Man of Peace. The meaning of the lyrics and the music

By Tony Attwood

I’ve been listening to two versions of the song – one from Infidels and one on a You Tube video with the Grateful Dead

The two are completely different.  The Dead version sounds like a jam session with everyone doing their thing and Dylan calling out the lyrics without any care that we understand them or not.

The album version has a totally different feel especially at the start.  The riffs of the guitar are very carefully performed and engineered into the overall sound.  As is the change of rhythm in the bridge – which after the first verse is lost – but then comes back again before the first instrumental break before vanishing for good.

In short we get a feeling in the first verse that yes, this is a standard 12 bar blues construction but with real variations and additional styling – but then after that first verse some of these finer points in the music are lost and indeed as time goes by more and more of them vanish.  However this version never moves fully over to the absolutely standard blues of the Dead version.

But what Dylan does do and what is impressive is to vary the melody throughout the song – it certainly adds a lot to the music and makes it, as a blues song, far easier to listen to than the more hard-core 12 bar on the recording with the Dead.

But what on earth are we to make of the lyrics.? We have here an album produced by Mark Knopfler, a reference to Dixie in the second line, and immediately I thought, ah,  “The Sutlans of Swing”, which, you may recall, played “Dixie double four time”, on the Dire Straits first album.  And…

And then I got lost.

The opening lines suggest a traditional Dixie band busking in the street for money from passers by, and then Dylan says, “Could be the Fuhrer, Could be the local priest”.

Now since Dixie is Dixieland music – New Orleans jazz of which perhaps the best known early song is “When the saints go marching in” we have to pause here and think, what on earth have we got?

We have a reference to Dixie, a sophisticated 12 bar blues, a reference to a busking band, and the Fuhrer and the priest, followed by the regular end of each verse: “Sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace.”

The simple answer is, nothing is what it seems.  The priest appears to be a man of God but one only has to look at the number of abuse lawsuits facing the Catholic Church to recognise one implication of Dylan’s lines.  Of course the majority of priests are men of pure heart being honourable and decent, but clearly not all.  But I am an un-Godly heathen, so I notice stories like that, which doesn’t in any way suggest that this is Dylan’s meaning.

Heylin got to the same conclusion by a different route writing of “Narcissus the false Messiah, shimmering from the same stagnant pool” and quotes Dyylan’s interview in 1984 sayying “You can’t be for peace and be global.  It’s just like that song “Man of Peace”.  None of this matters, if you believe in another world.  [But] if you believe in this world… you’ll go mad ’cause you won’t see the end of it.”

Which takes us to Matthew 10:34: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth.  I came not to send peace but a sword.”

So the end is nigh, and we need to be careful not to be misled from this belief by any great works of humanitarianism.  It doesn’t matter what you do, the beast will howl and the poor will rise up to inherit the earth, not through Bill Gates supporting charities but rather because of decisions taken long ago by God.  It doesn’t matter what we do, the future is preordained.

As Dylan later said (quoted in Heylin again) “People who believe in the coming of the Messiah live their lives right now as if He was here.  That’s my idea of it, anyway.”

And yet Dylan only performed a song which, according to the commentary above, 41 times between 1984 and 2000.  With such an important message (at least for Bob, if not for infidels like me, seems a bit odd.

So we are talking about both the abuse of power deliberately, and the use of power to do good – which to me seem polar opposites and yet here are equally irrelevant.

The second verse with its “gift of the gab” reference suggests that we are in a world of the storyteller.  Which to those of us who don’t believe is what religions are – stories, no different from myths and legends.   Again, nothing is at is.

It is also possible to evolve a meaning to the effect that the peacemaker of the world, the outsider trying to solve a major problem, is Satan. Indeed while I was doing the usual background work trying to get my thoughts in order on this song, I found a You tube video which plays the song, shows some of the lyrics, and then has pictures of President Obama.  Hmmm…..

Then as we move forwards we get to the end of the world with the “howling wolf” verse which says that “Tomorrow all activity will cease”.  The simplistic explanation of this verse is the Book of Revelations and the arrival of Conquest, War, Famine and Death.

And then suddenly the “Mama’s weeping” verse – she knows her son is giving up the everyday world for the Christian religion, and she is scared.  And that I guess is my problem.  I’m with her on that.

Or is that opening line, “Look out your window, baby, there’s a scene you’d like to catch” telling us that it is just another dream.   Or, is it a kick back to Dylan’s surreal songs of years before where nothing means anything because in the end only belief does you any good.  And there’s my personal problem.  For me it is far better to try and be a good person while alive, because that’s all there is.  In this song the message seems to be that such a life is irrelevant.  Only belief matters.

“Sometime Satan comes as a man of peace” is a Christian concept in that the Devil disguises himself in order to mislead.  And Bob seems to like that notion and of course I can’t share that.  But, I tell you what, I still love the song. It bounces, the music is exciting but controlled, and there are some great lines to rhyme with the final line of each verse.  And I still like those opening couple of lines.  I’m sure that’s a bit of fun between Dylan and Knopfler.

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order at the foot of the home page and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

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

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

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. I think guy, that you may be reading way past the message here, a message so simple that the majority of the song’s lyrics are mere fluff, very creative fluff indeed.

  2. “… we will have no more marriages. Those that are married already … shall live; the rest shall keep as they are” (Hamlet, III, i)

  3. Anybody who’s considered the idea ‘there are no accidents’ is liable to get tripped by their vinyl heroes. We’re foolish of course, but we’re conditioned to look for explanation.
    One thing perhaps, consider about Infidels in general is its context in Mr D’s output. So soon after the obvious Religious output. Perhaps allied to suggestions above – nothing is what it seems – Mr D is remembering folk he met during his God bothering sojourn

  4. This is one of the most powerful and driving songs I’ve ever heard. Hypocrites, particularly preaching religious ones are his targets. I’m confounded that this piece is not more popular. In fact I’m at loss understand why this whole album isn’t.

  5. The song is a simple warning: sometimes satan comes as a man of peace. Dylan sees that even behind a man of peace can be satan, satan infiltrate everywhere he can and even good intentions can be evil. Dylan’s gospel records show his knowles and interest in de book of revelations (bible). De biggest example will be the antichrist; will bring peace, but will show later to be satan.

  6. @ Tony Attwood: have you read the advice of Bogga Bosta above? Please pay attention, for if you really didn’t understand what Bob Dylan had to say, it says something about your intelligence…

  7. It’s just another way of saying; “… Don’t follow leaders, and watch your parking meters.”

    We should not blindly follow
    Our leaders, wether they be
    Obama/Hillary or Bush/Trump.
    Altruism does not exist; power for the sake of power.

    Satan’s probably a nice guy,
    And you’ll like him ( just don’t lend him your ALL money).

  8. “Man of Peace” and “Foot of Pride” are twin songs, exposing the hypocrisy which Bob must have encountered amongst some of the Pharisees unfortunately weighing on the Christian churches today.
    By the way: “Lord Protect My Child” and “Death is not the End” also go hand in hand. If Infidels had included those last three songs, left off “Union Sundown” and closed with “ Blind Willie McTell” it would have been an absolute Masterpiece.

    But, as Bob admits in Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight, he burns bridges (even before) crossing them. And that is the fate of a Nobel Prize genius artist.

  9. I bought “Infidels” when it was released on n ‘83. I always saw “Man Of Peace” as a a veiled reference to Ronald Reagan, a slick seducer with a squeaky clean, flag waving, Bible thumping veneer barely concealing a craven and greedy agenda.

  10. The song is Blakean in nature in its view of organized religion, and its black-robed priests, but the assertion by Attwood that the author actually believes in
    predestination (rather than questioning it) is questionable.

    Dylan lyrics, they double-edged be.

  11. I’ve always liked this song, but only recently paid attention to the final verse:

    Somewhere Mama’s weeping for her blue-eyed boy
    She’s holding them little white shoes and that little broken toy
    And he’s following a star
    The same one them three men followed from the East
    I hear that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

    Quite possibly, the blue-eyed boy is Dylan, and the weeping mama his own mother during his Christian period (the hostility between some Christians and Jews coming from both sides). It’s a surprising verse for a someone coming off Slow Train and Saved, but startlingly expands the first-verse warning about the fuhrer and local priest.

  12. Man of peace is a knock against organized religion, listen to the last line in each stanza, “ Satan comes as a man of peace“. Even the last stanza of following a woman’s innocent young child following the star in the East is being misled. Is Dylan implying he was one of those children that was misled?

  13. I realize this is almost certainly not how the song was intended, but I prefer to interpret the lyrics as a character study of Satan as an archetype or as a literary character — partly a warning, as most are saying, not to be deceived by Satan in disguise, but also an examination of how Satan moves through the world in human form, similar to the God-on-Earth conceit of the later “One of Us.”

    In particular, I identify the blue-eyed boy in the final verse with Satan, flipping the concept of the Father of Lies on its head and turning him into a little boy on his way to Bethlehem (slouching towards Bethlehem?), destined to become a figure who is the antithesis of innocence.

    Satan is no less dangerous or deceptive in this song than in any other Christian depiction, but here we explore the fact that in order for there to be a Satan, there must be some figure whose existence is predicated on lies, and whose destiny will be the same no matter what role he assumes, be it priest, lover, philanthropist, or child.

  14. Man of peace one of Bob Dylan’s greatest song In my opinion Dylan refer directly to the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who was actually awarded in1978 the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin. Sadat nickname is the man of peace till now. I think Dylan expresses his opinion clearly in Sadat and his visit to Israel in1977 and the process of the Camp David Accords in1978 and the Egyptian-Israelian peace treaty in1979 until the liberation of the land of Sinai from Israelian occupation and return it back to Egyptian sovereignty in1982. And clearly says “You know sometimes Satan, comes as a man of peace” it’s clear that he rejects all that. And it shows the state of sadness that prevailed in the Israelian society as a result. Dylan had visited Israel in 1983 and the Infidels photo album for Dylan is in Israel. “Look out your window, baby, there’s a scene you’d like to catch The band is playing “Dixie” a man got his hand outstretched “He describes the scene of Sadat’s historic visit and the arrival of the Egyptian Air Force One to Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, where there was a band playing festive music in his reception and then the National anthem of Egypt and Israel, and when Sadat exited from the plane’s door, he waved his hand to greet the audience. “Could be the Fuhrer Could be the local priest” Here he questions Sadat’s intentions of this visit. “He got a sweet gift of gab, he got a harmonious tongue / He’s a great humanitarian, he’s great philanthropist” he refers to Sadat speech in the Israelian Knesset, which lasted for more than 25 minutes, and was an influential and powerful speech. “Well, first he’s in the background, and then he’s in the front” Refer to Sadat before the war of 1973 between Egypt and Israel when he had no role or importance or influence in the international politics and after the war he became at the forefront of global news. “Well, the howling wolf will howl tonight, the king snake will crawl Trees that’ve stood for a thousand years suddenly will fall” Refers to the idea of bringing peace instead of the animosity rooted in history and religions between the Egyptians and the Jewish people and also refers to the rejection of the treaty by the Arab leaders and he resembles them by the howling wolf and king snake. “Somewhere Mama’s weeping for her blue-eyed boy She’s holding them little white shoes and that little broken toy And he’s following a star The same one them three men followed from the East” Here he refers to the grieving Israelian mother for the death of her son in the war, and that he is following the stars, as did three men from the east to refer to the peace treaty that was made by the three (Sadat, Begin and Carter) as if he meant that they are following an illusion that will not come true. also note that Sadat, in his speech in the Israeli Knesset, mentioned widows and mothers who lost their children in the war. There are many indications of Sadat’s intelligence and cunning, as the whole world and Israel considered him as a result of the 1973 war plan in which he surprised Israel and the whole world, such as: Good intentions can be evil Both hands can be full of grease / Both eyes are looking like they’re on a rabbit hunt / Nobody can see through him / He could be standing next to you the person that you’d notice least / Well, he can be fascinating, he can be dull He can ride down Niagara Falls in the barrels of your skull”

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