Dreamin’ Of You (1997) part 2: The Lay of the Last Minstrel

by Jochen Markhorst

II          The Lay of the Last Minstrel

 The only official publication of the lyrics of “Dreamin’ Of You” is on www.bobdylan.com, on the official site. In Lyrics 1962-2001 from 2004 there are no lyrics of outtakes in the chapter Time Out Of Mind, only the lyrics of “Things Have Changed” under “additional lyrics”. In the successor, The Lyrics 1961-2012 (2016) “Red River Shore” is added too, again with the indication “additional lyrics”. The word “outtake” is never used anyway, and would of course be incorrect in the case of the Oscar-winning “Things Have Changed”; that song was recorded two and a half years after Time Out Of Mind, somewhere between May and July 1999. When compiling the book edition, the choice was apparently made to place the song with Time Out Of Mind for practical reasons only – although chronologically it is actually closer to “Love And Theft” (recorded May 2001).

On that only official publication then of “Dreamin’ Of You”, on the site that is, the lyrics are presented in ten stanzas. Each second verse ends with the recurring lines I’ve been dreamin’ of you, that’s all I do / And it’s driving me insane, which we can call the refrain with some tolerance. Some irregularities do stand out, though:

– the ten stanzas alternate between four and six verses, except for the second stanza, which has five verses;
– the poet seems to have fixed a rhyme scheme in mind, but that scheme is not correct in a few places – or not yet, assuming that Dylan has recorded a work in progress;
– the line breaks in the published text seem rather arbitrary, hence perhaps the “not quite right” second stanza with the different number of five lines – in any case, presented like this, the lyrics ignore existing rhyme and a content-wise logical division into strophes.

All in all, it does seem that Dylan had a much tighter, more logical structure in mind: not stanzas of varying length, but five stanzas of ten lines, rhyme scheme aabbcc – deed, where the last four lines have a chorus function. A rhyme scheme like Sir Walter Scott uses, for instance, in the nineteenth century (in The Lay of the Last Minstrel). The published text is fairly easy to rearrange into this structure, or rather: to restore. The first two stanzas, for example, are on the site shown as a four-line stanza plus a five-line stanza:

The light in this place is really bad
Like being at the bottom of a stream
Any minute now
I’m expecting to wake up from a dream

Means so much, the softest touch
By the grave of some child, who neither wept or smiled
I pondered my faith in the rain
I’ve been dreamin’ of you, that’s all I do
And it’s driving me insane

Illogical sentence breaks (verse 3 to 4, for example), only two end rhymes, an overdose of inner rhymes… a restructuring to a ten-line couplet seems much more obvious:

The light in this place is really bad, 
     like being at the bottom of a stream
Any minute now I’m expecting to wake up from a dream
Means so much,
The softest touch,
By the grave of some child,
who neither wept or smiled.
I pondered my faith in the rain - 
I’ve been dreamin’ of you,
That’s all I do
And it’s driving me insane

The strongest indication for this option is the aabbcc – deed rhyme scheme. The whole text can be reformed into this scheme (still having three “wrong” rhymes, though – again: work in progress, presumably). So, the next two stanzas are not stanza 3 and 4, but the second ten-line stanza:

Somewhere dawn is breaking / Light is streaking ‘cross the floor
Church bells are ringing / I wonder who they’re ringing for
Travel under any star
You’ll see me wherever you are
The shadowy past
is awake and so vast
I’m sleeping in the palace of pain
I’ve been dreamin’ of you,
that’s all I do
But it’s driving me insane

The same number of lines, a similar syllable distribution per stanza, an identical rhyme scheme… it seems very likely that this was the form the poet had in mind. Why Dylan, or the book editor, or the web editor, conceals this form is unclear. Maybe he thinks it looks corny, or that dissimilar couplets are cooler, or whatever. It does occur quite often, actually – that the layout of the official publication ignores or disguises the “true” form of a song text. The most extreme example is “No Time To Think”, which is in fact a long, cleverly composed sonnet cycle of nine inverted sonnets,  and there are plenty of other examples (“Where Are You Tonight”, “Love Is Just A Four-Letter Word”, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, to name but three). The rearranging of the lyrics into their “real” form, as with this song, usually reveals cast-iron, classic poetry forms – and shows authentic, honest craftsmanship. Nothing to be ashamed of, in any case.

Anyway; “Dreamin’Of You”. The content of this second ten-line stanza builds on the first. Again, it starts with a stage direction for the lighting technician, and there is again a reference to a grave, to a cemetery, to a death, at any rate. At least, variations of the expression Church bells are ringing / I wonder who they’re ringing for in blues lyrics always refer to death bells (not to an ordinary church service, hardly ever to wedding bells). Dylan knows it from blues classics as Roosevelt Sykes’ “Sad And Lonely Day” from 1933, from “Stop And Listen Blues” by The Mississippi Sheiks (1929) and Muddy Waters’ “Buryin’ Ground Blues”(1947). And Dylan himself sings it on his debut album, in “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”:

Did you ever hear them church bells tone
Means another poor boy is dead and gone

… as Dylan himself incorporates it in the Blood On The Tracks outtake “Call Letter Blues” (Well, I walked all night long / Listenin’ to them church bells tone). And in the big sister of “Dreamin’ Of You” of course, in “Can’t Escape From You” on Modern Times:

The dead bells are ringing
My train is overdue
To your memory I’m clinging
I can’t escape from you 

Ringing church bells, in short, always mean death, both in the blues and with Dylan. Something similar applies to shadowy in the verse “The shadowy past is awake and so vast”. In the canon, in American Songbook classics like “I Surrender, Dear”, or “The Lamp Is Low”, or the song of which “Dreamin’ Of You” is a kind of negative image, in “I Thought About You”, shadowy usually signals: idyll, romance, the place where lovers meet:

I took a trip on a train
And I thought about you
I passed a shadowy lane
And I thought about you

… but with Dylan it is always threatening, ominous. The shadowy sun from “Only A Pawn In Their Game”, the shadowy world from “Jokerman”, and the passage about Fred Neill in the first chapter of Chronicles:

“I’d heard stuff about him, that he was an errant sailor, harbored a skiff in Florida, was an underground cop, had hooker friends and a shadowy past.”

… and like shadows and shadowy is also used dozens of times by Henry Rollins – almost always metaphorically, and almost always with a sinister connotation;

Walk away from me as fast as you can
Never speak of me or to me again
It’s too late
For all that
Death is the only shadow on my road

(from “Don’t Come Close”, Now Watch Him Die, 1993)

“Dreamin’ Of You” is apparently, apart from being set up in a rigid, classical structure, also conceived as a sultry, uncomfortable cloak-and-dagger. “Confessions of an Assassin”, perhaps. “Memoirs of a Strangler”, or “Soon After Midnight”, something like that…


To be continued. Next up Dreamin’ Of You part 3: I don’t reckon I got no reason to kill nobody

Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:


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