A Lyrical Analysis of Bob Dylan’s, “The Times They Are a Changin’”
Fifty years after Bob Dylan released his acclaimed album, The Times They Are a Changin’, the album’s title track is still considered one of the great musical anthem’s of our time. The song suggests Dylan’s revolutionary nature as it draws its’ lyrical inspiration from Biblical references, especially the Sermon on the Mount, to convey the social unrest of his era captured in the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War protests of the 1960’s. “The Times they Are a Changin’” sends a clarion call to readers and listeners about the impending destruction of the old social and political order, the futility of resisting the change, and a call to action for those who would lead the way to an improved future.
The song begins by Dylan calling a group of people together, “Come gather ’round people, Wherever you roam” (1:1) in direct parallel to how the Sermon on the Mount begins, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the hill. After taking his seat, his disciples came to him.” (Matthew 5:1). He then warns listeners of an impending flood that has already begun, and to start swimming before it’s too late, “If your time to you is worth savin’, Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone” (1:7-8). The Biblical reference here is to the great flood of Noah’s time.
In the second verse, Dylan calls to writers and critics, referring to them as prophets. He encourages them, “And keep your eyes wide, The chance won’t come again, And don’t speak too soon, For the wheel’s still in spin” (2:3-6). Dylan suggests here that these modern-day prophets need to stay alert and in motion, but also restrained as the time for sweeping change hasn’t fully ripened yet, but it is approaching. Closing the stanza, “For the loser now will be later to win” (2:8), he makes a clear reference to the Sermon on the Mount, "In the same way, the last will be first, and the first will be last,...