I Don’t Believe You: Bob Dylan And Rudyard Kipling (Part II)


Part one of Dylan and Rudyard Kipling appears here.

by Larry Fyffe

When singer/songwriter Bob Dylan sources a poem to augment his song lyrics, he often pays a tribute to the author of that poem. Whether consciously or subconsciously, Dylan ‘twists’ a rhyme from the poem into his song. That is, he fidddles with a rhyme that appears in the original poem.

A blatant example:

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)

Dylan varies ‘drains’/ ‘pains’ a bit:

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk
Or empied some dull opiate to the drains
(John Keats: Ode To A Nightingale)

Another example of the Dylanesque Rhyme Twist:

If I was with her too long
Or have done something wrong
(Bob Dylan: I Don’t Believe You)

The rhyme ‘long’/’wrong’ echoes ‘long’/’song’ found in the poem quoted below:

You have heard the song
How long, how long?
(Rudyard Kiplng: L’Envoi)

Jochen Markhorst notes that the song “I Don’t Believe You” closely follows the rhyme scheme of the poem “L’Envoi” (“abccbdeffe” – near rhymes notwithstanding):

I can’t understand (a)
She let go of my hand (a)
And left me here facing the wall (b)
I sure like to know (c)
Why she did go (c)
But I can’t get close to her at all (b)
Though we kissed in the wild blazing night-time (d)
She said she would never forget (e)
But the morning is clear (f)
It’s like I ain’t here (f)
She just acts like we never have met (e)
(Bob Dylan: I Don’t Believe You)

Now the poem ~ for the sake of clarity, its structuring is unlocked:

There be triple ways to take (a)
Of the eagle and the snake (a)
Or the way of a man with a maid (b)
But the fairest was to me (c)
Is a ship’s upon the sea (c)
In the heel of the North-East Trade (b)
Can you hear the crash on her bows, dear lass (d)
And the drum of the racing screw (e)
As she ships it green on the old trail (f)
Our own trail, the out trail (f)
As she lifts and ‘scends on the Long Trail – the trail that is always new? (e)
(Rudyard Kipling: L’Envoi)

Again, the song lyrics – Indeed, Dylan on one level might even be talking about tangling with Kipling’s Victorian poem the night before:

It’s all new to me (a)
Like some mystery (a)
It could even be like a myth (b)
It’s hard to think on (c)
That she’s the same one (c)
That last night I was with (b)
From darkness, dreams are deserted (d)
Am I still dreaming yet? (e)
I wish she’s unlock (f)
Her voice once and talk (f)
‘Stead of acting like we never have met (e)
(Bob Dylan: I Don’t Believe You)

The ‘Kipling’ poem has a Tennyson ‘Ulysses’ tilt to it:

Fly forward my heart, O my heart (a)
From the Foreland to the Start (a)
We’re steaming all-too slow (b)
And it’s twenty thousand mile (c)
To our little lazy isle(c)
Where the trumpets-orchids blow (b)
We have heard the call of the off-shore wind (d)
And the voice of the deep-sea rain (e)
You have heard the song (f)
How long, how long? (f)
Pull out on the trail again (e)
(Rudyard Kipling: L’Envoi)

It’s well-known that Bob Dylan sings traditional folk songs, and reads the works of poets, especially those who write in the vernacular:

Tell Ol’ Bill when he comes home
Anything is worth a try
Tell him that I’m not alone
That the hour has come to do or die
(Bob Dylan: Tell Ol’ Bill)

The Dylanesque Rhyme Twist be ‘die’/’try’ for ‘die’/’why’:

Someone had blundered
Theirs not to make reply
Theirs not to reason why
Theirs but to do and die
Into the Valley of Death
Rode the the six hundred
(Lord Tennyson: The Charge Of The Light Brigade)

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  1. You never know, who he is singing about. He can use he, she, you and I about the same person just to confuse the listeners.. Anyway I think he is talking about himself as a liar. Histrionic personality disorder. HPD.

  2. Maybe ….. but the song sounds more like Puff and Spot are simply waiting for Dick and Jane to get off the yellow school bus.

  3. Seriouly though, Post Modern art in song lyrics are not designed to confuse but gives more room for the listener to be a participant in the creative process through diction that is double-edged that allows for more than one interpretative level of meaning within the boundary set by the writer thereof – that is, an interpretation cannot be one that is solely the subjective product of what the listener desires it to be in complete disregard of the words contained therein. And of course the tone of the music is part and parcel of that interpretative process.

  4. For me this song seemed to express a pretty universal situation, an encounter with a shapeshifter type who is all over you one minute and giving you the cold shoulder the next. You never know where you are, except facing the wall. And could it be something like the one night stand syndrome, passionate in the ‘wild blazing nighttime,’ but come morning, oh boy… she just doesn’t want to know.

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