Dylan’s “Series of Dreams” complete with the missing verse & a brilliant alternate version.

by Tony Attwood

Note: This article was Updated July 2018 with 3 recordings added including the version with the “extra” verse.  But since then all the versions with the extra verse have been removed from the internet as far as I can see.   Below is one version without that extra verse.

I’m leaving the article as it was written, and hope that one day I might be able to find another copy available on line.

But the version with extra verse is available on Spotify: type in the song title and look for the song from Tell Tale Signs, which has a time length of 6 minutes 26 seconds.

According to Wikipedia Series of Dreams is “One of Dylan’s most ambitious compositions.”   It is difficult to see quite why such a claim should be made, and in typical Wiki fashion there is no attempt at all to justify the claim. 

The song was omitted from “Oh Mercy” and only emerged in an edited version on the Bootleg Series 1-3.  This omission comes at the same time as the omission of Dignity from the same album, and thus Series of Dreams invites us to start with this issue: why cut it?


Dylan’s ability to omit from albums songs that are thought by many to be his strongest pieces has caused much comment and bemusement, but if you read the comments of those who were there at the time, (a point on which Wiki is more helpful), and indeed if you simply listen to the songs that are cut it becomes clear that Dylan has two reasons for omitting a song.

Either it is no good, or it is very good, but not quite complete, not quite perfect.   The latter case is the one that can make omissions hard to understand at the time, unless we can see the song through Dylan’s eyes, and hear it through his ears.  How can he omit (for example) Blind Willie McTell?  The answer is that he knows what it might have been if only that final key could have been entered into the lock – that final door opened.   He knows it is a great, but flawed song, and can’t get the flaws out of it.   Without that final twist to resolve the problem the song is more frustrating than any of the more ordinary songs – and so gets cut.

So it is instructive to hear a Series of Dreams from this perspective: it is almost right but not quite.   Indeed, being able to see where the problem is, is easier for us, at a distance.  It is notoriously hard for the artist who is “inside” the piece and living its very existence.

Dylan’s comment, according to Heylin, was “Look, I don’t think the lyrics are finished; I’m not happy with them.  The songs too long.  But I don’t want to cut any of the lyrics.”

But in fact the lyrics were cut, with one verse removed, to wit:

Thinking of a series of dreams
Where the middle and the bottom drop out
And you're walking out of the darkness
And into the shadows of doubt
Wasn't going to any great trouble 
To believe in, "It's whatever it seems"
Nothing too heavy to burst the bubble
Just thinking of a series of dreams.

If there is a problem with the whole song it is the problem with the concept of dream itself.  Dreams are confusing, surreal, mystifying, muddled, even muggy.  As such they are well suited to Dylan who has repeatedly introduced us to surrealism and “unclarity” in his songs.

Indeed the opening verse with its lines “Where nothing comes up to the top” and “Nothing  too very scientific” get this perfectly, and everything in the song is set fair.  It is general – a backdrop to something we have all experienced.

Verse two in the released recording keeps up the promise… “And there’s no exit in any direction, ‘Cept the one that you can’t see with your eyes.”  That odd feeling about dreams, that there was something more, except you can’t quite see it…

And then, suddenly Dylan stops talking about the general, the uncertain, the obscure, the surreal, and takes us into certainty.   Of course that happens in dreams – you do get dreams where an umbrella is opened – perhaps for no reason.  I can just imagine saying, “I had this weird dream last night – I had an umbrella, and I wanted it shut and put away, (I don’t know why, but it was important in the dream) but it kept opening, and every time I shut it, it came open again…”

That is what dreams can be like – but that gives us no insight into dreams in general, it is just a quick morning comment about last night’s dream.  And that is the key difference – “dreams in general” against the oddity, and ultimately the total insignificance of last night’s dream.

That is why the “middle 8” (the “bridge” as it is called in some commentaries – the B section in the classic ternary AABA form, which this piece is in) falls apart.  The music is perfection – after the exclusive use of the three major chords we suddenly hit the minor, completely unexpectedly.  But that line (“Dreams where the umbrella is folded”) lets us down, and lyrically the song fails at that point, because suddenly it is talking about trivia.  (“I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours” was a much better line, from 30 years earlier).

Then we are back to the A section, and Dylan is now securely fixed into telling us the details of the dreams. 

In one, numbers were burning
In another, I witnessed a crime
In one, I was running, and in another
All I seemed to be doing was climb

And that’s the problem – the song attempts to be about dreams in general (where it works perfectly) and dreams in particular, (where it is certain to fail, unless you are going to get into Freudian dream analysis where each element means something.) 

To write a song which explains the meaning of dreams would be incredibly difficult – to write a song that we want to listen to which had that as its base would surely be impossible.   Dylan does not go down that route – he just tells us bits about the dreams, but leaves the purpose of this discourse open.  

Hence the opening of the song, with its discussion of dreams, and how one might think about a series of them, works wonderfully, and is interesting at every level.  The music flows, the production is very unusual for Dylan, and the notion of moving away from the normal Dylan guitar sound fits with the subject matter.  But the moment we move on and get into this subject specific content, there is nothing to hold our attention.  Since we most likely have not had dreams about umbrellas or climbing, it has no significance.

To enjoy the song therefore we have to stop listening to the lyrics in the second half, and that of course is not good when the composer is Dylan.   My belief is that he knew that, but because of his proximity to the moment of creation, he couldn’t see the way out.  That’s not to say that I could see how to solve the problem – only that with the benefit of distance (in terms of years and culture) I can at last spot of possible source of the problem.

What else is on the site?

Untold Dylan contains a review of every Dylan musical composition of which we can find a copy (around 500) and over 300 other articles on Dylan, his work and the impact of his work.

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The alphabetical index to the 552 song reviews can be found here.  If you know of anything we have missed please do write in.  The index of the songs in chronological order can be found here.

We also now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.


  1. would it be possible to translate your website into spanish because i have difficulties of speaking to english, and as there are not many pictures on your website i would like to read more of what you’re really writting

  2. Its about death… and life.

    Life is the “series of dreams” in which we never come to the “top” we stay “down”… “wounded.”
    Untill it all come to a “permanent stop” (we die.)

    In life the time and temp fly and death is the only exit door which you “can’t see with your eyes.”.

    You fold an umbrella when you come out of the rain, at the end of a journey. You are “hurled” out of this world and whatever “cards” life dealt you are no good in the next world (rich/poor..whatever.)

    Burning numbers are the pointless value we apply to things…. crimes are the the sin we create… climbing? Just the effort and struggle to get to that top we can’t reach while alive….

    Going the distance? = 2 Timothy 4:7

  3. Interesting and well researched article. Thanks, it has revealed a lot for me! I would like to share my interpretation of this song, which seems to fit with the fact that this album was omitted from Oh Mercy – to my mind a highly political, and in Dylan’s imitable fashion, cynical album. But I disagree that this song is incomplete, as much as I understand why it would have been a song excluded from the aforementioned album.

    I believe this song is about reality. Or at least, the “nature” of reality. And in that context, I believe the song reads – line for line – as certainly one of Dylan’s most ambitious undertakings in song writing. I do agree!

  4. I always heard this song as being about the eastern concept of a series of lives – reincarnations – at the end of which comes the final merging into God. Its that line “I’d already gone the distance” and the repeated idea that the dreams from the current perspective are not particulary compelling, now seeming to be only distant dreams, no details remaining, just the general gist of each life. That’s how I hear it, but who knows with Mr. D.

  5. I like Aunor’s observation, “You fold an umbrella when you come out of the rain, at the end of a journey.” When I heard the line, I naturally thought of rain– not rain in general but as a recurring theme in Dylan’s poems starting with “Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”…”Everybody’s making love or else expecting rain”…”Without your love the sky would fall, rain would gather too”…”The long black cloud”, etc. Someone once suggested to me that rain could be memory. Hard to pin down, exactly, one thing that rain represents to Dylan. Possibly some sort of consequences, regrets for mistake made? In “Hard rain” it’s obviously retribution. If this stanza is about the end of life’s journey, maybe the folded umbrella no longer protects from rain, and the consequences rain down as judgement. But then again, maybe it means something else. ; )

  6. Well written article. I feel this song is about dreams, period. Nothing more, nothing less.

  7. “Dreams where the umbrella is folded
    And into the path you are hurled”

    I think this is saying that into life’s destiny, the author was suddenly thrown, and without protection.

    And to me, the key to the whole song is the next line:
    “And the cards are no good that you’re holding, unless they’re from another world…”

    “I’d already gone the distance” seems to me that he’s at the end of life, looking back at all the different dreams (experiences, phases if you will) of his life.

    As with SO many of Bob’s songs, it fits into the category of “What’s your favorite Dylan song? The one I’m listening to now! :-)”
    This is a special, special song that resonates to the max with me.

  8. Hrmmm. I disagree. The song is about the narrator’s consideration of a lack of meaning and/or forward motion in his life. He speaks generally at first because it is a series of dreams; it only makes sense that he would proceed to list examples of them at some point since most stories proceed from the general to the specific. Providing confusing examples in a song about senseless dreams is exactly why the song succeeds at its purpose.

    The song initially peaks my interest because it’s an intentional negation of a typical dream song/story (and it fills an artistic vacuum since most dream songs are about the narrator accessing the hidden meaning of their dreams so that they can move forward past a specific problem in their life). Usually a dream is the subject of discussion because it portends something to come or has something to say about the narrator’s subconscious. But Dylan’s narrator plainly states repeatedly that his dreams haven’t the content worthy of a normal dream discussion. The narrator’s problem seems to be that he HASNT any problems. His life has no special drama or meaning. His subconscious is practically scolding him to get something going. Or, conversely, his dreams are an indication that he has already accomplished all that he’d want to accomplish. He has reached a mountain top and no longer faces metaphorical hurdles. His life is no longer conflicts and metaphorical struggles but just moments of living in the world, one after the other (running, climbing, etc.).

    However you are dead right that the umbrella line appears to fail the song. It comes right at the most crucial part of the song when tension is the highest and a songwriter would contextualize everything which came before and might attempt to give it new meaning. But an umbrella folded in the path you are hurtled..what the hell?? An umbrella as a dream symbol could be very interesting: it would provide comfort from a rainstorm so if it were folded (closed?) then the narrator is unprotected. However he speaks of a direction it is folded towards, which distracts and is super confusing. How does direction matter? Maybe if it’s pointing a certain direction, then force from a gust of wind might pull the umbrella open and pull you in the direction, opposite of the way you WANT to go. I don’t know. And I think that’s the point. This is already a song about meaningless dreams. What better way to bring this point home than to provide an unreadable symbol at the climax of the song?

  9. Words can never adequately describe dreams, so kudo’s to Dylan for his efforts. I was really struck by the phrase “unless they’re from another world” because that’s what a lot (not all) of dreams are: visits, glimpses, impressions shadows of other worlds or lives that we lead in those dreams. Those lives are (or seem to be) as real as this world while we are in the dream.

  10. I wasn’t doing anything besides writing about my thoughts
    No attempt to be anything but what it was at that moment
    And that’s who I am
    It’s all that I am
    What’s in my mind never stops seeking a way out
    And most creativity is put down on paper
    It was the right time and place
    For something to happen to someone
    The world is drawn to anything that stands out from the crowd
    I was born
    It happened
    And I will die when that happens too

  11. Hello Tony, yes a very interesting essay. Join us inside Bob Dylan;s Music Boxhttp://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/550/Series-of-Dreams and listen to all the great versions

  12. Thank you for the analysis and also the great feedback in the comments. This song is also relating the emotion of despair being brought on by emotional isolation. The specifics are describing why he is feeling this way. Life can batter you and, if it is even slightly traumatic, can produce a feeling of being in a dream – a bad dream. Time slows, reality becomes surreal. A moment in time then becomes a minute, an hour, a day, and, upon occasion, a lifetime. If there are too many of these moments without another human to relate to about what has happened or is happening, then life becomes a series of dreams.

  13. In a wonderful rhythmical song,Dylan leads us, common peaple, through the mysterious ways of life where you can stay down wounded or overcome and climb to the top.Of course he does not have any intention to do so,to show us the way,he his only a passive observer who already gone the distance and just had a series of dreams about a life draged by the wind to a path he never choose but even so you can still feel the folding wind energy comming maby from another world and you anxiously want to be part of it.

  14. The umbrella was folded – [The limousine was making the turn. The man with the open umbrella on the clear sunny day in Dallas folded the umbrella. The limousine proceeded into the path – the line of sight for one or more waiting…]

  15. My stuff in the 90’s was better. MAGA. Where’s Dillon on the border? I actually co-wrote this song with him and have shared in the Grammy splurge.

  16. Now that is very strange: I wonder why you have not insisted that the official Dylan site corrects the copyright notice to include you – or indeed why you have not given us your real name, or indeed why none of the leading sites that I have looked at mention you. Very curious.

  17. I am not at all sure what sort of art you are feeling is censored, but if you would write in and let me know I will certainly review the situation. Also, could you explain why you spell Bob’s nom de plume in that way?

  18. The verse described as missing is included in the version released on Tell Tale Signs in 2008; that’s my personal favorite.

  19. Re: “‘Cept the one that you can’t see with your eyes.”

    I remember when this song first came out and I couldn’t tell (decide?) if Bob was saying the exit you CAN or CAN’T see with your eyes. I liked (and still do like) it both ways, but I did wonder which Bob was actually saying. Then, when the video came out, I saw that the second verse was cut (damn!), but then I found that the lyric was scribbled out right toward the very end. Gloriously, given my relationship with that line at the time, the ‘t’ was written-in by hand rather than the typewritten style of the rest of it. It was as if the ‘t’ had been an edit. But that’s not all! The ‘t’ then fell away to leave just ‘can’!

    Of course now we have the official lyrics and in our age of information such wonderful mysteries are largely lost to us, but just wanted to share my little story about this song. Btw the bit I’m talking about in the video starts around 4:15.

  20. Interesting thoughts, but I wonder if the reason the song was left off the album was more simple: it didn’t fit with everything else, particularly in the way it sounds. Most of “Oh Mercy” feels based in country and folk music, while this, perhaps owing to Lanois’ production style, has the feel of a U2 song. A 45 of this and “Dignity” would have been a perfect followup to “Oh Mercy.” For that matter, including these songs on the less sonically consistent “Under the Red Sky” (as was done with “Born in Time”) could have lifted the quality of that album to near masterpiece standards.

  21. No mention of the accompanying video.

    The one currently available is not the original. Which was much better.

  22. I made a CD of personal favourites from that spring in New Orleans, and this song opens and closes my selection. To me, it is the theme song of the whole work, both musically and lyrically, even if I am not sure what that theme is. I humbly suggest that Bob made an error in not including the Tell Tale Signs recording on the album, as there is something deeply dissatisfying about the released album, as there is about Infidels. Both are masterful albums if you tweak the song list and select the better performances. Don’t get me started about what Shot of Love should have been…

  23. No, “dreams where the umbrella is folded” makes perfect sense. Dylan uses rain to symbolize creativity. In dreams where the umbrella is folded, he isn’t creating. Nothing comes up to the top. This song hits me deeply, every word, and often my surroundings when it plays make amusing or poignant examples of the imagery. Always strikes me that that happens.

  24. You get all the answers if you fist watch the movie Bombay beach! A perfekt song to end and complete the movie. A question that arise is if the movie makers did the movie with the song in mind or if they found that the song is the perfect way to end it?

  25. I have enjoyed this Dylan song for several years and have looked at it from several different points of view. I do agree the addition of the left out verse adds more dimension to the overall and what Dylans mindset was I would have to disagree however, with the original posters comment that the line; “Dreams where the umbrella is folded”, let’s the listener down and basically brings the song to some sort of sudden and meaningless end. In referencing where this “fits” into the song over all, I would look to the line; “Nothing truly very scientific”, which is true to character for just about any Dylan Song. In the beginning versus we have Dylan looking at what I would believe to be himself within the “dreams”, (his life), then he goes in a direction of himself as the observer of those dreams and defines what he sees from an external point of view after the fact. I would see the umbrella as symbolic after being “hurled” into a situation where what you have to protect yourself is useless. As well as “the cards that your holding” at that time would only be of any value in another situation, (another world). I think he beautifully sums the whole thing up here;
    Wasn’t looking for any special assistance, (reference to God??)
    Not going to any great extremes.
    I’d already gone the distance,
    just thinking of a series of dreams.
    when he realizes after looking back through the “dreams”, that it’s really irrelevant given the fact that he’s reached this point in time regardless and reiterates this at the end of the song.

  26. It reminds me of Baseball. A classic World Series could be called a dream series, or a Series of Dreams. ‘Already gone the distance’ makes me think of a pitcher throwing a complete game for the win. I don’t think the song is actually about the sport, but that’s what I think of each time I hear it.

  27. La mia sensazione è che la serie dei sogni riguardasse particolari percorsi della vita che sono rimasti incompiuti per una ferita che non ti permette di evolvere, di raggiungere la cima e l’esperienza rimane bloccata nel punto dove è piegato l’ombrello che ha fatto da scudo alla pioggia di sentimenti che l’esperienza ha provocato e la fuga successiva, “era già lontano”, ma poi il punto dove è piegato l’ombrello indica che il vento della vita ti spinge sempre in quella direzione perchè è lì che devi completare il percorso.

  28. Elisabetta, for those who do not speak Italian, I offer a translation. My apologies for any errors that have crept in…

    My feeling is that the series of dreams was about particular paths in life that remained unfinished due to a wound that does not allow you to evolve, to reach the top and the experience remains stuck in the point where the umbrella has been unfolded to shield against the rain of feelings that the experience provoked and the subsequent escape, “it was already far away”, but then the point where the umbrella is folded indicates that the wind of life always pushes you in that direction because that’s where you have to complete path.

  29. Hi, could you please repost the download link to the complete song including the missing verse? I cant find it on youtube…
    Thanks a lot!

  30. It’s interesting because “dreams where the umbrella is folded” is, for me, the most memorable line in the song. It’s the line I remember most immediately when I think of the song, probably because it’s the most enigmatic, the one that doesn’t quite fit, that causes me most to question its meaning. Now, that could be, as you suggest, because it doesn’t really fit in the song, or it’s a weak point, a point where the song fails, or where it lets us down. But if it’s such a weak point, why does it stick in my memory more than any other line? I think that when you’re dealing with a brilliant lyricist like Dylan, who relies as much on what he doesn’t tell you as on what he does, whose structure is enigmatic to begin with, then a weak point can become a strength. If it engages the listener, if it causes the listener to question its meaning, how is that a point at which the song fails? I liked the suggestion that an umbrella is folded when one comes in from the rain. I didn’t think of that. It reminds me of another Dylan song: “Walk Out in the Rain.” Something makes me want to link those two songs. In one, he walks out in the rain, and in the other he comes back inside. I’m afraid that’s all the insight I have.

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