Dylan's"Highlands" - lyric analysis- Part 4 - final part
Bob Dylan’s “Highlands” – lyric analysis – Part 4 (final part) by Kees de Graaf
5. The verses dealing with his pilgrimage to the Highlands – after the Boston Restaurant intermezzo.
‘Every day is the same thing out the door
Feel further away than ever before
Some things in life, it gets too late to learn
Well, I’m lost somewhere, I must have made a few bad turns ‘.
‘‘Every day is the same thing out the door’. Having left the Boston restaurant all of a sudden and thrown back into the busy streets, he is once again confronted with the seemingly purposelessness and monotony of every day’s life. In a live version of the song he adds: ‘Try to repair what went wrong the day before’. He is again disappointed as he expresses in ’Can’t wait’: ‘Skies are grey, I’m looking for anything that will bring a happy glow. Night or day it doesn’t matter anymore where I go’. Nobody in the busy streets seems to be going anywhere. Everything is again exactly the way that it seems. Those busy streets look like a giant ant-hill. A lot of criss-cross random activity, but what‘s the use of it all? Every day is like the day before. ’Feel further away than ever before’. It makes the poet feel more lost than ever before. The suffering feels as if it is unending. On his way to the Highlands every nook and cranny has its tears.
‘Some things in life, it gets too late to learn’. The high-tech cyber society demands you to catch up with any new development or hype but he knows that for some of these things you are just getting too old to learn. This is like he expresses in the song ‘Unbelievable’: ‘It is unbelievable like a lead balloon, it is impossible to even learn the tune. Every nerve is analyzed, everything is criticized’. Apart from this, it is hard to tackle some of the bad traits of character which have been grinded in his soul ever since early childhood. He concludes: ’Well, I’m lost somewhere; I must have made a few bad turns ‘. Deep down inside he knows that one of the preconditions to enter the Highlands is to admit that you are lost. To admit that you are in need for help to get there. You have made some bad turns and you are stuck. He feels lost in the rain, as once in Juarez, when it was Eastertime too.
‘I see people in the park forgetting their troubles and woes
They’re drinking and dancing wearing bright-colored clothes
All the young men with their young women looking so good
Well, I’d trade places with any of them, in a minute if I could’.
In this and the following verse he really feels like that stranger who was walking in the park in the song ‘Mississippi’. This stranger was walking through the leaves, falling from the trees and was feeling like a stranger nobody sees. All the laughter of those drinking and dancing people is just making him sad. He envies those people wearing bright-colored clothes, and all the young men and women looking so good. He just can’t live a life like that. For him, no bright colored clothes but only the cloak of misery is left and suffering, the frozen smile on his face that fits him like a glove. He knows he can’t trade places with those people. He is a stranger in a strange land, but he knows that is where he belongs. His utter misery is getting worse in the next verse:
‘I’m crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog
Talking to myself in a monologue
I think what I need might be a full-length-leather coat
Somebody just asked me if I’m registered to vote’.
‘‘I’m crossing the street to get away from a mangy dog’ The mangy dog reminds us of poor Lazarus in Luke 16:21 who, full of sores, desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table, and the dogs came and licked his sores. This is what happens if dogs run free. In ‘Meet me in the morning’’ the poet was able to outrun the hound dogs but here a mangy dog has the edge over him and compels him to cross the street to get away from this dog. A mangy dog, like flies to a rotten corpus, is attracted to a dirty ragged tramp that lives on the street. ‘Talking to myself in a monologue’ is what happens to a lonely homeless tramp, so alone, with no direction home, the only one left to talk to is himself. ‘I think what I need might be a full-length-leather coat’ .The only thing a gambler needs is a suitcase and a trunk but this lonely homeless hobo needs a full-length leather coat to protect him from the cold and the rain.
‘Somebody just asked me if I’m registered to vote’. Some states in the USA prohibit individuals convicted of a felony from voting. Some states prohibit voting when on parole and/or probation but allow voting after. Some states have a lifetime ban from voting for ex-convicts. One may register wherever one has an address. In most states, one must register, usually 30 days before a given election, in order to vote in it. The reason why the poet is asked if he is registered to vote is because he is out there on the street and looks like a homeless tramp without any address.
6. The turning point in the song.
“The sun is beginning to shine on me
But it’s not like the sun that it used to be
The party is over and there’s less and less to say
I got new eyes, everything looks far away”
‘The sun is beginning to shine on me’. Quite rightly this verse may be interpreted as the turning point of the song. For the pilgrim, at least up till now, there has been nothing but trouble and deep agony on his way to the Highlands, but suddenly the sun starts to shine on him. All of a sudden the future looks bright for him. ’But it’s not like the sun that it used to be’’ Those who interpret ‘the sun’ here not as the ordinary sun, the ecclesiastical body that shines on him, but as ‘The Son’, Jesus, may have good papers. Likewise, there are also good reasons to believe that the phrase in ‘Not Dark Yet’: ’I still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal’ may be read as: ‘I still got the scars that the Son (that is Jesus) didn’t heal’. Son instead of Sun. The sun cannot heal scars; on the contrary, prolonged exposure to sunlight makes scars worse instead of healing them. The poet wants to make it very clear that it’s not like the sun ‘that it used to be’. This ‘sun’, this light is different. This light is God, Jesus. God is a shining light like it says in Revelation 22:23: ‘And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the lamb’. The ‘lamb’ stands for Jesus.
The poet is now on the brink of entering the Highlands, of entering Heaven. That is why he says: ‘The party is over and there’s less and less to say’. He has nearly reached the end of the trail. Whatever he had to say has been said. Like he says in ‘’Standing in the Doorway’: ‘I see nothing to be gained by any explanation, there’s no words that need to be said’ or like in ‘Thunder on the mountains’: ‘I’ve already confessed, no need to confess again’. From now on it is: ’Ain’t talking, just walking’. The book of Ecclesiastes says in Chapter 3:7: ‘There’s a time to keep silence, and a time to speak’. The game, the party, is now over. The camera zooms out; he is lifted up in heaven, as he ascends from the world, the earth moves ever further away from him, till he is clear out of sight.
‘I got got new eyes’. Earthly eyes, they just tell you lies (as he said in ‘License to kill’) but these new eyes enable you to see what everybody in the world is up against (as in ‘Sugar Baby’’); enable you to lay down your weary tune and to trust your fate in the hands of God (as in ‘Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum’’) . ‘Everything looks far away’ means that the poet has freed himself from the chains of his wretched earthly existence; he now looks from above, from an ever growing distance down to the earth and is less and less concerned and troubled with earthly matters and is more and more wrapped in heavenly peace and serenity.
7. The learning process of the poet as he progresses towards the Highlands.
There are five verses (verse 1, 4,7,15 and the final verse) in the song which dwell on the Highlands and they all start with: ‘My heart’s in the Highlands’. It is clear that his heart, his sympathy is not in this world and the poet has listened to what Colossians 3:2 says: ‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’. Now as the song progresses the poet experiences a sort of learning process; he is getting more and more ready for life in the Highlands (Heaven).
In verse 1 it says: ‘I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go’. Mentally he is not ready to go yet at this point. He first needs to go through a process of inward renewal and purification a process which takes time. This is a process may even take a lifetime.
In verse 4 he feels sure that the Highlands (Heaven) is the only place where he belongs: ‘wherever I roam, that’s where I’ll be when I get called home’. Rambling and gambling for the one he loves, he yet finds no comfort in a world where beauty goes unrecognized. In fact he knows for sure that spiritually he lives another world, where life and death are memorized and where the earth is strung with lovers’ pearls. You don’t determine yourself when you will go there. Born at the right time, God will call you home at the right time. The poet goes on to say that ‘you can only get there one step at a time’. This is again the learning process you have to walk through on this earth. To grow from childhood to maturity takes a lot of pain. Even Jesus suffered in the process as Hebrews 5: 8 says: ‘Although he was the Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered’. We all wear the same thorny crown but deep down inside the poet knows that he needs all those hardships and sufferings, as necessary steps on his way to the Promised Land, the Highlands of Heaven. Step by step he is getting closer and closer.
In verse 7 he has made a lot of progress on his way to the Highlands. The night has passed and he finds himself now at the break of dawn. He sees the light of the dawning day on the horizon. And he realizes: ‘Behind the horizon, behind the sun, at the end of the rainbow, life has only just begun’. He is not there yet but the poet concludes that there are no other options left now; the Highlands is ‘the only place left to go’. In verse 15 he confirms this once again: ‘Can’t see any other way to go’.
In the final verse he has gone past the break of dawn, it is now the break of day. He feels a change coming on and the first part of the day is already gone. ’Over the hills and far away’. He has passed the hills and has mentally reached his destination: The Highlands. He is at almost the same stage as he is in the last verse of ‘Ain’t Talking’: ‘Up the road, around the bend. Heart burning, still yearning, in the last outback at the world’s end’. Peace and quiet is starting to fall down on him. For all those who have eyes and for all those who have ears he has the following message: ‘there a way to get there’. He does not explicitly say what that way to heaven is, but he is nevertheless absolutely sure that such a way exists.
’I’ll figure it out somehow’ means ‘I have already figured it out and if you want to, you can figure it out too’. The secret is in what Jesus says in Matthew 5:3,4,5: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Highlands), Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’. Those who suffer now will be blessed.
‘I’m already there in my mind, and that’s good enough for now’ wraps it all up. Still living on earth physically, spiritually he is already in heaven. His heart is already in the Highlands. Like it says in ‘When the deal goes down’: ‘I owe my heart to you (to God) and that’s saying it true, and I’ll be with you, when the deal goes down’’. That is the place where my heart is. Don’t throw this picture back at me and say: ‘ It don’t look a thing like me’’. Accept this please. ‘Ain’t talking, just walking’. That is all I have to say. ‘That is good enough for now’. Goodbye and fare thee well!
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There is a lot of theology in Modern Times. It appears that Thunder on The Mountain, Spirit on the Water, and Aint Talkin reference the Father, Holy Ghost and Son - respectively.
— society's pliers05-09-2011 23:34
and by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. and likewise a Levite... but a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was ;
this to me reminds me of crossing the street to get away from the dog and the 'monologue' the expression of mans condition exposed, including himself . Someone did come to save us from a world that will be judged. A man stripped of his raiment became clothed.
and yes Dylan has given up, in a way, on this world, that it can be fixed. Thus the question of voting in a world that can not be fixed but must be judged seems quite ridiculous. His citzenship is in heaven. (the highlands)
— kim hill18-07-2011 04:10
The reason why the poet is asked if he is registered to vote is because ... in the US we all get asked that question when you go by where they are trying to get signatures for something. Where I live it's outside shoping malls and supermrkets. In New York or Boston it could be any corner with a large pedestrian traffic. If you aren't registered, they'll do it right then and there. Then you can sign for whatever the issue of the day is.
— dss18-07-2011 00:19
i think the sun that is "beginning to shine on me" is his muse. where before everything was effortless and easy now there's less and less to say. he's got new eyes eveything is far away.
despite that new muse which he had lost but then found he can still write this lovely song....
— rwhalen16-07-2011 21:47
Sir, Great analysis. Very understandable, direct and well written. I appreciate the interpretations of Dylans' wordplay and poetic meaning... Now I am looking forward to reading more anaylisis of other songs.
— stuart perry16-07-2011 18:28
Nothing like complete overkill of one of Bob's best songs. First off he is talking about the Scottish
Highlands not some pie in the sky location, "with the horses and hounds." A full length leather coat
is needed because Dylan is aware of the fact that he has very thin skin. Also keep in mind where he
was both career wise and mentally when he wrote "Time Out of Mind." LOST ...........he knew that
there was a way back and even a way to get to a place that he would rather be, but like all of us he
could only get there "one step at a time."
— janmarina16-07-2011 15:51
Dear JesperThank you for you extensive commentary on my analysis. In response to your comments, please note the following:1.The words 'mind' and 'heart' have indeed a different meaning but also share a common ground. For instance when I say : 'I've set my mind on the Highlands' it does not differ much from: ''My heart's in the Highlands'.
2. Your comments on "I'll figure it out somehow''. First he says: ''There is a way to get there'. This statement is brought to us as a fact. He does not say: 'there may be a way to get there, but there is a way to get there and I''l figure it out some how'. And once this is a fact - that there is a way to get there- the poet is sure that he will figure out a way to get there.It is as if he says: 'there is a way to get there and you bet that I will find this way, no matter what happens'. If I would rewrite my analysis I would try to make this point clear.
3. The song ends much more serene, peaceful and optimistic than you like to think. ''The sun is beginning to shine on me" marks a turning point, a new beginning. In fact it is the first positive remark in the whole song and from that point on everything is going to be different: "He's got new eyes" as an immediate result of this. Your remarks on this point are no reason for me to change my mind on how I should interpret this song.
4. It all boils down on this.a. If you believe the fact that "Highlands"" may be a metaphor for 'heaven', my analysis may make good sense, even if you have a different opinion on some of the details. I have good reasons to believe this. It has a heavy impact on the interpretation of this song and on the whole of Dylan's works.b. If you do not believe this, my whole interpretation might be sheer nonsense.
I think that Dylan deliberately leaves both options open, certainly when you look at a song on an individual level. However, when seen as part of his whole works, I have strongs reasons to believe that a deeper, spiritual interpretation, is what Dylan has meant all along. Dylan remains silent and he is right. It opens up a debate among his followers and that is a good thing. There I say: 'Let the echo decide whether I am right or wrong'
Thanks again for your elaborate comments.:-DKees de Graaf
— Kees de Graaf16-07-2011 14:48
Is the extended version of Highlands, a studio take ~25 minutes long was done, appeared anywhere?
— Hugh Bollinger16-07-2011 14:44
In the above., there's a piece missing:
in your explanation of the last line you say I’m already there in my mind, and that’s good enough for now’
the 'also' in the next sentence should be an 'again'.
— Jesper16-07-2011 12:18
Glad to see you finished your interpretation.
For the most part I can follow your explanation of the song. There's a couple of things I think maybe should be reconsidered:
In what you call part 6, the 'turning point', it seems that you find the changes for the good: the new light
that shines on him is 'the light of God', and his new eyes are no longer 'earthly'. However, i feel that the
entire song, and that part in particular, is melancholic rather than cheerful. When you take a look at the lyrics, mostly, this song is about estrangement,
dissapointment, distance, etcetera. I find it remarkable that you say that the 'new light' and the 'new eyes' are positive markers
of faith (a newfound faith?). New things aren't necessarily positive, and in this case, I'm pretty sure they aren't.
I'll explain why I think so: because the 'I' comments that 'the party is over, there is less and less to say' and his new eyes make
'everything seem far away'. Both these comments point to a weariness and a distancing. There's nothing positive about it.
I dont feel he's 'ascending earthly pleasures': remember he would 'trade places with any of them if he could'.
Rather he is becoming more and more numb, uninterested, and tired, obviously against his will. If this is an approach of Heaven, it's not very hopeful.
While the above is perhaps just personal preference, the last part of your analysis really seems off at times. First, you
confuse a couple of terms: when he states in the last verse that 'his heart is in the Highlands', you claim
that he is there 'mentally', while they are different things. You also do this in the last line when you say that
" ‘I’m already there in my mind, and that’s good enough for now’ wraps it all up. [...] His heart is already in the Highlands."
Once again you confuse the mind and the heart, while i think keeping those two seperated is very important for this song (but also in general).
Then you state: " ’I’ll figure it out somehow’ means ‘I have already figured it out and if you want to, you can figure it out too’. "
I dont mean to be blunt, but this is just wrong. How can 'i'll figure it out somehow' mean 'i have figured it out
and you can, too'? That is precisely not what he is saying, these are exactly opposites.
If somebody says they'll figure it out somehow, what it means is that they are hopeful
that they will find a way. It does absolutely not mean that they have already found a way, let alone that
other people can find a way (i dont see any clues that it is about other people in this song at all, in fact, it's extremely individual).
I'm also confused as to why you quote the Bible here and why you would
connect the Sermon on the Mount with this particular piece of text. It doesn't make much sense at all, and seems rather random.
((By the way, i think this goes for a lot of intertextual links that you seem to find. You quote a lot of other
Dylan songs to support your interpretation of this song, but without explaining why. This is false
reasoning: just the fact that Dylan also wrote other words do not prove anything, not about Highlands.
You're just making your own argument more complex than it has to be, because you're dragging in other songs for which you also
imply to have the right interpretation (i.e. that When The Deal Goes Down is also about Christianity, which i doubt),
while they have nothing to do with this particular song.))
Anyway, rather, what this sentence means is that obviously, the 'I' has NOT yet found a way to get there,
but he hopes that he will eventually. It seems that a journey must be undertaken as the Highlands are 'far away'. His 'new eyes'
will come in handy.
In you explanation of the last line you say: Also, i think you read this very positively while i think that
the entire song is quite dark and desperate. He is there in his heart (not mind) only, and he claims that this
is 'good enough for now': but the rest of the song is about how badly he wants to get to the Highlands,
isn't it? In your interpretation you miss the journey that he feels he has to make completely. You say that at the beginning of the song, he wants to get there,
and in the end, he has figured it out. No. This is not so, because during the song there has been no 'journey' at all (all there has been is the scene in the restaurant, which shows,
i think, how pointless it is to try and get closer to the Highlands. In your interpretation, this entire scene just doesn't fit, so you pretty much seem to ignore it or look at it as if it's a different
part that has nothing to do with the rest).
The song is about the Highlands, a nice place, far away. He wants to go there badly, phsyically i mean, make the journey there,
but he doesn't feel 'good enough to go'.
((Funny, by the way, that if the Highlands is indeed Heaven, and he doesn't feel 'good enough' to go, what does that mean?
That he isn't 'good enough', and therefore will go to Hell? Or maybe that he feels good, in that he isn't about to die?))
Unlike you seem to think, in the end of the song there are no clues this has at all changed.
He still doesn't feel quite good enough to actually go there. Apart from that he knows it's far away, he doesn't know the way there.
Therefore, the last line is therefore not hopeful (I'm already there and i'll make the journey later); it's rather depressing, i'd say.
He is there in his heart, but he doesn't know how to actually get there (although he hopes to figure it out) and he is starting to accept that maybe
this situation is good enough, at least for now. Rather than a positive development, what is going on here is that
you can see his hopes of ever getting to the Highlands begin to fall apart. Shimmering through is the idea that he will never get there, but that he will forever
be trapped inside the monotone, dull place he is in right now, dreaming of another place that he will never reach.
So, if this song is indeed about Heaven (which might be so, but isn't necessarily so), I think the 'message' Dylan is giving is very depressing:
you might never get to Heaven. It might just be an 'idea' that will always remain far away.
Instead of just critisizing i tried to give an alternate interpretation this time,
i hope you appreciate that. I think it shows i see this song as far more depressing and far less religiously hopeful than you do.
The music seems to support my interpretation, i think; it's not really all that cheerful and, for instance,
it doesn't change to a cheery tune at the 'turning point' that you recognize.
I'm curious as to what you think of my take on all of this.
— Jesper16-07-2011 12:13