Bob Dylan And Lay Lady Lay: Would We Lie To You?

by Larry Fyffe

Some of our Untold readers might be a little confused concerning the lyrics of the song by Bob Dylan entitled ‘Lay Lady Lay’. The old Dylan notebook lying in the vault of the Archives Department of the ‘Untold Dylan’ offices will clear matters up.  Tony Attwood laid it there many years ago.

Below is the final version of a verse recorded by Bob Dylan, but the notebook reveals that Dylan crosses out the word “yourself” after the last “lay” merely to make the music and lyrics fit together:

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Whatever colours you have in your mind
I'll show them to you, and you'll see them shine

(Bob Dylan: Lay Lady, Lay)

In the margins of the notebook the source-song is given; it refers to a gal as a ‘bedspring’, the object of the verb ‘lay’):

I take it to my room, and lay it 'cross my big brass bed
I take it to my room, and lay it 'cross my big brass bed
I guess I'll be my own singer, neighbours turn cherry red

(Blind Willie McTell: Rough Alley Blues – there doesn’t seem to be a recording of the song freely available on the internet, but it is on Spotify).

Dylan knows the present tense of ‘lay’ goes with the past tense ‘laid’, and that the present tense of ‘lie’ goes with the past tense ‘lay’. In the verse below, ‘lay him low’ would be grammatically incorrect because there’s an object:

"Not me", says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist
Who came here from Cubans door
Where boxing ain't allowed no more

(Bob Dylan: Who Killed Davey Moore)

One might even imagine that Dylan is being spoofed in the following song:

Lie la lie, lie la, la la lie lie
Lie la lie, lie la la la la lie la la lie ....
In the clearing stands are boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries a reminder
Of every glove that laid him down 

(Simon And Garfunklel: The Boxer)

To confuse matters further, the notebook contains other lyrics that indicate Dylan initially intended to write a gospel song:

Lie, lady, lie, lie across my big brass bed
Fly, lady, fly, fly with your man a while
Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile

(Bob Dylan: Ladybird Fly Away Home)

The source of “Whatever colours you have on your mind/I’ll show them to you” ~ In the margins of the notebook, mentioned is a Christian tale of yore that has the Virgin Mary looking like a ladybird beetle – she’s dressed in a scarlet cloak with seven spots that represent her seven sorrows and seven joys. And noted too is another tale that has Mary dropping her golden girdle (belt) to ‘doubting’ Thomas as she flies off to heaven.

On the overleaf, another song is printed in pencil:

Mile by mile, I paddled my old canoe
I'll be in heaven when my journey's over
For the one I admire
Is watching the shore
God's River

(Emmett Miller: God’s River)

In the lyrics below, ‘lay’ is correctly used as the past tense of ‘lie’:

But the frozen smile upon my face
Fits me like a glove
But I can't escape from the memory
Of the one I'll always adore
All those nights when I lay in the arms
Of the girl from the Red River Shore

(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

Dylan makes reference to the Jordon and/or Mississippi River in the song lyrics below:

Standing by God's River, my soul's beginning to shake
Standing by God's River, my soul's beginning to shake
I'm counting on you to give me a break

(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

What else is here?

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.

There is an alphabetic index to the 550+ Dylan compositions reviewed on the site which you will find it here.  There are also 500+ other articles on different issues relating to Dylan.  The other subject areas are also shown at the top under the picture.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook which mostly relates to Bob Dylan today.  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. Just pointing out a typo (since this post is about grammar): you wrote “in the clearing stands ARE boxer”.

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