The Dylanesque Rhyme Twist


By Larry Fyffe

Unnoticed by other analysts of Bob Dylan’s songs is the employment of a signature device in his lyrics that I have dubbed the ‘Dylanesque rhyme twist’. That is, when the singer/songwriter pays tribute to a poet or songwriter he often repeats some of the end-rhymes, and internal rhymes too, or close variations thereof, that appear in the poem or song that he sources:

I never could guess your weight, baby
Never needed to call you my whore
I always thought you were straight, baby
But you’re driftin’ too far from shore
(Bob Dylan: Driftin’ Too Far From Shore)

The rhyme twisted in the lyrics above be ‘weight’/’straight’, and
the source is a verse in a gospel bluegrass song – ‘wait’/’fate’:

Why meet a terrible fate
Mercies abundantly wait
Turn back before it’s too late
You’re drifting too far from shore
(Monroe Brothers: Drifting Too Far From Shore ~ by Charles Moody)

The same signature device, or clue to the source used, appears in another Dylan song – ‘waits’/’fates’:

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred dollar plates
Goodness lies behind its gates
(Bob Dylan: It’s Alright Ma)

The closely related themes of the three quoted verses above indicate that the rhymes employed by Dylan are not merely coincidental.

Previously I have pointed out the following example of a ‘rhyme twist’ – ‘drain’/’pain’:

There’s not even room enough to go anywhere
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there
Well, my sense of humanity is going down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing, there’s been some kind of pain
(Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet)

Referred to are end-rhymes from a melancholic Romantic poet ‘pains’/’drains’:

My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains
My senses, as though of hemlock I had drunk
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk
(John Keats: Ode To A Nightingale)

Here’s a sampling of another’s rhymes in which Dylan makes fun of himself for doing so – “talkin’ “/”walkin’ “; “burnin’ “/”yearnin’ “:

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Through this weary world of woe
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
No one on earth would ever know ….
My mule is sick, my horse is blind
Thinkin’ ’bout that gal I left behind
(Bob Dylan: Ain’t Talkin’)

The source be a bluegrass song – ‘talking’/’walking’; ‘burning’/’yearning’:

Ain’t talking, just walking
Down the highway of regret
Heart’s burning, still yearning
For the best girl this poor boy’s ever met
(Stanley Brothers: Highway Of Regret – traditional)

The signature marker turns up in another song as well – ‘turnin’/’yearnin’:

The seasons they are turnin’, and my sad heart is yearnin’
To hear again the songbird’s sweet melodious tone
Won’t you meet in me the moonlight alone?
(Bob Dylan: Moonlight)

Another example of the ‘Dylanesque rhyme twist’ – ‘before’/’door’:

Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like she never blowed before
Blue light blinking, red light glowing
Blowing like she’s at my chamber door
(Bob Dylan: Duquesne Whistle)

Referenced, a Gothic poem – ‘before’/’door’:

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me, filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door
(Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven)

Oddly, a number of listeners to Bob Dylan songs believe that the songwriter pulls his artistic creations out of nowhere – out of some mysterious vacuum – and, worse, some analysts of Dylan’s songs ignorantly accuse him of just being a plagiariser.

See also:
(1)Bob Dylan And John Keats (Part II)
(2)Listen To The Dylanesque Whistle Blowing

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  1. I am not sure that he wrote all of the lyrics – if so, then went can’t count the song as a Dylan composition at all, because the music is not a Dylan original. But the official credits, do credit both of them.

  2. And she blowed like she never blowed before ….
    I’m goin’ where I don’t have to work no more
    (Steamboat Man)

  3. * Moody: You are drifting too far from the shore
    **Monroes: You’re drifting too far from the shore

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