A Song That Will Never Escape Your Mind

Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” is an expertly crafted poem that draws you in and refuses to let go. It tells the story of a man’s life, his relationships over the years, and his journey to get back to one person in particular. By the time you’re finished listening to the song, you feel like you’ve lived the speaker’s life right alongside him. The song achieves this effect through its unorthodox usage of perspective and time.

Dylan has a tendency to alter his lyrics in live performances and on different recordings, so there are several different iterations of “Tangled Up in Blue.” The most significant, aside from the album version, is an earlier recording that makes the theme of perspective evident. On the album version, the narrator speaks in the first person in each of the seven stanzas, but in this alternative recording, stanzas one through three and six refer to the same events in the third person, as if the narrator were retelling stories he heard second-hand. This difference in point of view establishes Dylan’s interest in playing with perspective, which is made more evident in the song’s final lines (which are the same in both versions).

But me, I'm still on the road
Headin' for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

Dylan uses the song’s fairly repetitive structure to sweep the listener up into the flow of time, positioning them in the shoes of the speaker as his memory drifts around from one point in his life to another. Each of the seven stanzas is composed of eight lines that set the scene for whichever stage in his life the speaker is remembering, followed by four lines that resolve that stage, followed by the refrain “Tangled up in blue,” which describes the speaker’s state of being tangled up in his memories.

The stanzas flow together, but they aren’t in chronological order. The first stanza establishes the moment the speaker presently occupies before he starts his walk down memory lane:

Early one morning the sun was shining
I was laying in bed
Wondering if she'd changed at all
If her hair was still red

However, the only lines that are actually in present tense come in the final stanza:

So now I'm going back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They're an illusion to me now

This frames the stanzas that come between as motivation for the speaker’s current journey. The stories/memories that are told in these stanzas range from moments on one specific night to accounts that condense what could be years of the speaker’s life, but they all make the same argument to the speaker: he must return to the woman he left years ago.

The most poetic stanza of the song is the fifth:

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
"I thought you'd never say hello," she said
"You look like the silent type"
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Like it was written in my soul
From me to you
Tangled up in blue

This verse perfectly encapsulates the meaning of the song (the song is so purposefully crafted that you could make the same argument about any section) by turning a seemingly mundane interaction into a moment of enlightenment that holds great significance in the speaker’s memory. In it, Dylan describes a moment where he was struck by the beauty of a poem in the strikingly beautiful lines of his own poem. He signs the verse “from me to you,” as if he is giving the listener the same gift that the woman gave him in the book of poems.

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