A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

Album: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)
Play Video


  • This is a 7-minute anti nuclear war anthem. It was one of three social protest songs Dylan recorded on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan; the others are "Blowin' In The Wind" and "Masters Of War." Dylan said that the rain was not literal fallout rain, but "some sort of end that's just gotta happen."
  • "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is based on an old folk ballad variously titled "Lord Randall" or "Lord Ronald," in which a mother repeatedly questions her son (beginning with "Where have you been?"), leading him to reveal he has been poisoned. The song ends when he falls dead to the ground.

    American folk musicians adopted "Lord Randall" at some point in history. The song evolved into "Jimmy Randall." In In the Pine (Pikeville College Press, 1978), authors Leonard Roberts and Calvin Buell Agey report there being "about 100" known references to the song all over the United States.

    Though no definitive line can be drawn, it seems likely that Dylan encountered an American variation of the song that he used as the basis for "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." By this time, Dylan was deeply immersed in the study of American folk music. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Dan - Riverside, IL
  • Ten years after Dylan recorded his version, Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry recorded a dark, claustrophobic cover as his first solo single, which reached #10 in the UK.
  • In the liner notes to The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Dylan wrote: "'Hard Rain' is a desperate kind of song. Every line in it, is actually the start of a whole song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn't have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Derek - Sarnia, Canada
  • Bob Dylan once introduced this song by saying hard rain meant something big was about to happen. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Kyle - New York, NY
  • According to journalist Bob Spitz, Dylan wrote this song on the typewriter of Hugh Romney, better known as Wavy Gravy.
  • Patti Smith performed this song on December 10, 2016 as part of the ceremonies in Stockholm where Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Dylan didn't attend the ceremony, but wrote a speech that was read by the US ambassador to Sweden. Smith got tripped up a few minutes into her performance and had to stop the music (the song is not an easy one to get through), but the audience gave her warm applause when she apologized, and she continued on.
  • Richie Havens was a regular performer in the Greenwich Village folk scene at the same time as Dylan and often sang this, assuming their mutual acquaintance Gene Michaels wrote the tune. "I used to have
    arguments about that with different people. It was terrible [that I didn't know]," Havens recalled in a 1994 DISCoveries interview. "I remember singing it at Folk City and a guy walking up to me with tears in his eyes, and telling me it was his favorite version of that song – and then walking away. I headed down to the dressing room down in the basement, and [singer] Dave Van Ronk was coming up. He said to me, 'Do you know who that was? He wrote that song.' I said, 'No, he didn't! Gene Michaels wrote that song.' [Van Ronk] said, 'No, he didn't! Bob Dylan wrote that song, and that was just him!' And it blew my mind that he had complimented me for singing one of his songs. At the time, I didn't even realize it."

Comments: 69

  • Mike from Berkeley, CaThough Dylan wrote this during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I believe he used that situation as a starting point in writing this song, not as a literal interpretation of atomic fallout. Dylan explained this during an interview he did with Studs Terkel in the spring of '63. In it, he says: "It's not an atomic rain, it's just a hard rain..." and he doesn't seem to like the idea of people treating the atomic bomb as if it were "a god in some sort of a way." And though he might have been thinking about the possibility of atomic bombs going off as something that could happen, I don't think he wanted to limit the idea of 'hard rain' just to that possibility. When Terkel asked "When you say a hard rain, what do you mean?" Dylan said: "I just mean some sort of end that's just gotta happen..."
  • Yowm from So. Ca.I've always taken a hard rain as meaning the coming judgment. Hail is a form of 'hard' rain...

    The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
    (Rev 8:7)
  • Glen from UsaSecond comment. I agree Rob has just totally missed it! Bob just commented on what was happening! And he did it with poetry turned into song!
  • Glen from UsaA hard rain from radioactive fallout! pellets of poison flooding their waters fallout again. The roar of a wave that could drown the whole world. Ask the Japanesse about that wave. Dark song about nuclear war.
  • Randy from Houghton Lake, MiLooking back now it's been said that America lost it's innocence after the JFK assassination and the Vietnam war. Looking back now this song seems prophetic. I really like the Leon Russell cover of this.
  • Aimee from Milford, MiProdigal Son.
  • Rjay from Redwood, CaQuit looking for meaning where none is intended .. this ain't English 101. Let the words conjure images.
    Dylan said it ain't about nuclear nothin', it's about a hard rain is gonna fall. Get it? A hard rain is gonna fall.
    Simple, huh?
  • Jan from Durham, Nc I'm no musicologist or historian, but when I was much younger, my older brother bought a few of Dylan's earliest albums as well as some by Joan Baez.

    I've never seen any linkage between "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall" and a song that Baez recorded, "What Have They Done to the Rain," by Malvina Reynolds that was released in 1962. That song is much simpler but deals with the fact that nuclear testing was still being permitted in the atmosphere and as a consequence radioactive Strontnium 90 was falling down with the rain and making its way through the food chain into bodies of children.

    I also recall a visit to the Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, where they have this one photograph of President Kennedy. In 1961 he had just been briefed about nuclear fallout by White House Science Adviser Jerome Weisner, who explained that it was washed out of the clouds by rain. "You mean," Kennedy asked, "it's in the rain out there?" As Wiesner tells it, the president then "looked out the window, looked very sad and didn't say a word for several minutes."

    Anyway, right or wrong, in my mind these two songs and that image have always been interconnected through all these years.

    Here's a link to the lyrics of "What Have They Done to the Rain?" http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/MALVINA/mr183.htm
  • James from Boerne, Tx"I'll know my song well before I start singin',"- My take on this is that to truly speak on almost anything and for it to mean something, you've have to had some experience with it to justify or add credibility. This song, probably may favorite ever (especially the Edie Brickell version), is so artistic and meaningful in so many ways it's amazing. I understand it to mean that the author had built to this line in the song with so many powerful and pressing issues that he wanted to be sure that none of the song's messages are missed. He felt a true importance and need to be taken seriously. He justifies his feelings and experiences and wants to make sure you know how important the meaning of the song is. Almost a "take heed to what I say, one day you'll see I was right." Certainly has that feel listening to it and considering the events since it's writing.

    I love the song. It really made the movie, Born on the Fourth of July for me. I know that this song has been used in many tribute videos to honor our service men and women. I hope that when you see these brave men and women and their families you tell them how much we appreciate them and support them regardless of your political viewpoints. They do not pick their fights in many cases. They're only called on to finish them. Thank you brave service members and families.

    I truly appreciate all of the perspective and insight you all have shared. Just goes to solidify the power of music and the poetry within as well as small glimpses into a greater humanity that I know is still out there. When people stop caring and sharing, all has truly been lost.
  • Washinton Irving from Inverness, United KingdomTO the person who said activists should live like the people they're fighting for, what good is that going to do? How would aid workers starving to death help anyone, or in this case how would Bob Dylan going to war achieve more than any other person?
  • Dav from Woburn, MaHey Rob from Kentucky (you would be from the South) when Bob Dylan wrote and recorded this, he was in his early 20s. This was off his second album, and his first one was pretty unknown outside of folk circles. So he actually WAS living a pretty destitute life at the time. Dylan really didn't come to fame and fortune until the early 70s. And seriously, if you're not a Dylan fan, why the hell did you comment on this song? Dylan has been compared to the Shakespeare and Beethoven of the 20th century. He did know what he was writing about, which is why his albums continue to sell almost fifty years later. Sorry real music isn't as straight forward as "Black Betty" by Ram Jam or "Flirtin' with Disaster" by Molly Hatchet, ya ignint redneck.
  • Lisa from Rochester, MnI sang this song to my son when he was a new born. The meaning of the song is quite simple...It's about life.
  • James from Somerville, NjA response to many, but particularly to Rob from KY: Dylan is not a hippie. Check your facts, he's even directly put down hippies. Your way of hyping people is just as bad as any other form of politics. Dylan is a musician and writer, not a politician, and he knows it better than anyone. That's why he doesn't make political statements. Even when he does the occassional gig for a politician or speaks about a politician, close observation reveals that he's very suspicious of all politics. When you claim that American's should get back to "reality" and ignore texts of real literary value, you encourage people to become uninformed, thoughtless, and a real drag for anything within their sphere of influence. Rob, hippies can be pretty annoying and hypocritical, but when you let yourself fall to ignorance, you're just as bad. Final note: This is not a protest song either. It does address a great many things that you can find scattered about history, but saying it's an "anti-nuke protest song" means that you've missed 99.9% of the song. Protest movements are stupid. Thoughtful literary pieces are infinitely applicable and meaningful. Dylan's a bit too bright to get stuck writing protest songs.
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaBryan Ferry does an excellent version of his debut solo disc from 1973.
  • Jim from Chicago, IlI recommend Pete Seeger's powerful rendition of "A Hard Rain . . ." - Far superior to the composer's version(s)
  • Laurens from Norwich, United KingdomI always think of the famous Buddhist text - The Diamond Sutra when I hear the line 'A highway of diamonds with nobody on it' I am not quite sure why I make that link but I know that certainly Allen Ginsberg was influenced by Buddhism - perhaps this rubbed off upon Dylan?
  • Chris from Saugus, MaThe lyrics to this song is astounding, one of the best written songs I've ever heard. I don't care what the song means the lyrics are great, but Bob Dylan's voice can get really annoying at times, and the guitar is to repetitive. Overall, this an okay song.
  • Eve from Burlington, VtPeter from Australia: Were you really around for that era and knew Bob? I find that very interesting!!
  • Rob from Lous, KyI'm not a fan of Dylan. As a matter of fact I think this guy was and stil is on drugs.
    His music is just like Springsteen's music. Depresive and deceiving. If any of these "Poets" and "activists" care so much about the people, the enviroment and other issues they sing about why don't they give up their nice lives and live like those they're trying to save? I don't want to hear any bs about using theip fame and power to get recognition for those issues....live like those who have been affected by social injustice. Live in a farm where the land is drying out and there are no other resources.
    All these debates about what "good ol' Bob" meant in his song are meaninless because that old Hippie has no clue what he wrote back then.

  • Joel from Columbia, ScActually Bob Dylan has stated that the song is composed of other songs. He has stated that the song was written during the Cuban missle crisis and that he (Dylan) was afraid he might not get another chance to write more songs. That having been said, it is a great song and has been covered by plenty of other singers. Sorry for the long post I am on my third cup of coffee and quite possibly something else but that will just have to remain a mystery. Peace
  • Madison from Grants Pass, Orhello everyone! My name is Madison, i am a senior in high school. i have always liked Bob Dylans music but had never really taken the time to really process his Extraordinary and ageless messages to the world. I just recently read a book about him and am writing a report about the song "Hard Rain". i just wanted to say that all of your thoughts about the lyrics have helped me out enormously!They have opened my mind up to a whole new way of interpreting each lyric i listen to. You all have great ideas as to what Bob Dylan could be saying. :)I never realized how many different interpretations there could be to just one line. It amazes me! I absolutly adore Bob Dylan now, i cant get enough of him. It seems every time i listen to his songs i get something new and slightly different out of it. All of his songs really grow on you. How amazing would it be to meet him! i cant think of anyone i would rather meet!
    -well Thanks everyone for all your ideas! :)
    Madison :)
  • Jerry from Brooklyn, NyChris: I thought I might have been the only nerd around who actually paid attention during high school English class! Yes, I thought of Lord Randall the first time I heard this. I suspect Dylan is well-read enough that he used this ancient literary form deliberately. I don't think it's just a coincidence.
  • Chris from Hershey, PaEver hear "Lord Randal", its an early english ballad, direct influence or maybe a coinsidence
  • Amber from San Francisco, CaI remember this song from the movie "Born On The Fourth Of July". Edie Brickell sang it. Pretty good song and I never knew that Bob wrote it!
  • Max from Karlsruhe, GermanyThe line "Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley" could mean that "people remain who they are even when their faces fall to peaces"(Bertold Brecht)
  • Mark from Washington, D.c., DcWell, um. Last night I watched part 1 of "No Direction Home". In an interview with Studs Turkel, Dylan says the song is not about nuclear rain. To me, the bold and dark imagery of the lyrics shows simple, easy to understand visual elements woven together or slapped up against one another to create a startling, mystical, almost prophetic call. Written and delivered by Dylan, the synergetic whole is much more powerful and haunting than the sum of the parts. Still, be carful not to read too much into this song. I like what the comment above mentioned: the song is about a person walking through life. Stark imagery displaying generic human encounters. Regarding Dylan, I see him as a wiley sort of public image crafter. Johnny from LA is right: don't believe the stuff he says. There is nothing more powerful, the saying goes, than an idea whose time has come. Like the PBS show said, Dylan was a guy who was an empath, channeling the late 50's and early 60's mood and culture into lyrics. Everybody has that happen to them: ideas and lyrics and music seem to come from "somewhere else" and pass right through them. Dylan was focused and ambitious and was able to capture and reprocess the signal. I'm not sure he could even tell you what some of his stuff means.
  • Angelo from Chicago, Ilmet a white man who walked a black dog is Bob's way of asking why is it alright for a white person to love a black dog, but not a black man
  • Simon from Chattanooga , TnThis is an incredible song; no matter what we ever think it was meant to be written about or for, let's all still give Mr. Dylan a hand...this is wonderful!
  • Peter from Great Barrier Reef, AustraliaHi I am the blue eyed boy. the song was written in pictures stick figure style on the second rendition. It does tell a story but I am the only one who can tell it. I can prove I am the blue eyed boy by comparing my recollection of its creation with dylans account. I can also tell you who the original Tambourine man was ( a street dancer in the new orleans madi gras. Say hello to Bob for me and let him know I am still around and I would love to see him again. I also wrote seventh Sojourn. This was actually sung by me down a telephone line in around 1969. No one knows who I am and I am not allowed public accreditation. (Someone could start asking questions about the millions in stolen royalties). Wrote and sang 7 tracks from pretty in pink all songs and royalties assigned to other artists. Thats just a small part of the story. want to hear the rest. Let me Know
  • Linda from Ranger, GaA cover of this song is featured on the soundtrack to the movie Born on the 4th of July.
  • Terrioke from Sylvania, OhI LOVE the Leon Russell version of this from the Shelter People Album! The lyrics are pretty frightening however, I've dedicated it to my 25 year old son, as it was my two deceased brothers and my almost very favorite song by Leon in the early '70's.
    You can hear it by Leon Russell
    on myspace terrigeorgiapeach
  • Jack from Nyc, NyActually, Dylan himself said in an interview that when writing this song he didn't mean it in terms of Nuclear War. That early interview where he says he isn't a topical songwriter. It was not intended that way, and if you read the lyrics it has a completely different feeling about it.
  • Amanda from Fayetteville, ArI believe the line about the woman whose body was burning is in reference to Joan of Arc, and the young girl who gave him a rainbow is Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Just my opinion.
  • Vicki from Russell Springs, KyI love and respect him so much as a musician and writer that I find it very difficult to read criticisms of him live or otherwise.I've seen Bob four times in the past 4 yrs.Although I'd agree his voice has "aged" and deepened since the 60's I'd compare the change to the aging process of a fine wine rather than to "distorted mumbling".Bob's a 66 yr old smoker and he's sung a few songs since the 60's.He's a beautiful writer and singer and I'd reach deep into my pockets for a ticket to see Bob anyday.
  • J.j. from Philadelphia, PaStraight from the source himself. Dylan said this song was written during the Cuban missle crisis and all of the lyrics are atually the start of new songs.
  • Greg from Paris, MiI have to disagree with the idea that Bob is bad in concert, personally, I like the way he has adapted his style to his changing voice. And Carol, this song was written years before the Vietnam War ;)
  • Joseph from Auckland, New Zealandwhite ladder covered in water could relate to white superiority and the tears any bigotry brings
    a hard rains gonna fall is simply a mans journey thru life witnessing and recording
    the beauty of Bob dylans music and words is the simplicity of its truth
    just look at some of the comments that people have made and what the songs meaning means to them relating to events that had not even occurred at the time the song was penned a sign of true genius
  • Dave from San Jose, CaThe "new-born baby with wild wolves all around it" could be a reference to Rome's founding myth of Romulus and Remus.
  • J from Ny, NyChronologically Hard Rain was premiered a month before the Cuban Missle Crisis
  • Jacob from Waterford, Ctho is Bob Dylan not Jewish? maybe he isn't practising but his name is Zimmerman and he's the son of Jewish Immigrants. plus, nothing has ever stopped him from singing about God and religion,s o it is completely possible that it could be about Noah's Ark. John Dylan annoys me because he has no way of knowing what this song is about (and Bob probably doesn't even know) so he shouldn't critisize people's interpretations.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScGreg. I had a similar experience. I wa disappointed to here him sound like that, and I have since bought some Bob Dylan music. As a live act, he was definitely better in his prime in the 1960's and 1970's.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScActually, the version I'm probably refering to is from 1965 or so, but it is live.
  • Greg from Victoria, CanadaA great Dylan song. However I saw him live in Vancouver Canada last year. I was like watching Mr.Burns(simpsons) mumbling.I even tried boycotting Dylan music after that. It didn't last long though. I just cussed him at the beginning of each song and eventually got over it. He should stick to the studio at this point. Hands down my favorite song writer and singer.Gotta love Bob!
  • Carol from Bel Air, MdI always thought this song was about Vietnam. The reference to blue eyed son to me meant going over there as an American boy in a country full of hell,maybe I'm wrong but every reference seems to point to America's being there for no reason.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI'm not sure what this one is about, but I think it's a great song. I have a version that appears on the No Direction Home sound track. It's a live one from the early 60's. I can't remember where it was performed though.
  • Rob from Leamington, Englanddylan said that each line of the song was the first of a song he wasn't sure he'd ever get to finish (with the whole Cuba thing going on)
    he could have been being dramatic, but the words do seem to have a 60's US judaeo-christian conscience to them
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaYou can never trust Bob Dylan in a press interview or anything of that sort. He was always foolin' the press, thatz what made him so cool/. I don't know If he still does.
  • Joe from Charlotte, NcLeyla- That is not what i thought this song was about but you may have converted me. Isn't poetry grand! Once you think you know, your mind is blown by an alternative.
  • Barry from New York, NyRob, Dylan is technically Jewish (whatever that means) and definitely Jewish. He was born into a Jewish family. He was involved in born again christianity in 1979-71 but after that his religious affiliation to anything sort of petered out. However he still is Jewish.
  • Rob from Leamington, EnglandDylan, though not techncially Jewish, had a Jewish upbringing, and thus had an inherent Jewishness to his mind
  • Barry from New York, NyThe version of this song performed at the Concert for Bangla Desh in August 1971 is the best version I've ever heard. During the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue he performed this at a faster pace which didn't work as well but was still interesting to hear.
  • John Dylan from Blah, MsBob is not in fact Jewish and even if he were why would he not know about the Great Flood, its in the old testament. Anyway I did a paper on this song for Freshman English and I did a line by line breakdown.
  • Andrew from Brisbane, AustraliaWhen this came out I assumed the anti-nuclear interpretation but I agree there is much more in. I only saw the connection with Lord Randall today. What I did think years ago though, was that the 'highway of diamonds' referred to the carbon in asphalt converted to diamond under intense (nuclear) heat.
  • Joel Riley from Berkley, MiI'm not so sold on the whole nuclear aspect of it simply from a quote Dylan said in an interview regarding the song (can be seen on Bringing it ALl Back home documentary):

    ""It's not atomic rain, it's not fallout rain... I [just] mean some sort of end that's just got to happen"
  • Kyle from Eglewood, CoAs i said it can mean whatever you can identify with
  • Matt from Toronto, CanadaI know bob dylan's jewish and all, but when I first heard this song (without thinking about the context with the missile crissis), I immediately thought of in the bible when noah had to build the ark cause become corrupt or god was flooding the world which had something (sorry I'm not too sure exactly what is supposed to have happened). It seems like he's saying that we've really screwed up the world and it can't be too long before it's "cleansed" again. I just get that from the whole song, like he's saying all the terrible things he sees in the world and he's thinking god's gonna send a hard rain to drown all the evil. Any thoughts?
  • Kyle from Eglewood, CoThis, in my opinion is bob dylan's best song now i noticed that many people are confused about the lyrics but for bob's early folk songs especially had lyrics thatwere very open to interpretation and thats why he identified with so many people so one could argue that the song means whatever you think it means
  • Natalie from Encino, CaBob Dylan really topped himself with this awesome song. As you may know, it is a brilliant mixture of old and new â?? a take-off from an old English ballad, with stunning new replies from the "blue-eyed son." Instead of answering the question "where have you been?" with expectable garp about hanging with the gang, smoking stuff, ogling girls, etc., this brilliant, poetic "son" offers cryptic, thoughtful replies about the state of the world he sees, issuing an eerie prophecy about unpleasant things to come. ("Mother" then probably wishes she's never asked! Like, where is this kid coming from??)
  • Jerrybear from Flint, MiThe "white ladder all covered with water" could refer to the popular capitalist myth of the ladder of success that everyone is supposed to be able to climb if only they work hard enough, blah blah yadda yadda. Only some people may be so poor and beaten down that they cannot climb the ladder...for them the ladder is symbolically "covered with water" and no matter how hard they try to climb it they just keep slipping down.

    "met a white man who walked a black dog" and "black branch with blood that kept dripping" definitely seem to refer to white racism against black people.

    "guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children" could be seen as an eerie premonition of the more recent school shootings such as Columbine.

    the "young woman whose body was burnin'" always makes me think of the famous picture of the Vietnamese girl who was burned by napalm.

    Dylan had many great protest songs but this may have been his best.
  • Tim from Charlotte, Nc"I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin"- I always thought this was a reference to the Billie Holiday song "Strange Fruit" which referred to the lynchings of black people in the South.
  • Jesse from Orlando, FlSee this is why I live Dylans music....He write in such a style that can be translated in so many different ways. This song tends to relate to a lot of issues throughout history and the present....I listen to it now, and it relates in a lot of ways to natural disasters like last years Tsunami, Hurrican Katrina, racial issues in New Orleans, Starvation and poverty, war in the middle east. Kids walking around with weapons. I love this song....Jason Mraz recently covered this song on the new double album "Tribute to Bob Dylan" by Drive-Thru records...I recomend this album to younger listeners who are just getting into Dylan's music.
  • Leyla from Toronto, CanadaI thought this song was about all the racism going down in the South. Dylan went down to Mississippi in the early 60's and that's where alot of his song writing was triggered. "I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests"-he met a number of interesting black people when he was there. "I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin"- he could have seen a black man who was wounded so badly by the hate the white people had against him that the blood represents pain. "I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children"- guns and swords are connected to "hate"..the whiteinnocent kids that he saw were making comments and acting exactly like the older white people did towards the black people."Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world"-The black people all would fight for equalty..like marching into the "white" area of the town. But many times these would turn into violence. "Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin"- "Starve" doesnt really have to mean that they are starving for food. It may mean starve for equality, for peace, for a voice- but when people are laughing..you can't exactly explain what you want them to hear..because when you laugh...they're not paying any more attention...they don't want to hear anymore..they just want to laugh. "Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley"- People always think that if you can make other people laugh..you feel great in the inside...but they really don't feel great in the inside. it shows that everyone in the world is sad about something..showing that everyone is the same. "I met a white man who walked a black dog"-how could a racist white man walk a black dog...when he can't even communicate with a black human being? "And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
    And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
    Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin',
    But I'll know my song well before I start singin',"- he's not going to be a racist white man, he'd rather be with the "poor" black people...he's going to speak to the world ...till he dies proud.

  • Larry from Lexington, KyWhat does this line mean: "I saw a white ladder all covered with water"?
  • Barry from New York, NcAt the Concert for Bangla Desh on August 1, 1971, Dylan (backed by Harrison, Starr and Leon Russell) opened his mini set with this tune.
  • Larry from Lexington, KyI appreciate the comments on the meaning of this song. Does anyone know where to find a line-by-line interpretation? I'm especially curious about the line "I saw a white ladder all covered with water." Maybe Craig from Irvine, CA has something from the middle-school class?
  • Garcia from Vb, CanadaFrom the threat of nuclear war, Dylan wrote this song as if it was gonna be the last he ever wrote. Such were the general atmosphere on the street, and every single line are meant to stand up as a full song. And indeed it does. To mention a few:

    'I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it'

    'I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it'
  • James from Wakefield, MaThis song is, indeed, about the threat of nuclear annihilation ("the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world") but that is far too simplistic an analysis. Bob Dylan's work is as close as popular music ever came to approaching real poetry and, like all poetry, there are a myriad interpretations. Some of the themes addressed in this work include the general injustice of the world, the unrealised "better society" ("a highway of diamonds with nobody on it"), the guilt and fear in leaving a dangerous and damaged world to the next generation ("I saw a new-born baby with wild wolves all around it"), racism, hunger, the justice system, the artist's fear of "shouting in the wilderness", and so on. This song also, like all of Dylan's work, has long passages of Verlaine-esque poetic excursions.

    This song also has what appears to be a flub by Dylan about 3:50 minutes into the song where Dylan sings "what did you meet" and then sort of laughs a little as he corrects himself with "and who did you meet."

    In the end, the protoganist's son mirrors the words of Tom Joad in the Grapes of Wrath, in what must be one of the most inspiring moments in popular music.
  • Bob from Boston, MaI believe the line "I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin'" is a reference to Dante's Inferno where a group of sinners are doomed for eternity to be trapped in black trees. When Dante breaks one of the branches the tree bleeds and cries out.
  • Craig from Irvine, CaThis is truly one of the great anti-nuke protest songs of all time ( Leon Russell and the Shelter People did a mean version in the 70's on his 2nd album)
    What is great about Dylan's version is the sharp contrast between the sparse music of vocal and guitar and the completely PROFOUND protest about what would happen to us all in a US-USSR missle war (this was written at the time of the Cuban Missle Crisis)
    I use this song in my Mr. R's History of Rock and Roll class for my middle school kids.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Grateful Dead Characters

Grateful Dead CharactersMusic Quiz

Many unusual folks appear in Grateful Dead songs. Can you identify them?

Michael Sweet of Stryper

Michael Sweet of StryperSongwriter Interviews

Find out how God and glam metal go together from the Stryper frontman.

dUg Pinnick of King's X

dUg Pinnick of King's XSongwriter Interviews

dUg dIgs into his King's X metal classics and his many side projects, including the one with Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam.


MetallicaFact or Fiction

Beef with Bon Jovi? An unfortunate Spandex period? See if you can spot the true stories in this Metallica version of Fact or Fiction.

Modern A Cappella with Peder Karlsson of The Real Group

Modern A Cappella with Peder Karlsson of The Real GroupSong Writing

The leader of the Modern A Cappella movement talks about the genre.

Band Names

Band NamesFact or Fiction

Was "Pearl" Eddie Vedder's grandmother, and did she really make a hallucinogenic jam? Did Journey have a contest to name the group? And what does KISS stand for anyway?