The Tramp And The Immigrant


By Larry Fyffe

There’s many a strange way that the Untold office receives previously unknown information about the artistic creativity of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. The following song lyrics were attached to an arrow that was shot through an open window (thank goodness!), and the arrow stuck in the opposite wall (double thank goodness). One witness said he’s sure that it was Dylan himself disguised as Robin Hood who shot the arrow.

The song  concerns a spiritualist character who rejects the so-called ‘American Dream’ of material success, and a materialist whose spiritual soul is destroyed by greed.  It’s a gnostic-like tale about a tramp who travels down the open road in search of spiritual freedom. He’s juxtaposed with an immigrant who locks himself up in an iron cage in a bid to find happiness by gathering  physical things. The spiritual and material aspects of what it takes to be a fulfilled human being are presented as out of balance in both cases.

Apparently, these arrow-borne lyrics are later stripped down by the author in the song “I Pity The Poor Immigrant” which focuses on the vice of greed;  the author had already covered the dire consequences  that a hobo’s poverty can have on the physicla body:

A blanket of newspaper covered his head
And the curb was his pillow, the street was his bed
One look at his face showed the hard road he'd come
And a fistful of coins showed the money he bummed
(Bob Dylan: Only A Hobo)

An obsession with wealth has it’s bad side too – it kills the soul:

Come tramps and hawker-lads, and gatherers of wood fall
I pity the poor immigrant who wishes he would've stayed home
That tramps the country ' round and 'round, come listen one and all
Who uses all his power to do evil but in the end is always left so alone
(The Tramp And The Immigrant)

The alternate lines in the verses contrast the two archetypes – the overly-spiritualistic character in lines one and three; the excessively materialistic one in lines two and four:

I'll tell you of a rovin' tale of sights that I have seen
That man who with his fingertips cheats, and who lies with every breath
It's far into the snowy north, and south by pastures green
Who passionatey hates his life, and likewise fears his death
(The Tramp And The Immigrant)

Initially the lover of the simple life comes off as the good guy; not so the immigrant who seeks wealth through exploitive means:

Oft times I've laughed to myself when trudgin' on the road
I pity the poor immigrant whose strength is spent in vain
My toe-rags 'round my blistered feet, face as brown as a toad
Whose heaven is like ironsides, who tears are like rain
(The Tramp And The Immigrant)

Things are not so simplistic as they first appear –  the tramp suffers because  the road he chooses fails to adequately take care of his physical needs while the immigrant suffers because he ignores his spiritual side;

With lumps of cheese, and 'tato scones, with bites of bread and ham
Who eats but is not satisfied, who hears but does not see
Not thinkin' from where I've come, and less to where I'm goin'
Who falls in love with wealth itself, and turns his back on me
(The Tramp And The Immigrant)

Both are negatively impacted by this imbalance:

I'm happy in the summertime beneath the black blue sky
I pity the poor immigrant who tramples through the mud
No thought in the mornin' where at night I'm goin' to lie
Who fills his mouth with laughing, and who builds his town wth blood
(The Tramp And The Immigrant)

The tramp depicted in the above lyrics is concerned too much with his soul; the immigrant too much with his body:

In shelter or barn or out amongst the hay
Whose visions in the final end must shatter like the glass
And if the weather treats me right, I'm happy every day
I pity the poor immigrant when his gladness comes to pass
(The Tramp And The Immigrant)

In short, neither the hobo nor the immigrant finds happiness.

What else is here?

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