Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

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‘Skeltonics’, as this style of poetry has been dubbed since Skelton’s own lifetime, is a perfect vehicle for ‘railing’, and ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, as Colin Clout, is best understood as a traditional ‘railing poem’ or song: its form perfectly suited to its content. Dylan may have read Skelton in 1965, or he may not have done. If there is a direct influence that is interesting in and of itself, but this may simply be the arguably more interesting possibility of two ‘makers’ unknowingly shaping their verse in a similar way for similar reasons, even though they are divided historically by almost five hundred years.

In terms of poetical structure, the song makes masterful use of its ‘Skeltonics’. Turning to the next mini-stanza, the listener hears the same clipped form, the quadruplet rhyme scheme morphing into ABCBDBDBEF as the singer approaches the refrain:

You used to
Laugh about
Everybody that was
Hangin’ out
Now you don’t
Talk so loud
Now you don’t
Seem so proud
About having to be scrounging
Your next meal.

Each line (or half-line as usually printed) carries two stresses, a form so emphatic that it effectively forces the half-rhymes that are such a feature of the song. The energy of both singer and song makes ‘about’ rhyme with ‘proud’ and ‘doll’ rhyme with ‘fall’. When a number of unstressed syllables are packed into a two-stress line – as in ‘About having to be scrounging’ – a much shorter line follows. This is why ‘me-al’ has two syllables, as does the word ‘fe-el’ throughout the song. The word ‘me-al’ has to take the place rhythmically of the longer ‘to be scrounging’, ending the verse on a powerful note of vengeful appeal.

The Skeltonic mastery of this song’s structure – an aspect always present in performance, but masked to an extent when the lyrics are presented on the page in their usual long lines – continues into the third stanza:

You never turned around
To see the frowns
On the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down
And did tricks for you.

You never understood
That it ain’t no good
You shouldn’t let
Other people get
Your kicks for you.

You used to ride on the chrome horse
With your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder
A Siamese cat

Ain’t it hard
When you discover that
He really wasn’t
Where it’s at
After he took from you everything
He could steal

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the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

Available HERE where you can read the opening chapters.

The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul