What does Changing of the Guards mean?

Bob Dylan: Changing of the Guards Meaning

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Album cover for Changing of the Guards album cover

Song Released: 1978

Changing of the Guards Lyrics

Sixteen years

Sixteen banners united over the field

Where the good shepherd grieves

Desperate men, desperate women divided

Spreading their wings 'neath falling leaves.

Fortune calls

I stepped forth from the shadows to the...

  1. anonymous
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    May 10th 2020 !⃝

    Great song, certainly supporting an impressive variety of interpretations. I really like Patti Smith's version as well.

    I look at it from the perspective of a fallen soul seeking the path of liberation. She is weak at first, torn between various energies, nurtured by higher powers (the captain), then needs the help of her human host ("She wakes him up"). She experiences the world of illusions more clearly than ever before she can break free from it.

  2. anonymous
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    Jan 29th 2020 !⃝

    She wakes him up
    Forty-eight hours later the sun is breaking
    Near broken chains, mountain laurel and rolling rocks
    She's begging to know what measures he now will be taking
    He's pulling her down and she's clutching on to his long golden locks
    Gentlemen, he said I don't need your organization, I've shined your shoes
    I've moved your mountains and marked your cards
    But Eden is burning either get ready for elimination
    Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards

    Peace will come
    With tranquillity and splendor on the wheels of fire
    But will offer no reward when her false idols fall
    And cruel death surrenders with its pale ghost retreating
    Between the King and the Queen of Swords

    His true love is back after sixteen years.

  3. anonymous
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    Mar 9th 2018 !⃝

    Its about change of heart -human heart.

  4. totham
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    Aug 25th 2015 !⃝

    Well,a few of you are close.
    The song does have a lot of allusions to many things, all biblical all from the Torah/Tananak. (I used to think it was Joan of Arc. However, Joan did not have 'an ebony face'. I am Jewish, from the line of Judah (yudah), my tree is of King Jotham who reigned Justly for 16yrs., (Jotham: the gateway), Higginbotham, (the Gate), my 'sign' is the King of Spades.
    Back to this song...the ancient biblical kings of Israel were of dark skin, they married many ebony Ladies (ref: the Torah, &/or Queen of Sheba, of Ethiopia.)
    Dylan is an observer in the song, an observer of the past and the End Times.
    What is the Past IS the future.
    'peace will Come': after 3yrs.6months captivity of Israel, they will finally turn back to Adonia & my cousin (lol), yeshwa (Jesus), the True Messiah will descend and 'Peace shall reign over the earth forever more. There is so much more, of course. 33percent of the tribes will die before finally seeing He really was the Chosen One.
    I say all this because...Look around you, peoples. The end of times, which Dylan dreamed are now upon us.
    Hey, I'm not the Messiah, I'm just a very naughty boy, lol. But...I Am ready to great my ancient cousin, r u?

  5. anonymous
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    Oct 11th 2014 !⃝

    Part of it sounds like the revelation received by Bahaullah while imprisoned in the Siyah Chal in Tehran in the 19th century.

  6. anonymous
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    Mar 22nd 2014 !⃝

    As with all Dylan songs - it means- whatever it means to you at anytime -
    Dylan's ambiguity & versatility allows for that -
    for his reticence rarely if ever reveals his secret lyrics - avoiding any shattered illusions

    Any or all of his lyrics can resonate with our emotional experiences - if we choose to apply them accordingly whatever our belief system -
    This is the gift & genius of his persona - that creates amazing imagery in your mind's eye & imagination -

  7. anonymous
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    Sep 24th 2012 !⃝

    Dylan once commented: "It means something different every time I sing it. 'Changing of the Guards' is a thousand years old'".

    I think this was at a time around which he was becoming actively involved with a christian community as opposed to self study and belief and also i think he was in a relationship with a christian girl.
    To me it refernces the plagues of heirachical organizations present through time and in religion. So hes influenced by the thoughts that hes not going to reject Christianity simply because of its hierachical structure, as this is present through human societys history and is a part of that rather than specifically religion. It lyrically is also like its chord progression different for dylan as he comes accross to me in it as an outsider looking in on a situation, one minutes part the next minute out, like maybe his relationship with organised religion.As a piece of music its one of my faves but as a poem its great but useless to analyse beyond the feel of the poem.

    however i am a self proclaimed social anarchist and former church goer so this is my personal interpretation.

  8. m320753
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    Nov 10th 2011 !⃝

    Anonomous june 10th, you couldn't be further off base with that comment if you were standing. Understanding dylan requires studying his lyrics and the point in time he is performing a classic song. This song is an ongoing story which anon. 11/8 has come pretty close to nailing. I've read about joan of arc and seen a program or 2 about her and after refreshing my mind it could very well be about her, except for the last verse of course.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  9. anonymous
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    Nov 9th 2011 !⃝

    The song desscribes the visions of Joan of Arc. The visions described, which were believed to be messages from God, have spiritual and some biblical connotatations.

  10. anonymous
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    Jun 14th 2011 !⃝

    Simply put, a kingdom was overrun, and suddenly all the people he thought he knew changed allegiance. The conquering captain took the girl as his own, and when she rejected him, he ordered his men to take her, shave her head, lift her veil, and rape her, probably stone her, and finally kill her. Her best friend and lover goes down to try to save her, but he himself was brutally beaten within an inch of his life. But he survives and, realizing that she indeed was beyond saving, runs away. He goes to the house of an old woman friend and is nursed back to health, but he knows that by now all hope is gone and so he erects a mental and spiritual altar to her memory. And he hopes the men who murdered her will someday be brought to justice.
    There's much more to the song that "just" that, but that's enough to form its core.

  11. anonymous
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    Jun 10th 2011 !⃝

    Let's look at the whole picture. Dylan has a gift: he is able to poetically and artfully express anything, therefore nothing very well. Small pieces make some sense sometime but everything of Dylan rarely makes any sense. We are mesmerized because we don't have that gift.

  12. m320753
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    Jun 28th 2010 !⃝

    changing of the guards is a really weird song. that is until you read the lyrics at the same time the song is being played. you will experience a sort of awakening becaus he doesn't start a line and end it as the last word on the end of the line he realy is starting the stanza in the middle of each verse, he ends the verse at the middle of the next verse or line. it's another side of dylan we have never seen before and it works in a way only he knows why. it's a great song

  13. bobdylan
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    Jun 26th 2010 !⃝

    This is really an apocalyptic song (and I don't mean a song Slayer could ever write!!). He had become a Christian at some point before he made this album (or, maybe, just after this album and before "Slow Train Coming). The lyrics have some caustic references to "Renegade Priests" "Treacherous Young Witches"
    "Merchants and Thieves (perhaps interchangeable), hungry for power".
    There are scads of Biblical and Ancient Myth allusions. Dylan is certainly speaking from an exalted platform.
    "Peace will come/ with tranquility and splendor on the wheels of fire/but will bring no reward when her false idols fall/and cruel death surrenders with its pale ghost retreating/Between the King and the Queen of Swords"
    If that's not apocalyptic then what else could it possibly be?

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