Bob Dylan – I Contain Multitudes | Lyrics Meaning & Song Review

After a surprising and a head-turning release titled “Murder Most Foul,” the legendary Bob Dylan hits us back with yet another ballad. Titled “I Contain Multitudes,” the song is about the elusive facades of human nature.

Bob Dylan teased the song in a Tweet full of different lyrics from the song. The song was released on April 16, 2020.

The title of this track is a reference to Walt Whitman’s classic “Song of Myself” from 1855. In this song, Whitman pens “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes).”

Listen to “I Contain Multitudes” by Bob Dylan

“I Contain Multitudes” Lyrics Review and Song Meaning

Bob Dylan starts off the song by giving us a reminder of the frailing nature of everything. It all withers and turns into dust, one day or the other. And maybe this is the reason why he wants to confess about his many multitudes of consciousness in this song.

He further cements this idea by referencing Edgar Allen Poe’s classic short story ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’ In this story, the narrator kills a person and hides the body underneath the basement of his house. But he keeps on hearing the man’s heartbeat in his head. This drives him insane and he ends up confessing his crime to the police. Maybe Bob Dylan wants to get something off his chest too. ‘Skeletons in the closet’ is also a popular metaphor meaning to have secrets. Dylan also has some skeletons in his walls.

Maybe all Bob Dylan wanted to confess was that he was a man with multitudes. Not just the great and iconic musician he is, but also a human like all of us, with flaws and cracks. However, he does explain his vast variety of multitudes by referencing many significant people, songs, poems, books, and places. This feature was also common with his previous release “Murder Most Foul.”

We will list down several such references in the list below;

  • “Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache” is a song by Bob Luman and performed by Warren Smith
  • “All the Young Dudes” is a song written by David Bowie and performed by Mott the Hoople
  • Anne Frank – German-born Dutch-Jewish diarist. One of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust
  • Indiana Jones – title character and protagonist of the Indiana Jones movie franchise
  • The Rolling Stones
  • William Blake – an English poet, painter, and printmaker
  • “Pink Pedal Pushers” is a song by Carl Perkins released in 1958
  • Beethoven
  • Frédéric Chopin – Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era

“I carry four pistols and two large knives” is a reference to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. The line is a reference to Ward Will Lamon who accompanied Abraham Lincoln to Washington for his inauguration. Shelby Foote’s ‘Amazing History of the Civil War’ notes “Lamon carried with him four pistols and two large knives.”

Besides these cultural references, Bob Dylan also notes down his multitudes: his hateful heart, sleeping with life and death in the same bed, living on a boulevard of crime (a possible reference to the USA), his unfaithfulness, having no regrets in life, and so on.

In the last bit of the song, Bob Dylan says that he is keeping his mind’s path open as he treads to the future.

Let us hear what you think about this song by Bob Dylan in the comments below. What are your favourite references from the song?

Adam McDonald

Hi! I am the founder and lead author and editor of Justrandomthings music community. A vast range of personal interests from Hip-Hop to Country to Hard Rock and Punk music will keep you entertained.

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3 Responses

  1. Jack Lynch says:

    Alongside the other references to writers, in the third line ‘Bally-na-Lee’ is obviously Dylan’s mispronunciation of Ballylee, where the famous tower in County Galway, renovated by WB Yeats, stands.

    • Is it not Balinalee, the site of the irish civil war, that bob is referring…he follows it up with “blood feuds”….and do u think an artist of dylan’s calibre will mispronounce…a godfather of wit, creator of original bon mot and technician of words with a tell tale heart of rock n roll will risk a syntax error….?

  2. Hop Sears says:

    I feel like, in these two songs, Dylan is inviting us in – to his take on the history we’ve shared, and to what its like inside his head and heart (or is that just my wish, saying “enough mystery, I’m coming in”). Everything flowing at the same time…that’s the impressive thing, sustaining a coherence amongst the multitude of emergent characters within, “what the hell do I make of all this?” “Fuss with my hair and fight blood feuds.” The life of a modern superstar poet. He threw off the mantle of “political prophet who will show us a new social world”, but, sorry dude, you can’t escape that easily, I still look for guidance, for those glimmers of how I might stitch my multitudes together, if only for a moment, from time to time.

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