A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall.

(Note to self: Always, always, ALWAYS begin any project, no matter how humble in concept, with a lit review. Opening today with an apology to Alan Robock, as well as a tip of the hat – more precisely, a recommendation that you read his wonderfully thoughtful (and many years prior!) work on Bob DylanRobock, Alan, 2005:  Tonight as I stand inside the rain:  Bob Dylan and weather imagery.  Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc., 86, 483-487. You’ll discover the Robock paper to be definitive [his signature trait], and you’ll also see how a scientist can write on subjects and in ways that are themselves truly poetic while remaining scholarly. As a bonus you’ll find a short companion piece by Guido Visconti.

Thanks, Alan!)

I’d planned to follow up yesterday’s LOTRW post by noting that if someone were to merit the label poet laureate with respect to any particular subject matter or themes, they should be able to point to a body of work and not a single piece. Alan Robock makes the case for Bob Dylan far more strongly than I could, listing a number of Dylan’s works that make vibrant use of weather imagery, and delving deeply into key lyrics of those works to support that view.

Alan was careful to mention that his list of weather references in Dylan’s work wasn’t exhaustive, or intended to be. Instead he ends up “discussing [his] two favorite weather songs and giving examples from others.” Interestingly, at least to me, the second song I’d picked to illustrate Dylan’s emphasis on weather metaphors and imagery was one that didn’t make the cut for Alan in 2005: A Hard Rain’s aGonna Fall. Here are the lyrics:

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well-hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.

Wikipedia provides some background to this 1962 work. The Wikipedia entry merits a thorough read; here are a few snippets:

A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” is a song written by Bob Dylan in the summer of 1962 and recorded later that year for his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963).

The song is… communicating suffering, pollution, and warfare. Dylan has said that all of the lyrics were taken from the initial lines of songs that “he thought he would never have time to write”… Dylan attributed his inspiration to the feeling he got when reading microfiche newspapers in the New York Public Library: “After a while you become aware of nothing but a culture of feeling, of black days, of schism, evil for evil, the common destiny of the human being getting thrown off course. It’s all one long funeral song.”

Dylan originally wrote “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” in the form of a poem…[ultimately building it into]… a complex and powerful song built upon the question-and-answer refrain pattern of the traditional British ballad “Lord Randall“, published by Francis Child.

…While some have suggested that the refrain of the song refers to nuclear fallout, Dylan disputed that this was a specific reference. In a radio interview with Studs Terkel in 1963, Dylan said:

No, it’s not atomic rain, it’s just a hard rain. It isn’t the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that’s just gotta happen … In the last verse, when I say, “the pellets of poison are flooding the waters,” that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers.

In closing, if you have the time, you might try repeating yesterday’s exercise with this song. Read the lyrics through a few times. Meditate on their multiple meanings. Ask yourself: What seems dated? [I’m guessing very little.] What seems timeless? Why? Consider the lyrics’ message to you. Then listen to the words as set to the music…

Now you’re ready to provide impact-based decision support to the tumultuous world of 2022 in which we’re imbedded – a world of suffering, pollution, and war – a world seeking and hungering to find elements of hope, and encouragement, and opportunity in your message.

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