and fourth verses:

Scarlet Town in the month of May
Sweet William Holme on his deathbed lay
Mistress Mary by the side of the bed
Kissin’ his face and heapin’ prayers on his head
So brave, so true, so gentle is he
I’ll weep for him as he would weep for me
Little Boy Blue come your blow horn
In Scarlet Town, where I was born
In the beginning of the song where the town is depicted as perfect, bravery in the face of death, the promise of reciprocal weeping, and fairy tales references, perfect rhyming makes sense.  Later though, we sneak a peek at what’s under the covers of perfection and we see torn hems, the end being near, and hearts on platters, junky whores.

Dylan tells us that evil and good live side by side in Scarlet Town–one side, the left side imperfect, no rhymes, right side, all perfect rhymes, or just about, in Scarlet Town, where “All things are beautiful in their time.”

At the end of the second verse in “Scarlet Town,” Dylan keeps the rhyming couplets alive (as he does throughout the song) but uses “still” as an internal rhyme kicker:

The music starts and the people sway
Everybody says, “Are you going my way? ”
Uncle Tom still workin’ for Uncle Bill
Scarlet Town is under the hill.

It’s the only verse that ends that way.  The “is” in the middle of the last line also keeps the assonance maintained, “Bill,” “is,” “hill.”

This all seems constructed by someone who knows his rhyming, not over the hill with use of it, not over the hill like Scarlet Town isn’t, described instead as being “under the hill.”  Still plenty to do and experience when not over the hill.  “All things are beautiful in their time” sits in the last verse.  But Dylan’s beautiful times are not over yet, never-ending in fact; his bell still rings, after all.

Here’s its live debut (audio), Winnipeg, 2012.


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