Bob Dylan’s Other Speech


By Larry Fyffe

‘Untold’ received a plain brown paper envelope containing the acceptance speech Bob Dylan gave to a s select audience of bird watchers at the headquarters of the National Audubon Society in Manhattan. He had received an award from the Society “for having created new ornithological expression within the great American songbird tradition.”

Exclusive to our readers is the text of that speech:

Dear fellow birders:

I am going to explain, in a somewhat round-about fashion, how my songs relate to ornithology.

Before I left home, I read lots of guidebooks about wild birds, all the books I could get my hands on, one way or another. And I also delved into the history of the National Audubon Society.

My head exploded when I discovered the writings of John Greenleaf Whittier, one of your earliest members:

The wind blew east, we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air ….
While , peering down from his early perch
Upon the scaffold’s pole of birch
The cock his crested helmet bent
And down his querulous challenge sent
(John Whittier: Snow-Bound)

A shiver went down my spine; darkness turned to light. I felt as though the domesticated bird in Whittier’s poem was crowing right at me, transmitting a message to a brother rooster who still had a chance to escape from Maggie’s Farm. Which I eventually did. Never forgot John’s words though:

I ponder o’er the sacred word
I read the record of our Lord
And, weak and troubled, envy them
Who touched His seamless garment’s hem
(Whittier: Chapel Of Hermits)

I could repeat the birder-poet’s vocabulary like a parrot:

By marble slabs and in fields of stone
You make your humble wishes known
I touched the garment, but the hem was torn
In Scarlet Town, where I was born
(Bob Dylan: Scarlet Town)

You bird watchers in the audience know exactly what I’m talking about. You wait all day for some beautiful bird to show up, but no. She’s off with some other rooster in another barnyard somewhere. You wait for a slow train comin’ up around the bend ’cause she won’t let you jump her railway gate no more; you’re out of there:

When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’ m tav’lin’ on
Don’ the think twice, it’ all right
(Dylan: Don’t Think Twice)

But things don’ t get no better:

Feel like a fighting rooster
But the Pennsylvania line’s in an awful mess, and
The Dever road is about to melt
(Dylan: Cry A While)

It’s thumbin’ a ride down Highway 66, or nothin’ , but it can get pretty lonesome out there at the crossroads …. you feel like Woody trying to escape from some cartoon cell, or to some rainbow movie where bluebirds fly:

Black crows in the meadow
Across a broad highway
Though it’s funny, honey
I’m out of touch, don’t feel much
Like a Scarecrow today
(Dylan: Black Crow Blues)

The American crow is a freewheeling bird, wary and intelligent; flourishes in spite of efforts to reduce its numbers; has the ability to adapt to a variety of habitats, even the desolate parts of a city:

Just then this cop comes down the street
Crazy as a loon
He throws us all in jail
For carrying harpoons
(Dylan: 115th Dream)

You’re looking for shelter from the storm, not for some screwed up, it-ain’t-me- babe-you’re-lookin’-for kind of babe:

The wind howls like a hammer
The night wind blows cold and rainy
My love, she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing
(Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

Now the American male robin is an early-morning bird, an industrious and authoritarian worm-puller, running across lawns and standing erect. Flicking his tail feathers, and flinging flattery, this song bird has no trouble attracting a flying flock:

If not for you
Winter would have no spring
Couldn’t hear a robin sing
I wouldn’t have a clue
Anyway, it wouldn’t ring true
If not for you
(Dylan: If Not For You)

The flock lays eggs as blue as some people’s eyes.

The cuckoo is not a true-blue American bird. The female lays its eggs in the nest of other birds; sues the biological father for child support:

The cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles
when she flies
I’m preachin’ the word of God
I’m puttin’ out your eyes
(Dylan: High Water)

One final point, I don’t know what a lot of my songs mean, I just know that I like the way I sound when I’m singing them:

And I try to harmonize with songs
The lonesome sparrow sings
(Dylan: Gates Of Eden)

Well, that’s it, folks…….Anybody got a pair of binoculars ….Anybody?….Throw them all up!

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order below on this page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.  Also a list of the most read articles on this site.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.


  1. Insane?…..What!

    In an interview given to a publicize the recent release of ‘Guide Book To The Birds Of The Southern States’, Bob Dylan notes that poet Henry Timrod often watched pigeons on the statues of Confederate war heroes, as evidence by the following poem:

    “The ancient fame is growing dim
    A spot is on the garment’s rim”
    (Carolina: Henry Timrod)

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