Bob Dylan, the greatest singer/songwriter ever, was born Robert Allen Zimmerman on this day in 1941. Of course, it’s no more possible to choose a favorite Bob Dylan song than to choose a favorite food, but if I were pressed to name one, it would be It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).
As you listen to this song, focus on not only the words but also the multi-level rhyming structure of the song. The song is organized into five top-level verses, each consisting of three sub-verses and a chorus. Take a look at the first top-level verse below:
Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying
Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying
Temptation’s page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover that you’d just be one more
So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing
I’ve color-coded the line endings to help illustrate the rhyming pattern used throughout the song. The lines in each sub-verse end in a rhyme (e.g., noon, spoon, balloon, …) except the last line of each, which rhyme with each other and the last line of the chorus (e.g., trying, dying, crying, sighing).
The chorus at the end of each top-level verse consists of two rhyming lines, followed by “It’s Alright Ma, …” and the final rhyme that ties all the sub-verses together. The five choruses nicely tie the top-level verses together.
And then there are the lyrics themselves. Pure genius.
Happy 72nd birthday, Bob Dylan. And, thank you.