Time Travel with Bob Dylan in Canada (Part II)


By Larry Fyffe


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Oddly, analysts of singer/songwriter Bob Dylan’s lyrics fail to mention that the song ‘Red River Shore’ is based a lot on Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. You can tell this is so by the ‘Dylanesque Rhyme Twist’ – when Dylan pays tribute to a poem, he often repeats the same end-rhymes in song:

Well, the sun went down on me a long time ago
I had to go back from the door
I wish that I could have spent every hour of my life
With the girl from the Red River shore
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

To wit:

Get thee back into the tempest, and the night’s Plutonian shore ….
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul has spoken
Leave my loneliness unbroken – quit the bust above my door
(Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven)

Or sometimes composes end-rhymes that are similar:

Some of us turn off the lights and we live
With the moonlight shooting by
Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark
To be where the angels fly
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

‘To wit: ‘by/sky’ instead of ‘by/fly’:

From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by
(Edgar Allan Poe: Alone)

Bob Dylan’s songs of darkness are not so much ‘apocalyptic’ (of the end of the world) as ‘Gothic’ (spooky):

Though nothing looks familiar to me
I know I’ve stayed here before
Once, a thousand nights ago
With the girl from the Red River shore
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

There be a pun on the oft-ghoulish Arabic tales known as ‘The Thousand Nights.’

Even the nursery rhyme mentioned in the song has sinister overtones:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maidens all in a row?
(Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary)

As he often does, Dylan, or should we say his persona, inverts themes – here he’s frustrated because he’s a failed “lady-killer” (‘I never did get that far’):

Pretty maidens all in a row lined up
Outside my cabin door
I’ve never wanted any of them wantin’ me
‘Cept the girl from the Red River shore
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

She’s no pushover like some girls the narrator knows:

You used to be so amused
At Napoleon-in-rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you – you can’t refuse
(Bob Dylan: Like Rolling Stone)

In the verse below, doth thou knoweth about whom the narrator is speaking -Napoleon-in-rags, Jesus Christ, Edgar Allan Poe, or maybe even Bob Dylan himself?

Now I heard of a guy who lived a long time ago
A man of sorrow and strife
That if someone around him died and was dead
He knew how to bring’em back to life
Well, I don’t know what kind of language that he used
Or if they do that kind of thing anymore
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

Poe-like Dylan, who often depicts modern life as death-like (‘the sun went down on me a long time ago’), brings the gal from the Red River shore back
to life.

Another source of the Red River is a Canadian folk song, revamped by Wilf Carter:

There’s a shack in the Red River Valley
That is shaded by evergreen trees
It was there that we all strolled together
And you said that you loved only me
Do you ever think of the day you left me
You promised some day you’d return?
(Wilf Carter: Red River Valley Blues)

One can never be sure about Bob Dylan.

Here’s Bob’s recording of the song: https://vimeo.com/233167417

And here is Wilf Carter…

What else is on the site?

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 index to the 500+ songs reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains links to reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

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. “Well, I didn’t know what kind of language that he used” –
    A reference to the orangutan of Poe’s “The Murders In The Rue Morgue” ???

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