New Morning: the meaning of the lyrics and the music

By Tony Attwood

It is often suggested that the underlying meaning of New Morning is “Hello, here I am again”.  Possibly that is what it came to signify, but I suspect it started out as just a phrase, and the song that came out of those two words.

As I have said many times, as I try to illustrate the process of composing, I don’t in any way remotely say I know the way Dylan works as a composer, but I know that I, and a few song composers I know, can start with something simple like a chord change, or a few notes of melody, or a simple phrase.  “New Morning” sounds to me like one such phrase.

You have “New Morning” in your head, and without any conscious thought along comes “On this new morning” and a second later, “On this new morning with you.”  Gradually all emerges from this simply concept.

In such a process there is thus no conscious action of writing a song about a New Morning – the phrase just leads you on.  (Of course I can’t prove it, and Bob will never tell, but I’m just saying how it happens with me, and a few others I know).

Over the years I have written about (and indeed taught university music students about) the creative process, and along with every other writer on the topic I’ve read, I am certain that all of us can become more and more creative simply by practicing and by focussing on a desire to be more creative.

You want to be a good golfer, you practice golf on the golf course, but you also work on your swing, and all the other background stuff that is part of that.  You want to be a good painter, then you paint, but you also sketch, and scribble, and work out ideas on backs of envelopes.  You do it all the time.  It becomes your life.

So you want to be a songwriter, then you practice finding phrases of music and lyric, while you also develop your creativity in general as you search for ideas.  It is not hard to do.   And you should try it – it is fun, life-affirming and can be a good conversation piece!   It’s not difficult, nor is it complex.  It’s just in our society it isn’t really encouraged (and we tend to think of creative people as weird, freaky, spooky, downright odd and disruptive in the schoolroom).

So I think Dylan was stretching his creative muscles (as it were) and hit on the phrase, and it went from there and quite possibly meant, “this is the start of a new series of Dylan works”.  Or not as the case may be.  But as Rolling Stone said, “Calling his latest outing New Morning may very well be his way of saying, ‘I’m back’,” and that certainly seems possible.

Moving on to the music…

New Morning is laid back, in a similar way to John Wesley Harding, but with a bit of rock and roll.

Dylan never seems to have lost his sense of the rural, and while he can tell us the horrors of the rural world (Hollis Brown at once springs to mind, as does the first line of Desolation Row) he can tell us of the positive relaxed nature of village life too.

Can’t you hear that rooster crowin’?
Rabbit runnin’ down across the road
Underneath the bridge
Where the water flowed through
So happy just to see you smile
Underneath the sky of blue

And of course, it is a love song too – the rural world is perfect because he sees her smile.  It is a “new morning with you.”

But nothing much happens in paradise (as David Byrne so clearly pointed out) which is what makes the next verse rather trivial.

Can’t you hear that motor turnin’?
Automobile comin’ into style
Comin’ down the road
For a country mile or two
So happy just to see you smile
Underneath the sky of blue

Nothing happens.  Not even when they go to bed…

The night passed away so quickly
It always does when you’re with me

And then we are back in country heaven where, basically, nothing happens.

Now a song about nothing happening could be a disaster although you could argue it is about some sub-text that I know one or two writers have indicated, but which I can’t really come to believe in.

No, what Dylan does is salvage what could be nothingness with a remarkable orchestration and underlying chordal progression that is by and large so un-Dylan.

First off, the chords.  The song is in A and so a rotating A / D chord change as the band starts up is all we might expect.  Very relaxed, very straightforward.

But then, as the organ begins to have a bit more prominence we are off.  In the second line C sharp minor appears and is followed by A7, F sharp minor, D, B minor, C sharp minor, D, E…

OK I appreciate if you are not schooled in the finer points of chord sequences that is gibberish, but believe me this is unusual.  Not odd.  Not wrong, just unusual, especially for Dylan.

But whether you get the chords or not, just listen to the track and how the organ comes in, during “Rabbit running down…” to give a totally different feeling from the opening.

And then by the time we get to the chorus, we’re rocking away – quite different from where we started – and where we go back to with verse two.

If nothing else, listen just to the organ in the chorus – that playing is talking about fun and laughter and enjoyment.

But then the middle 8 – again with a very unusual sequence (G, F sharp minor, G,E).

And the organ is holding a chord as if this is in the village chapel on a sunday.

By the time we get to the last verse we really know what is going on.

Can’t you feel that sun a-shinin’?
Ground hog runnin’ by the country stream
This must be the day
That all of my dreams come true
So happy just to be alive
Underneath the sky of blue

When we have “this must be the day”, everything is so simple, step by step he’s got there.  Life is reborn.  He is reborn.

The song was recorded in three takes on one day and it is quite an achievement to get and keep the simplicity of the lyrics.  After all this is the man who wrote Rolling Stone and Visions of Johanna.  But he’s a clever guy this Bob Dylan.  He can also do simplicity too.  And sometimes that is a lot harder than complexity.

It’s a lovely piece, it really works, and it deserves to be heard on its own.  Just this time, don’t play the album, just play this track.

What else is on the site

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to all the 594 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 2000 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, please do drop me a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article.  Email

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, links back to our reviews


  1. In New Morning Dylan takes a breath of fresh air and travels back to his Romantic Transcendental roots for a bit of creative renewal:
    “Wild spirit which art moving everywhere/
    …Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves…./
    Shadows from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean/
    …If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
    (Percy Shelley:Ode To The West Wind)

    “Ground hog running by a country stream/
    ….So happy just to be alive”
    (Dylan: New Morning)

    The Modernist Romantic, often an inhabitant of, or at least an observer of, the hustling and bustling industrial city, a la Beaudelaire, is left to find beauty therein rather than in the green pastures of the surrounding countryside….not always an easy job. But the piece of art, whether poem or song lyric, in and of itself, can be a thing
    of beauty; art for art’s sake with the creator of the piece standing above it all looking down upon his/her work:

    “Ophelia, she’s ‘neath the window, for her I feel so afraid/
    ….And though her eyes are fixed upon Noah’s great rainbow/
    She spends her time peeking into Desolation Row”
    (Dylan: Desolation Row)

    The artist finds him/herself a bit of an aristocrat looking into a world of decaying ideals and beauty.

  2. *Arthur Baudelaire, the French Symbolist poet, an influence on TS Eliot of The Wasteland as well as on Dylan.

  3. Walt Whitman, of earlier Romantic times, admires both the spirit of the expanding American city with its hustle and bustle as well the quietness of green roll of pasture land; Modernist art is more apt to depict the rock-hardness of the industrialized city devoid of nature’s beauty.

    Originally from Hibbling, Dylan sometimes expresses Whitmanian visions, though they be subjectively transcendental rather than he suggesting that a Spirit pervades like a flowery fragrance, ‘objectively’ existing, in the external envirnoment:

    “True love can make a blade of grass/
    Stand up straight and tall/
    In harmony with the cosmic sea”
    (Dylan: If Dogs Run Free)

    Reminding of:

    “I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass/
    My tongue, every atom, of my body, formed from this soil, this air/
    Born here of parents born here from parents…”
    (Walt Whitman: Song Of Myself)

    But Dylan’s heart is not really there anymore; he’s more at home in the desolate ‘high’ lands of Rimbaud, a- chasing a dear, a muse to inspire him to write something anew as he bums a cigarette and goes off sniffing drain pipes.

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