Of war and peace the truth just twists
Its curfew gull it glides
Upon four-legged forest clouds
The cowboy angel rides
With his candle lit into the sun
Though its glow is waxed in black
All except when ‘neath the trees of Eden


The kingdoms of experience
In the precious winds they rot
While paupers change possessions
Each one wishing for what the other has got
And the princess and the prince
Discuss what’s real and what is not
It doesn’t matter inside the gates of Eden

The foreign sun, it squints upon
A bed that is never mine
As friends and other strangers
From their fates try to resign
Leaving men wholly, totally free
To do anything they wish to do but die
And there are no trials inside the gates of Eden

At dawn my lover comes to me
And tells me of her dreams
With no attempts to shovel the glimpse
Into the ditch of what each one means
At times I think there are no words
But these to tell what’s true
And there are no truths outside the gates of Eden

(apologies for the raw, unedited, 4-years-out-of-education state of this:)

'Gates of Eden': a title full of hope and promise of paradise. However dark imagery pervades this song, from the candle’s glow ‘waxed in black’ to the references to a ‘foreign sun’, ‘strangers’ and ‘trials’.  Lines end with verbs such as ‘twists’ and ‘glides’, creating an almost spiky rhythm; rather than a dreamlike flow of ideas the song jumps from one dark psychological landscape to another. Elements of the natural world are personified in the first and second verses; the ‘four-legged forest clouds’ and the sun which ‘squints’ introduce the presence of a greater being, judging the sinful behaviour of the real world.

The tone throughout is mocking and pessimistic. The ellipsis at the end of the first verse indicates Dylan’s belief that the ‘trees of Eden’ do not really exist, or are at least inaccessible. As the verses progress Dylan moves from omnipresence to first person narration – ‘at times I think there are no words’ - showing how personal the subject of the song is to him. Each verse represents an ideal associated with Eden - truth, freedom, love – and Dylan is hurt by the realisation that these ideals are unobtainable. His emotion is revealed through the cynical delivery of his words:  ‘shovel[ing]’ dreams into the metaphor of a ‘ditch’ in the last verse.

Each verse ends with a reference to ‘Eden’, reinforcing the idea of a perfect world. Dylan reminds us this world is unattainable, but that we should remember this or risk becoming complacent, thus contributing to the decaying reality we are striving to escape from. Perhaps this is Dylan’s comment on the failure of the American dream, and it is not Eden which is unreal but the rest of the world, distorted by the devil-like ‘cowboy angel’.

low fi images of last year's December skies