A Riddle Posed by Bob Dylan: The Definitive Answer

By Larry Fyffe

In the lyrics below, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan leaves a word blank for the listener or reader thereof to fill in. Many so-called ‘Dylanologists’ have wasted page upon page in an attempt to provide the correct answer to this serious riddle, but most simply get it wrong:

He saw an animal as smooth as glass Slithering his way through the grass Saw him disappear by a tree near a lake Ah, think I’ll call it a ________

(Bob Dylan: Man Gave Names To All The Animals)

In one essay of some twenty pages or so, one analyst dares to suggest that Dylan lifted a line from another songwriter, and therefore the answer to the riddle is definitely ‘snake.’

Little John was stung by a snake Over by the lake And looks like he’s really, really hurt He was lying in the dirt

(The Band: The Moon Struck One ~ Robbie Robertson)

We’ll assume that Johnny isn’t “lying”, and that he was actually bitten by a snake. Nonetheless, the analyst’s answer to the riddle is not correct – “Ah, think I’ll call it a snake” –  because everybody knows that Bob Dylan would never steal a line from another writer. Kiwi poet Mike Johnson, miserable old soul that he is, says the line ought to be: “Ah, think I’ll call it a fake”

Another ‘Dylanologist’ writes a whole book about Dylan explaining how much the songwriter is influenced by a pre-Romantic poet; the  poem below is quoted:

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee?
Little lamb, I’ll tell thee
(William Blake: The Lamb)

Then a reference is made to the following song lyrics:

Next animal he did meet
Had wool on his back, and hooves on his feet
Eating grass on the mountainside so steep
Ah, think I’ll call it a sheep
(Bob Dylan: Man Gave Names To All The Animals)


Hence, the analyst, going a bit too far methinks, claims that the song is surely meant to conclude:

Saw him disappear by a tree near a lake
Ah, think I’ll call it William Blake

Though it must be admitted that Blake cares a lot about birds and animals:

Each cry of the hunted hare
A fibre from the brain does tear
A skylark wounded in the wing
A cherubim does cease to sing

(William Blake: To See The World In a Grain Of Sand)

Claimed it be by others that the Dylan line definitely ends in ‘hake’. This assertion is easily dismissed out of hand – even if the haddock-related fish somehow gets thrown up onto the shore, it’s a salt-water, not a fresh-water fish; so “Ah, think I’ll call it a hake” will not do.

Apparently Dylan is so amused at these silly solutions to his riddle that he gives out a clue by singing a rather Blakean variation of the song in which the lake is obviously frozen over:

I saw an animal upon lake
He was afraid that his heart would break
He was trying to drive a truck
Ah, think I'll call it a duck

(Bob Dylan: Man Gave Names To All The Animals)

The astute staff at the Untold Offices quickly pick up on this clue, and come up with the definitive answer to the riddle:

Slithering his way through the grass
Saw him disappear by a tree near the lake
Ah, think I'll call it a drake

(Bob Dylan: Man Gave Names To All The Animals)

With the benefit of hindsight, there is a clue already given in the lyrics; the animal is male, not female – a male duck, a drake. An analyst, who shall remain nameless for his own protection, suggests the verse refers to the rap singer named Drake.

In any event, listeners to the Dylan song above can now rest easy, and stop worrying about what the solution to the riddle is; just enjoy the song.

And to show their appreciation, a donation can be made, if they wish, to the nearest animal shelter.

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  1. Hm. Not sure why Dylan would suddenly stray from the straightforwardness of the previous verses and use drake instead of snake, but it certainly is an interesting theory. Kudos.

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