“Born In Time” and Other Dylan Songs About Bein’ Born

“He not busy bein’ born is busy dyin’.”

This past week I was thinking about how many Dylan songs mention the word born. It started when I was thinking about “Born In Time” and the line above from “It’s Alright, Ma.” “Born in Time,” particularly the version on Tell Tale Signs, is on my short list of favorite songs, and “He not busy bein’ born is busy dyin’” is on my short list of favorite lines.

But there are other favorite lines with the word born in them. The first that immediately came to mind was “She was born in spring, but I was born too late” from “Simple Twist of Fate.” Then this one came to mind: “I was born here and I’ll die here against my will” from “Not Dark Yet.” (I love the follow up line, too: “I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still.”

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Illustration by the author.

So I went to the Dylan Concordance and looked up the number of references to “born” in Dylan’s lyrics. It turned out to be a surprisingly long list, and (for a Dylan fan) an enjoyable search-and-find exercise, reading through song after song trying to find each born-reference in its context. Dylan’s lyrics are so rich and rewarding it’s difficult to remain “on task” as one gets swept into the whitewater rush of imagery. Read through the lush lyrical vibrance of “Changing of the Guard,” for example.

What follows are the lines or stanzas where the word born appears in each song.

In the Garden

Nicodemus came at night so he wouldn’t be seen by men
Saying, “Master, tell me why a man must be born again”


“I was blinded by the devil, born already ruined…”

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Song to Woody

“Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
‘Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a-comin’ along
Seems sick an’ it’s hungry, it’s tired an’ it’s torn
It looks like it’s a-dyin’ an’ it’s hardly been born

Subterranean Homesick Blues

“Ah get born keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance…”

Neighborhood Bully

“Always on trial for just being born …”

Only a Pawn in Their Game

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,” they explain.


You were born with a snake in both of your fists while a hurricane was blowing


Born in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the year of who knows when (opening line)
and late in the same song:
They said a mass in the old church near the house where he was born

Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie

And to yourself you sometimes say
“I never knew it was gonna be this way
Why didn’t they tell me the day I was born

Motorpsycho Nightmare

He said, “What do doctors Know about farms, pray tell?”
I said, “I was born At the bottom of a wishing well”

Ballad of Hollis Brown

Somewhere in the distance there are seven new people born.

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illustration by the author

Don’t Ya Tell Henry

I went down to the river on a Saturday morn
A-lookin’ around just to see who’s born

Sugar Baby

Just as sure as we’re living, just as sure as you’re born
Look up, look up-seek your Maker-’fore Gabriel blows his horn

Tough Mama

Angel Baby, born of a blinding light and a changing wind

Changing of the Guards

She’s smelling sweet like the meadows where she was born
On midsummer’s eve, near the tower

Shelter from the Storm

If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

North Country Blues

Oh, the years passed again, and the giving was good
With the lunch bucket filled every season
What with three babies born, the work was cut down
To a half a day’s shift with no reason

I Want You

But it’s not that way
I wasn’t born to lose you

Wedding Song

Oh, can’t you see that you were born to stand by my side
And I was born to be with you, you were born to be my bride


You were born with a snake in bother of your fists
while a hurricane was blowin’

What Can I Do For You?

Soon as a man is born, you know the sparks begin to fly

Did I miss anything?

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Get into it.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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