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What is Bob Dylan's Shelter from the Storm about?

Updated on October 13, 2012


I have been listening to Bob Dylan a lot lately. He is not really of my time. Many of his songs were actually written before I was born so I am definitely not an expert. But there is something magical about his music. One of my favorite songs is “Shelter from the Storm” from Dylan's 1975 Blood on the Tracks album. To me, the song seems to have a calming or comforting affect. I began to wonder what the song was about.


Relationships

I’ve researched the song and what Dylan said about it. He did not seem to say much about the song. However, many people have interpreted the song. One interpretation is that he wrote this song while he was going through his divorce with Sara Dylan. However, in a March 1985 interview with Bill Flannigan, Dylan said “I've read that that album had to do with my divorce. Well, I didn't get divorced till four years after that.” Of course, while Dylan said the song was not about his divorce it could definitely be about his relationship with his wife. The line "Come in," she said,"I'll give you shelter from the storm" is repeated in every stanza of the song. This has been interpreted as Sara protecting Bob from fame and the outside world. Another line from the song is, “Now there's a wall between us, somethin' there's been lost, I took too much for granted, got my signals crossed. Just to think that it all began on a long-forgotten morn.” This sounds like a possible point in almost any relationship when couples don’t appreciate each other or miscommunicate or both.


Vietnam

Vietnam lasted from 1955 - 1975. While Mr. Dylan has been quoted in saying he has only written one politicial song and this is not it, this song could really still be about Vietnam. A song can be written about a topic without having a politicial viewpoint.

The lyric: "Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood" could be dealing with a soldier thinking back on his past war days that were hard and bloody.

The next line is "When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud" could be related to fighting under the cover of darkness. And of course, there was a lot of rain, dirt roads, and mud in Vietnam.'

The most important, reiterated line is "Come in, she said, I'll give you shelter from the storm" could be the soldier thinking about his love and gaining comfort in those thoughts.

Holy Spirit

In the late 1970s Dylan converted to Christianity. And, to me, it seems like there is a godly presence in this song. Since the song repeatedly says "Come in, she said, I'll give you, shelter from the storm," I personally like to think of this as the holy spirit. I don't know if the holy spirit is talking to Dylan or maybe even to Jesus. There are a couple lines that seem like Dylan is talking about Jesus. He sings: "Suddenly I turned around and she was standin' there with silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair.She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns. Come in, she said, I'll give you shelter from the storm." Grace is a word that is often related to the Holy Spirit and crown of thorns is often related to Jesus.

"In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes. I bargained for salvation an' they gave me a lethal dose. I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn. Come in, she said, I'll give you shelter from the storm." In the Bible, Jesus was nailed to the cross on top of Mount Golgotha (Calvary). Soldiers threw dice for his clothes. Of course, the bargained for salvation line could mean that Jesus died on the cross so that we may have eternal life. "I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn" could refer to soldiers mocking him. And, "Come in, she said, I'll give you shelter from the storm" could refer to Jesus going to heaven and being greeted by the holy spirit.


Dylan's General Lyric Explanation

In his 1985 interview with Bill Flanagan, Dylan said “Well, songs are just thoughts. For the moment they stop time. Songs are supposed to be heroic enough to give the illusion of stopping time. With just that thought. To hear a song is to hear someone's thought, no matter what they're describing. If you see something and you think it's important enough to describe, then that's your thought. You only think one thought at a time, so what you come up with is really what you're given. When you sit around and *imagine* things to do and to write and to think - that's fantasy. I've never been much into that. Anybody can fantasize. Little kids can, old people can, everybody's got the right to their own fantasies. But that's all they are. Fantasies. They're not *dreams*. A dream has more substance to it than a fantasy. Because fantasies are usually based on nothing, they're based on what's thrown into your imagination. But I usually have to have proof that something exists before I even want to bother to deal with it at all. It must exist, it must have happened, or the possibility of it happening must have some meaning for me.

I'm not going to write a fantasy song. Even a song like "Mr. Tambourine Man" really isn't a fantasy. There's substance to the dream. Because you've seen it, you know? In order to have a dream, there's something in front of you. You have to have seen something or have heard something for you to dream it. It becomes *your* dream then. Whereas a fantasy is just your imagination wandering around. I don't really look at my stuff like that. It's happened, it's been said, I've heard it: I have proof of it. I'm a messenger. I get it. It comes to me so I give it back in my particular style…It does have a literal reality. I don't think it could stand up if it didn't. Because other people can identify with it, and they know if it's true or not. ”

After reading Dylan's interview I feel certain that the song is about something and not just a made up story but that is all I've got. I still haven't figured out what Shelter from the Storm is really about. Dylan doesn't seem to be saying so we'll probably never know. But, I still love it and I'm still curious. What do you think?

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      Liberal American 15 months ago

      Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

      With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

      Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

      A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

      Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

      Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

      Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

      The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

      "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

      With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

      Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

      The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

      Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

      I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

      Come in she says, I’ll give you shelter from the storm.

      Bob Dylan

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      Amber 19 months ago

      Personally. I have always felt Bob Dylan was a poet. With most poets. It's all in how the work is interrupted. To me, it's one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. I will walk down the isle to this song. I see it as him saying. I'm broken. I'm lost. I'm damaged. The world is messed up. We won't even be perfect. But here is staying there. Always. Not matter what. Saying I'll give you shelter from the storm. And he promises to always do his best by her. But in the end none of the other stuff matters. We will die. Some things are good some things are bad. But she's always there. Don't ever take a woman for granted.

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      dami 19 months ago

      I'll try my personal interpretation putting together thoughts of others.

      The mein character, who is speaking appear to be Jesus, or someone with a similar story. "took my crown of thorns" obvious reference to Christ

      "In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes, I bargained for salvation an' they gave me a lethal dose. I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn" reference to the death of jesus and that he sacrificed himself for the sin of humanity.

      "I've heard newborn babies wailin' like a mournin' dove" maybe a reference to the 10th plague of Egypt, the death of firstborns.

      Than there is to identify the world he is leaving in, a big part of the song is a description of this World full of desperation. There is no salvation in it, everything is evil and threatening. "Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud" is a world before christ appeared and gave humanity salvation "I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form".

      Than there is the most difficult character to identify, her appear to be something that symbolize beauty and grace and salvation itself "Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm" "I'll give you shelter from the storm." "Suddenly I turned around and she was standin' there With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair. She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns."

      At least there is the relationship between this sort of Jesus and this Beauty/salvation. At first she helps him, he finds a safe and warm place, but than something happens, it is not clear what, but it separates the two

      "Now there's a wall between us, somethin' there's been lost. I took too much for granted, got my signals crossed." and he takes another road that drive him away from her, even if he has still good feelings for her "And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured, I'll always do my best for her, on that I give my word".

      The last part of the song state the desire of the main character to find her again, "Beauty walks a razor's edge, someday I'll make it mine. If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born."

      So in the end, this can be a story of a Jesus that couldn't find salvation, he had it really close to him but for some reason he lost it. And now this Jesus that failed his mission is wondering around, seeking it again. It can also represent the feelings of the Author for a woman that he lost or more in general the common fate of people, that live in a World full of terrible things and still can lose the only few positive things they have, without realizing it.

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      Olesya 2 years ago

      I think that Bob Dylan has had some experiences with lucid dreams...

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      Joni Zornes 2 years ago

      steve, substitute Grace for "she" on each line and you will see things start to fall in place. "I'm living in a foreign country, I'm bound to cross the line" We live in a world not our own and we will sin. "Beauty walks a razors edge, some day I'll make it mine" Beauty means perfection. One day perfection will be ours! This song is about Grace. Look up the video of "Hard Rain" concert and you will see a backdrop of 4 canvases apparently Bob painted including Christ being beaten with whips, Bob with a key over his head and a "fish" symbol to his right along with a star of David on another canvas. The Gospel is all over this song!

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      steve 2 years ago

      Very interesting scripture references and the law and grace line is one I have never thought about. this is a tremendous song every verse is probably about something different I've got to scope it out a little more though

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      my name doesn't mater 2 years ago

      Blackness was a virtue means the time before god made the light (..in an other lifetime...).

      I' ll always do my best for her (for the beauty): the devil is famous for beeing the "Beauty-Angel".

      "She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns" means the talk between the devil and Jesus. But we all know: Jesus said: Go away from me!

      I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form means probabely the devil. After the deed in eden he was forced to live as a snake. Before that he was "void of form".

      Come in, she said, I'll give you.... : "She" is the true Beauty.

      The devil said: Someday I'll make it mine. He thinks, that he will win vs. god in the final war: good vs. evil.

      The little hilltopvillage is Golgatha and the romans gambeld for Jesus' cloth. The lethal dose is the vinegar, that they gave him, when he cried for water.

      The song is a Song from the devil. Bob Dylan is not the Devil, he is only his medium, probabely without knowing that, but maybe WITH, because in an interview with Scorcese he said, that he was "at the crossroad, to make the big deal (....with the devil!)"

      Sorry for my bad english. I am german.

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      Gahzw 2 years ago

      Vietnam started started in 1965

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      Jean Bakula 3 years ago from New Jersey

      Blood on the Tracks is my favorite all time Dylan album. I think you have to take it as a whole. He says in interviews it's about his divorce, but he and Joan Baez have danced around it for years, and I think he tends to write songs that are a composite of all the different women in his life. He says that this album had so much pain in it, he didn't understand why people liked it so much, he just had to write about it. So I suppose it's about Sara. But you never know. He's had times where he values his Jewish roots, and went through his Christian faze. Now he says that music is his religion.

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      AJ 3 years ago

      Personally I don't think dylan would want there to be an absolute meaning that defeats the purpose of poetry to me it's a soldier going to a brothel to find a moment of peace in a whores arms

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      Joni Zornes 3 years ago

      "Shelter..." is my ablsoute most favorite song of Bob's. "she" is Grace. I have yet to read of anybody seeing this. On the "Hard Rain" version, he even shouts her name on the "crown of thorns" line. The song (to me) is the most beautiful discription of Grace. The song describes the law (deputy) vs. Grace. God (Christ) and she (age of Grace) were "born" at the same time. I could go on and on with all the scripture inferences.

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      Matan 4 years ago

      I guess "Jesus is the answer" now u need to figure how it relate to the rest of your song. Good luck