Bob Dylan And Depersonalization: Planes And Trains


By Larry Fyffe

To liven up a thought, writers employ figures of speech known as ‘personifications’ – human characteristics are attributed to nonhuman things (and to abstract concepts), ie, ‘daffodils flutter and dance in the breeze.’

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan often does the opposite; he creates ‘depersonalizations’ in his song lyrics where features that are associated with mechanical objects are attributed to people, and to society at large:

Now everything’s a little upside down, as a
matter of fact, the wheels have stopped
(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)

In the verse below, Bob Dylan compares the human female to inanimate machines:

Honey, just allow me one more chance
To ride your aeroplane
Honey, just allow me one more chance
To ride your passenger train
(Bob Dylan: Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance)

The depersonalizing effect of money-driven and clock-regulated city life is highlighted by sexually-suggestive mechanical metaphors:

I’m going down to Puerto Rico
I’m going down on the midnight plane
I’m going down on the Vomit Express
I’m going down with my suitcase of pain
(Allan Ginsberg/Bob Dylan: The Vomit Express)

As pointed out elsewhere, the replacement of pastoral societies by those dominated by cityscapes is a theme presented by Romantic-prone poets like William Carlos Williams, William Wordsworth, and William Blake:

Well, your railway gate, you know I just can’t jump it
Sometimes it’s get so hard you see
I’m just sitting here beating on my trumpet
With all these promises you left for me
(Bob Dylan: Absolutely Sweet Marie)

There’s the motif that the harmony felt in Edenic organic-based societies is lost:

Well, I ride a mailtrain, baby
Can’t buy a thrill
Well, I’ve been up all night
Leaning on the windowsill
Well, if I die on top of the hill
And if I don’t make it, you know my baby will
(Bob Dylan: It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry)

Eden is replaced by a fast-moving industrialized world – people are cogs in a big machine that has no time for love:

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast
Oh, but what a shame if all we’ve shared can’t last
I can change, I swear, ooh
See what you can do
(Bob Dylan: You’re A Big Girl Now)

If a better life is coming, it’s taking its time getting here – a personification starts of the verse below:

People starving, and thirsty elevators are bursting
Oh you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it
They say lose your inhibitions, follow your own ambitions
They talk about a life of brotherly love
Show me someone who knows how to live it
There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend
(Bob Dylan: Slow Train)

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+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains 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 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. ”grain elevators are bursting” NOT ‘thirsty elevators are bursting’ — okay?

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