“The Times they are A-Changin’” Poem Analysis

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The 1960s, arguably one of the most culturally-fueled decades, marks many notable events in American history, including the civil rights movement, the counter culture movement, the anti-Vietnam war protests, the struggle against poverty, and the emerging gay rights movement (CITE). It was during this decade that Bob Dylan wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” a poem full of magnitude and power (CITE). It is essential to keep this time period in mind to understand the context in which it was written. In this paper, each stanza of Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” will be explicated to develop an overall interpretation of the work as a whole.

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Upon reading the opening line “Come gather ’round people,” (Dylan line 1) one can already infer that Dylan wants everyone to listen carefully as he has some big news to announce. In other words, big things are about to happen. Then in the next several lines, he paints an image of an upcoming flood, which seems to symbolize the nature of destruction and restoration. Moreover, floods typically come on quickly, leaving little time to escape. But rather than suggesting an escape from the flood, Dylan seems to ask the reader to “admit” (Dylan line 3) and “accept” (Dylan line 5) that escape from the flood is not possible. Since there is no escape, “If your time to you/ Is worth savin’ / Then you better start swimmin’ / Or you’ll sink like a stone” (Dylan lines 7-10). Evidently, Dylan is proposing that a new reality is coming, and instead of running from it, conform and embrace it (Dylan lines 1-11).

Furthermore, stanza two is directing a message at writers and critics (Dylan lines 12-22). Dylan seems to be targeting the media by insinuating that their predictions are wrong most of the time; thus, he warns to “keep your eyes wide” (Dylan line 14) to get reality correct this time around. The remaining lines in verse two advise not to “speak too soon,” (Dylan line 16) implying that change can navigate in any direction. ‘’For the loser now / Will be later to win” (Dylan lines 20-21) adds to the notion that not only can change navigate in any direction, but is often unexpected and opposite of predictions.
Stanzas three and four follow the same theme in which change, be it good or bad, is inevitably approaching, but directs the message again at a different audience. Verse three calls out political figures, while verse four is directed at parents of a new generation (Dylan lines 23-44). In lines 24-26, Dylan urges politicians to “Please heed the call” and “Don’t stand in the doorway / Don’t block up the hall.” Considering the events taking place during this time in history, it makes sense to assume that Dylan is threatening politicians to not obstruct legislation that grants these civil and economic rights, as he feels they most likely will oppose the change that comes with these movements. Should they oppose the coming change, “It’ll soon rattle your walls” (Dylan line 32).

Dylan’s message to mothers and fathers in the fourth stanza is to refrain from condemning “What you can’t understand” (Dylan line 37). Parents are the target here because they are the older generation that opposes the new social movement of change, especially during the sixties when society was much more critical of straying from the norm. In addition, Dylan suggests to “Please get out of the new one / If you can’t lend your hand” (Dylan lines 42-43). Again, Dylan reiterates that change is inevitable, so those that reject acceptance and conformity need to step aside (Dylan lines 34-44).

The final stanza once again sums it all up. There is no turning back now: “The line it is drawn / The curse it is cast” (Dylan lines 45-46). “As the present now / Will later be past” (Dylan lines 49-50) implies that this new order will soon be forgotten and past, once the new era of change is born. Nevertheless, regardless of how people feel, world changing events will take place anyway (Dylan lines 45-55).

In regard to Dylan’s overall message in “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” it seems quite evident that change, despite how some may feel about it, is rapidly approaching and there is nothing anyone can do to stop or escape it. Yet, those who try to stop it are held responsible for their obstruction (Dylan lines 1-55). What is not clear in his message, however, is what this change will bring exactly. He indicates that the times will change and that those who do not accommodate and accept it will drown and perish, but there is no indication of what this new order comprises, nor whether the upcoming change is good.

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“The Times They Are A-Changin'” Poem Analysis. (2021, Feb 26). Retrieved February 6, 2023 , from
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