Bob Dylan And The Symbolism Of The Red River

by Larry Fyffe

In the Canadian version of the song “Red River Valley”, a soldier leaves behind his French/Indian “half-breed” maiden in Manitoba:

Says she in the lyrics thereto:

So come sit by my side if you love me
Do not hasten to bid me 'adieu'
But remember the Red River Valley
And the girl who loves you so true

(Red River Valley ~ traditional)

In the American version, it’s the girl who leaves the southern Red River Valley, and abandons her “cowboy” lover there.

So says the song from the movie “Red River Valley”, starring Roy Rogers (Gene Autry stars and sings the song in a movie by the same name – says ‘one’ instead of ‘cowboy’; Rex Allen sings “Red River Valley” in a movie titled “Red River Shore”):

Come sit by my side if you love me
Do not hasten to bid me 'adieu'
But remember the Red River Valley
And the cowboy that loved you so true

(Roy Rogers: Red River Valley ~ traditional)

The rendition below, sung by a Canadian, returns to the “half-breed” motif:

Won't you ever come back to the Valley
To a half-breed that's lonely and blue
Many years I have waited, my darling
Don't you know that you said that you'd always be true

(Wilf Carter: Red River Valley Blues ~ Carter/traditional)

The following song lyrics be somewhat akin to the Canadian variation of “Red River Valley”:

There lives a fair maiden, she's the one I adore
She's the one I will marry on the Red River Shore
She wrote me a letter, she wrote it so kind
And in that letter, these words you'll find
"Come back to me darling, you're the one I adore"

(Kingston Trio: Red River Shore ~ Omar/Cierley/Spittard)

Things don’t turn out well in the song above; nor apparently in the lyrics below:

She wrote me a letter, and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writing what was in her mind
I don't see why I should even care
It's not dark yet, but It's getting there

(Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet)

The themes of lost love and death-awaiting are found again in the following song:

Well, I went back to see about her once
Went back to straighten it out
Everybody that I talked to had seen us there
Said they didn't know who I was talking about
Well, the sun went down on me a long time ago
I've had to pull back from the door
I wish I could have spent every hour of my life
With the girl from the Red River Shore

(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

In the song lyrics quoted below, the Red River (Rubicon River) In Italy serves as an ominous symbol  – sooner or later a person must face the inevitability of his own death:

What are these dark days I see
In this world so idly bent?
I cannot redeem the time
The time so idly spent
How long can this go on?

(Bob Dylan: Crossing The Rubicon)

Because of the above song’s double-edged lyrics, it’s easily construed that the narrator thereof puts his arm around Frederick Nietzsche, and they walk off into the fog seeking vengeance against God for throwing Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden; making all humans mortal, and depriving them of everlasting love:

I'll cut you up with a crooked knife
Lord, and I'll miss you when you're gone

(Bob Dylan: Crossing The Rubicon)


Verily, the Lord tests Abraham, but leaves His own young Son hung on the cross to suffer and die.

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