Bob Dylan And The Two Riders (Parts 1 & 2)

By Larry Fyffe

Part 1

In “Paradise Lost”, John Milton, makes the point that Satan, God’s winged lieutenant, is envious of the beauty of Eden that God creates.

The Devil sneaks into the Garden disguised as a serpent, and uses the powers that he still has to seduce Eve; not wanting to lose Eve, Adam takes a bite of the forbidden ‘apple’ offered by the dragon.

Supposing, perhaps, that Satan’s hubris is a part of  the Almighty’s plan:

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds
I will be like the most High
(Isaiah 14:14)

Thereafter, Satan cannot bring himself to ask for forgiveness from the angry Almighty One –  the devil knows it won’t be forthcoming because he successfully tempts Adam and Eve.

So Satan simply shrugs his shoulders, and carries on with his wicked ways:

Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell
(John Milton: Paradise Lost, Book iv)

The narrator in the song lyrics below makes the point that all humankind has been saddled with “original sin”, attributed to God through the established dogma of much of the Christian religion.

Satan, never a rebel to give up (and apparently a good bowler), wants all to know that ’twas not he who threw the sun down this bowling alley.

Milton and other artists have The Tempter unleash some good lines through his forked tongue:

Shake the dust off your feet, don't look back
Nothing now can hold you back, nothing that you lack
Temptation's not an easy thing, Adam given the devil reign
Because he sinned I got no choice, it run in my vein
(Bob Dylan: Pressing On)

According to the following song lyrics, if Satan could to it then, he can do it now:

All along the watchtower
Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went
Barefoot servants too
Outside in the distance
A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching
The wind began to howl
(Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)

Michael is the name of one of the winged princes who, in the service of the Almighty, fights and casts rebellious Satan out of Heaven:

    And there was a war in heaven
    Michael and his angels fought against the dragon
    And the dragon fought against his angels
    And prevailed not
    Neither was their place found anymore in heaven
    (Revelation 12: 7, 8)

Gabriel stands guard at the gates of Eden. But neither are powerful enough to stop Satan, asserts Milton, when the Devil disguises himself as a cormorant, and flies over the walls into now-locked Eden.

According to the analogous watchtower song by Bob Dylan, God Himself does send out a couple of warnings, one by wildcat and another by wind, but not even the Almighty has the power to stop Satan with his cunning ways.

Who the two approaching riders be is left up to the reader/listener to conjecture ~ you can bet your boots of Spanish leather that Satan is up to no good.

Bob Dylan And The Two Riders (Part II)

Any “meaning”, whether social, economic, poitical, personal, to be found in the lyrics of the song “All Along The Watch Tower” be obscured by it’s author to a certain degree – the listener/reader is thereby invited into the work of art as a participant.

Not intended by the singer/songwriter is that no meaning therein is to be found.

The song is not dead history, but full of life for modern eyes/ears ~ allusions, analogies, metaphors, similes, and symbols abound throughout the lyrics.

The Tower song is based on a biblical template; no attempt is made to hide the allusion but the reader or listerner of the song must have at least some knowledge of the contents of the Bible, true believers be they, or not:

For thus hath the Lord said unto me
Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth ....
And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men
With a couple of horsemen
(Isaiah 21: 6, 9)

The war in Heaven long over, the prophet Isaiah, with the benefit of hindsight, has a vision that the Persians under Cyrus will defeat the Babylonians, and let the Hebrews do home.

Some bibilical translations consider the Persian leader be symbolized as a “lion”.

So saith the watchman in the tower:

And he cried, "A lion"
My Lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime
And I am set in my ward whole nights
(Isaiah 21: 8)

All part of God’s plan it may be, but, in the song lyrics beneath, whoever the modern Cyrus might be, or who will be set free, is left up for the listener/reader to ponder:

Outside, in the distance
A wildcat did growl
(Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)

The Bible does not name the ‘two riders’; however, Bob Dylan drops a big bright gem of a clue, rather humorously, right in the reader/listener’s lap as to whom they are intended to signify in his song:

Two riders were approaching
The wind began to howl
(Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)

Allen Ginsberg writes and often reads his famous poem “Howl”; Dylan’s anti-establishment viewpoints are highly influenced by “the wind” that “howls”.

At the time of the Vietnam War, they are both considered to have “Satan” behind them from the point-of-view held by the “God” of the American socio-politico-economic Establishment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *