Bob Dylan: The Roving Gambler

by Larry Fyffe

Though the lyrics of songs by Bob Dylan do not saddle the the human race with such doctrines as ‘original sin’ imposed by the officials of some organized religions, his lyrics express a cynical view of the nature of humankind, a sorrowful view akin to the state  found in the Holy Bible where individuals are left abandoned and alone awaiting deliverance to a ‘Promised Land’ or else the return of a departed ‘Saviour’ to help them.

In many of Dylan’s source lyrics that pertain to the microlevel of individual existence, filled as they are with the trials and tribulations of love affairs, gambling, and death, so too is this sorrow reflected:

Down in the willow garden
Where me and my love did meet
Oh, there we sit a-courting
My love dropped off to sleep
I had a bottle of the burglar's wine
Which my true love did not know
And there I poisoned my own true love
Down under the banks below ....
My father always taught me
That money would set me free
If I'd murder that pretty little miss
Whose name is Rose Conley
(Grayson/Whitter: Rose Conley ~ traditional)

Happy endings few and far between:

Come around you roving gamblers, and a story I will tell
About the greatest gambler, and, you know, you should know him well
His name was Willie O'Conley, and he gambled all his life
He had twenty-seven children, yet he never had a wife
(Bob Dylan: Gambling Willie's Dead Man's Hand)

Also drawing a card from the deck of the following song:

He put the money in the pot
And passed the cards around
I saw him deal from the bottom of the deck
So I shot the gambler down
(Bob Dylan: The Roving Gambler ~ various/traditional)

Below, into the song (with the objective correlative of a “sallow” or “willow” tree) substituted be the word “flowery” by an Irish songster:

Down by the flowery garden
Where me and my true love did meet
I took her in my arms
And unto her gave kisses sweet
She bade me take love easy
Just as the leaves fall from the tree
But I, being young and foolish
With my one true love I did not agree
(Andy Irvine: You Rambling Boys Of Pleasure ~ traditional)

The song of yore is reworked by a modern Irish poet, and his words changed a wee bit by a songstress:

Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet
She bade me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree
(Marianne Faithful: Down By The Salley Gardens ~ William Yeats)

More lyrics by the same poet, rendered by a songstress with a very slight change in the wording:

Through hollow lands, and hilly lands
I will find our where she has gone
And kiss her lips, and take her hands
And walk among long dappled grass
(July Collins: "Golden Apples Of The Sun" ~ William Yeats)

Reflected the above poem be in the following song lyrics:

You're gonna have to leave me now, I know
But I'll see you in the sky above
In the tall grass, in the one I love
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go
(Bob Dylan: You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You go)

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