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When Bob Dylan dreamed of St. Augustine

Thursday, 13 October, 2016

On 16 June 2011, Bob Dylan began a European tour in Cork, the southern capital of Ireland. The set opened with Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking and closed with Forever Young, but what made the evening particularly interesting was a song not heard all that often: I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, from the 1967 album John Wesley Harding. Oddly enough, the last time he had played it before that was in Dublin, in 2005.

“I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive as you or me
Tearing through these quarters
In the utmost misery
With a blanket underneath his arm
And a coat of solid gold
Searching for the very souls
Whom already have been sold.”

In the song, Dylan is addressed in his dreams by St. Augustine of Hippo, the bishop-philosopher who held the episcopal seat in Hippo Regius, a Roman port in northern Africa. He died in 430 A.D. when the city was overrun by Vandals. Dylanologist Tim Riley wrote that Bob uses St. Augustine’s “symbolic stature to signify anyone who has been put to death by a mob,” and his vision of the saint reveals “how it feels to be the target of mob psychology, and how confusing it is to identify with the throng’s impulses to smother what it loves too much or destroy what it can’t understand”. The opening lyrics and melody are based on the old union song I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.


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