Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child's balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying.

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool's gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proves to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.

Temptation's page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover
That you'd just be
One more person crying.

So don't fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It's alright, Ma, I'm only sighing.

As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don't hate nothing at all
Except hatred.

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Made everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It's easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.

An' though the rules of the road have been lodged
It's only people's games that you got to dodge
And it's alright, Ma, I can make it.

Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you're the one
That can do what's never been done
That can win what's never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks
They really found you.

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
Insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not fergit
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to.

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something
They invest in.

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him.

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society's pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he's in.

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it's alright, Ma, if I can't please him.

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn't talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony.

While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer's pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death's honesty
Won't fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes
Must get lonely.

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough
What else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine
But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.



Lyrics submitted by roger wilco, edited by Mellow_Harsher


It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) song meanings
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65 Comments

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  • +6
    General Comment:I can't believe how amazing Dylan is. I think this song can be referred to as the first hip-hop song ever. Listen to him. That's the way hip-hop should be like. If you're only gonna rhyme, then you should be making poetry to blow our minds, not braggin about your cars.
    cavernon February 03, 2005   Link
  • +5
    General Comment:Here's my feeble attempt at deciphering some of the songs meaning. Before I do that, though, I should probably state that I'm not a Dylan fanatic, nor am I a connoisseur of all things Dylan – in other words, I have a life. Case and point: I actually don't have any of his albums, although I do have a couple of his greatest hits CDs. To expand on the amount of songs I have of his, I downloaded a few illegally from the net a few years ago (sorry Bob). Furthermore, I haven't read his memoir, but I did watch the excellent Scorsese documentary on his early life. Thus I know a little bit, and I mean just a tiny little bit, on his works and early life background. I do know, on the other hand, quite a lot about the times in which he grew up from the history books. (I’m 25, in case you’re wondering).

    “It’s Alright Ma” is the best written song that I’ve ever heard. The first time I listened to it I was completely floored. The song has so much working for it. Its imagery, rhyming scheme, and emotional depth are all unbeatably top-notch in my estimation. That being said, it’s actually not even my favourite Dylan song – my favourite being his acoustic version of “Shelter from the Storm” (I don’t know why that’s my favourite, I can’t rationalize it, it just is).

    From the very first listen through, the song always came across to me as being very conservative, in a strictly traditional sense. Perhaps my personal biases have something to do with why I interpreted the song that way. To get those biases out of the way I’ll state them right here: I’m a traditional conservative – but absolutely not mainstream Republican or Conservative Party of Canada liberal “conservative” – and a strict empiricist on all matters physical. Also, let’s just say I’m not a devotee to the doctrines of perpetual plentitude. You probably didn’t need or want to know any of that, but oh well.

    Now to the song:

    “Darkness at the break of noon
    Shadows even the silver spoon
    The handmade blade, the child's balloon
    Eclipses both the sun and moon
    To understand you know too soon
    There is no sense in trying.”

    The first four lines in this verse sound apocalyptic in tone, like of a nuclear holocaust, which is a common theme in early Dylan songs if I can remember correctly. Or maybe just apocalyptic in a general sense, like he thought something was systematically wrong with the world then (and perhaps the same things are still wrong today). The fifth verse is about the burden of being too wise to the workings of the world, especially when your as young as he when he wrote this – that being early 20’s, if I’m not mistaken. If I’m correct in this assessment, I’ve recently had a similar experience. You feel ancient and there are very few people you can really relate to, particularly amongst your peers. It can be lonely, and to be an introvert, which I presume Dylan was/is to some degree, makes it that much worse. The sixth line is his recognition of the remorseless working of things, that whatever is wrong can’t be stopped. No doctrinaire idealism will turn the ship around.

    “Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
    Suicide remarks are torn
    From the fool's gold mouthpiece
    The hollow horn plays wasted words
    Proves to warn
    That he not busy being born
    Is busy dying.”

    This verse I’m not sure of. The last two verses might mean something like Socrates famous adage that “the life which is unexamined is not worth living”. That is, people who don’t have a zest for life and knowledge are just as well dead. They’re empty vessels. But I’m probably wrong on this, like I am on everything else I’m writing, so I won’t take anymore stabs at it.

    “Temptation's page flies out the door
    You follow, find yourself at war
    Watch waterfalls of pity roar
    You feel to moan but unlike before
    You discover
    That you'd just be
    One more person crying.”

    My best guess on this verse is that it deals with some sort of libertinism (“temptation’s page”). People who live such a lifestyle are often insecure, jealous and so on. In other words, human nature takes over. Thus if you were to live such a lifestyle you’d constantly “find your self at war” with your acquaintances, and would have to witness many “waterfalls of pity roar”. If you did live this way, in the end “you’d just be… one more person crying”.

    “So don't fear if you hear
    A foreign sound to your ear
    It's alright, Ma, I'm only sighing.”

    The “it’s alright, ma,” part of the song I think is a device to appeal to a higher power. A mother is generally seen as a nurturing figure, and Dylan may be very well distraught with what he’s putting onto paper. Could appealing to “ma” be for psychological comfort?

    “As some warn victory, some downfall
    Private reasons great or small
    Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
    To make all that should be killed to crawl
    While others say don't hate nothing at all
    Except hatred.”

    In my humble opinion, the first four lines of this verse deal with intellectuals offering up optimistic or pessimistic visions of the future, and that what side they fall on depends on personal partisan hang-ups. Moreover, perhaps the third and forth line taken together is in reference to intellectuals often contemptuous views towards the masses. That is, those that should be “killed” for not following any given intellectuals political agenda to the letter, should be made to “crawl,” or more specifically be forced into becoming subservient. The last two lines might be a swipe at the naivete of the “make peace, not war” 60’s crowd.

    “Disillusioned words like bullets bark
    As human gods aim for their mark
    Made everything from toy guns that spark
    To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
    It's easy to see without looking too far
    That not much
    Is really sacred.”

    Perhaps the second line deals with the idea that God is dead in western societies. To further elaborate, modern humans, through their reification of secular ideologies, are playing God by trying to bring about a utopia on Earth now, as opposed to waiting till the hereafter for such pleasures as was the case in earlier times. The verse as a whole I think means that modernity has no heart or soul. It’s just empty consumerism based on “enlightened” selfishness.


    “While preachers preach of evil fates
    Teachers teach that knowledge waits
    Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
    Goodness hides behind its gates
    But even the president of the United States
    Sometimes must have
    To stand naked.”

    Here’s my take on this verse: Preachers preach of Hell as a means of societal control. Teachers teach their students that knowledge of, and strict adherence to politically acceptable philosophical sophistries will lead to financial rewards and social power. Furthermore, the elites are often full of empty rhetoric. Thus, maybe the fourth line means “Goodness hides behind [the establishments] gates”? The last line is a reminder that everybody, including the most powerful, i.e., the President of the United States, is fallible.

    “An' though the rules of the road have been lodged
    It's only people's games that you got to dodge
    And it's alright, Ma, I can make it.”

    I think the first line is about the fact that if you’ve read enough history, and/or have been a keen enough observer of human nature, you kind of learn what to expect. The second line might be a warning to watch out for people’s partisan political agendas.

    “Advertising signs that con you
    Into thinking you're the one
    That can do what's never been done
    That can win what's never been won
    Meantime life outside goes on
    All around you.”

    Perhaps this verse is about advertisers manipulating “consumers” by preying on peoples secret desires and insecurities to move product, while, in fact, “…life outside goes on… all around you”. In other words, consuming crap isn’t what life’s all about, regardless of how hard advertisers try to make it so.

    I’m getting tired so I’m going to stop here (not like anybody is going to read this anyway)
    MichaelAdams81on June 14, 2007   Link
  • +3
    General Comment:I don't know how someone can put this many spectacular lines in one song and still have enough for the rest of the album. Only Dylan. This song has a lot more lyrics than the norm of songs and all of them are brilliant. And I love how it goes from grim facts about the world to him much gentler chorus.......but that chorus may be sarcasm. This song is bound to send chills down the spine of anybody with half a brain. I love Bringing It All Back Home so much...
    Rag-Landon May 26, 2005   Link
  • +3
    General Comment:These are probably the greatest lyrics ever written. If bob dylan had only written this one song he would still be considered the greatest lyricist ever. the best way i can describe this song is by a quote from Nietzche-
    “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
    societiesplierson May 02, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:the first time I heard this song, I literally gasped. The lyrics are so amazing, there should be a lot more comments.

    To push fake morals, insult and stare
    While money doesn't talk, it swears
    Obscenity, who really cares
    Propaganda, all is phony.

    GENIUS.
    subterranean_summeron March 25, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:And if my thought-dreams could be seen
    They'd probably put my head in a guillotine
    But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.

    Just wow.
    butterboyon April 27, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:This song just absolutely blew my mind when I first heard it. And it still absolutely blows my mind every time I hear it still.

    The way the lyrics just spew out of Dylan is amazing - It's like he's been possessed by something.
    m-doggon June 21, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:this song is simply about life. (even says in the last line "its life and life only) Dylan presents a particular view of life in the song. I'll just comment on a bit of it that jumps out to me:

    You feel to moan but unlike before
    You discover
    That you'd just be
    One more person crying.

    So don't fear if you hear
    A foreign sound to your ear
    It's alright, Ma, I'm only sighing.

    He wants to "moan" ie: cry out at injustice, but UNLIKE BEFORE, he thinks it would be futile-- he'd just be "one more person crying." So he sighs, giving up, feeling helpless.... which is a "foreign sound" because he used to be much more idealistic....
    The Pope of Erukeon June 21, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:These things are traps for distracting you from your true life's purpose...

    Money:
    "For them that must obey authority
    That they do not respect in any degree
    Who despise their jobs, their destinies
    Speak jealously of them that are free
    Do what they do just to be
    Nothing more than something
    They invest in."

    You pay for college to work a job that you hate. You hate your boss and you hate anyone who isn't hating their life as much as you are. For instance, those who are "free" in the sense that they are not bound by society's rat race.


    Consumerism:
    "Advertising signs that con you
    Into thinking you're the one
    That can do what's never been done
    That can win what's never been won
    Meantime life outside goes on
    All around you."

    Obviously. This car will make you happy. This deodorant will bring you love. With this box of crackers, you'll live forever.

    Church and Politics:
    While preachers preach of evil fates
    and
    While some on principles baptized

    Again, these things are distractions. Anyone who just sits and fights for their church (not God, the church) or fights for their "social club" (aka, political party) is distracted. Not realizing they're furthering someone else, not their self.



    Being a judgmental about sexual issues (premarital, homosexual):
    Old lady judges watch people in pairs
    Limited in sex, they dare
    To push fake morals, insult and stare

    People who spend their lives just worrying about judging other people instead of living their own lives.

    And also:
    While money doesn't talk, it swears
    Obscenity, who really cares
    Propaganda, all is phony.

    The point is to not get hung up on any of these things. You could spend your whole life fighting obscenity...but who cares? You could spend your whole life fighting propaganda, but if you understand EVERYTHING is just as phoney, then it doesn't matter.

    Being partisan/pro-war/anti-war/peace loving:
    "As some warn victory, some downfall
    Private reasons great or small
    Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
    To make all that should be killed to crawl
    While others say don't hate nothing at all
    Except hatred"



    There are tons more in the song, but the point is that these are all distractions. These are things not to be worried about. These are what you need not to fall into if you plan to actually be yourself, to understand the nature of true freedom. Once you become a slave to any of these things, you are a slave...period. Meanwhile, all the rest of the world are slaves to these things, and you have to figure out a way to be you and live your life amongst these things....just to survive...

    "An' though the rules of the road have been lodged
    It's only people's games that you got to dodge
    And it's alright, Ma, I can make it."

    The big line comes near the end with:

    "My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
    False gods, I scuff
    At pettiness which plays so rough
    Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
    Kick my legs to crash it off
    Say okay, I have had enough
    What else can you show me?"

    He's basically saying that the world has attempted to hold him down with these things, and he's rejected them. He is doing exactly what he wants. He's kicked off the handcuffs.

    This song is all about being mentally free from everything that attempts to enslave you.

    He refers to taking off handcuffs, he says how most people are "living in a vault" (not free) he says how people speak jealously of those that are free, etc etc etc.

    The most important thing is to understand that you don't have to play these games and you don't have to be any one or anything's slave...

    "I got nothing, Ma, to live up to."

    Just be yourself, realize where the traps are, even ones with good intentions. This is life, and Dylan lets us believe that something better is coming afterward, but we have to make it through all of this, first.
    Doldrumson October 29, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:this song epitomises dylan's outlook on the world completely. people live their lives for values which are meaningless or fabricated by the society we are born into. Dylan continues to release music for himself portraying his thoughts only, he doesn't care if people get it or not. His poetry can have the power to truly knock you back.

    'For them that must obey authority
    That they do not respect in any degree
    Who despise their jobs, their destinies
    Speak jealously of them that are free
    do what they do just to be
    Nothing more than something
    They invest in.'

    To be able to sum up the weak-mindednes and ignorance of human nature in such words, in such a clever and cutting way is truly amazing. And this is one song of hundreds of equally powerful songs of his. Dylan is completely on another level.
    username1212on September 28, 2009   Link

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