Blowin' in the Wind

Bob Dylan


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Hello English learners and music lovers! I’m Ki, and you’re listening to Explained in English. Today, we’re going through the song Blowin’ in the Wind by Bob Dylan.

While Bob Dylan has a lot of popular songs, I’d say this is probably one of the most well known out of all of them. It’s a folk song that was released in 1963, and typical of Bob Dylan of that time, it was just him, his guitar and his harmonica. The instrumentation itself is pretty simple, but the lyrics are packed with meaning.

The song is really a series of questions. These questions get us to think about, or reflect on all the ways human beings haven’t lived up to their potential. All of the ways that we could be doing better as a society if we just made some changes. He keeps asking, “how many?” How many times do we have to do this? How many situations do we have to go through? How many years will we keep repeating the same old mistakes? “How many?” literally asks for a number, as in, how many? One? Two? Three? Four? Five? Twenty? A hundred? One thousand? How many? How many situations like this are necessary before we change? Before we realize the truth? Before we find a better way?

Another way to say this is, “What has to be done for us to change?” The first line says:


[Verse 1]
How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes ‘n how many times must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

[Verse 2]
Yes n’ how many years can a mountain exist before it’s washed to sea?
How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes n’ how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

[Verse 3]
Yes n’ how many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?
Yes n’ how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?
Yes n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

So, Bob Dylan is really an observer. He’s looking at how the world is. He’s seeing all these problems. He notices unnecessary death, perhaps from things like war, or from hunger, or from disease. He notices suffering, like the crying of people and their fight for freedom. He notices the willful ignorance of some people, like looking at the sky and not noticing it, or turning their head and pretending they don't see something. He also acknowledges the people who are fighting hard for justice. People who are like the white dove, sailing across the sea and deserve rest. People who are working to remove those mountains, those obstacles that never seem to go away no matter how much you try.

Dylan observes all these things happening and I think there’s a kind of sadness in knowing how easy it might be to solve these problems, but that people just won’t do it. So he keeps asking, how long will it take? How many years? How many roads? How many seas? Before we finally get it? Before we finally make the change?

There’s a kind of absurdity to these questions, because the answers are blowing in the wind. Like the wind, the answers are just in front of our face but we don’t see them. We might feel the wind, understand the answers for a bit, but then the wind changes direction and it’s gone. Another interpretation about the answers to these questions is that we just don’t know when the answers will come, they’re impossible to catch, just like the wind. So, it’s like the answers are simultaneously easy and right there for us to see, but at the same time there’s a big question mark. When will we change? Who knows?

When I listen to this song I feel very touched, very sad, almost like I want to cry. Still, I see that there’s a little bit of optimism in the song. If you can hear the words of the song and if they mean something to you, then be the change. It starts with you.



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