I Contain Multitudes

Album: Rough And Rowdy Ways (2020)


  • Bob Dylan released this song on April 16, 2020, less than a month after another surprise release with "Murder Most Foul." The two songs are similar in that both are packed with literary, historical, and musical allusions.

    A multitude is "a large number." In the context of the song, Dylan is referring to the wide-ranging, often contradictory character traits. Each verse lists a cluster of such traits punctuated by the simple explanation that he contains "multitudes."

    It's rarely safe to assume Dylan is or is not being autobiographical because he has always mixed reality and fiction liberally. In the case of this song, however, there seems a definite tie to Dylan's legendarily obtuse and confounding personality and art. Forever reinventing himself, this is the man that stated early in his career, "All I can do is be me... whoever that is."

    The song is largely comical, so Dylan doesn't seem to be taking any of it too seriously, but it does seem like he is either acknowledging his infamously convoluted disposition or at least the myth of that disposition.
  • The word "multitudes" is used many times in the Bible, and Dylan references that work constantly in his music. There's no particular passage, though, that speaks of anyone containing multitudes, so it's not clear if there's any biblical allusion in this song.
  • Follow me close, I'm going to Ballinalee

    It's difficult to discern exactly what Dylan says here, but it appears to be Ballinalee, which is a town in northern Ireland.

    The Irish poet Antoin O Raifteiri, who died in 1835, had a poem titled "Maire Ni Eidhin (The Lass from Bally-na-Lee)." There's no particular reason to think Dylan was referencing this poem except that he has referenced obscure literature and poetry many times before.
  • Got a tell-tale heart like Mr. Poe

    This references The Tell-Tale Heart, a short story published in 1843 by Edgar Allen Poe. The story is told from the perspective of a narrator who hallucinates hearing the beating heart of a man he's killed and buried beneath his floor boards.
  • I rollick and I frolic with all the young dudes

    This references All The Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople.
  • I'm just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones
    And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones

    Anne Frank was a German girl of Jewish heritage. She hid from the Nazis during World War II. Her account of the experience, The Diary of a Young Girl, is one of the most important literary works in history.

    Indiana Jones is a recurring movie character in film series by George Lucas. He's an adventurous archaeologist who battles evil in order to reclaim important historical artifacts.

    The Rolling Stones are one of the most influential and popular Rock and Roll acts of all time. They're named after a Muddy Waters song; Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" is named after a Hank Williams song.
  • I'll play Beethoven's sonatas, and Chopin's preludes
    I contain multitudes

    Ludwig van Beethoven was a composer who lived from 1770 to 1827. Dylan also referenced Beethoven in "Murder Most Foul," singing "Play 'Moonlight Sonata in F-Sharp.'"

    The Polish composer Frédéric Chopin wrote several preludes for piano, most famously his 24 Preludes, Op. 28.
  • Dylan likely took the song title from Walt Whitman's 1855 free verse poem Song of Myself, 51.

    Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes)


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