Not all of this is by any means my own,I've taken the best of 2/3 other contributors,represented it and added some of my own to get to what I think is a reasonable interpretation :...
Of war and peace the truth just twists
Its curfew gull just 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 lamppost stands with folded arms
Its iron claws attached
To curbs 'neath holes where babies wail
Though it shadows metal badge
All and all can only fall
With a crashing but meaningless blow
No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden

The savage soldier sticks his head in sand
And then complains
Unto the shoeless hunter who's gone deaf
But still remains
Upon the beach where hound dogs bay
At ships with tattooed sails
Heading for the Gates of Eden

With a time-rusted compass blade
Aladdin and his lamp
Sits with Utopian hermit monks
Side saddle on the Golden Calf
And on their promises of paradise
You will not hear a laugh
All except inside the Gates of Eden

Relationships of ownership
They whisper in the wings
To those condemned to act accordingly
And wait for succeeding kings
And I try to harmonize with songs
The lonesome sparrow sings
There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden

The motorcycle black Madonna
Two-wheeled gypsy queen
And her silver-studded phantom cause
The gray flannel dwarf to scream
As he weeps to wicked birds of prey
Who pick up on his bread crumb sins
And there are no sins inside the Gates of Eden

The kingdoms of experience
In the precious wind 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


Lyrics submitted by MagiDrakee

"Gates of Eden" as written by Bob Dylan

Lyrics © BOB DYLAN MUSIC CO

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Gates of Eden song meanings
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  • +5
    General CommentAnyone else notice the references to Milton's "Paradise Lost"?The allusion that really jumps out at me is the very last stanza:

    "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"

    To me, this is a clear reference to Paradise Lost, specifically Book V. The narrator here is Adam, and his lover is Eve telling him of the dream in which she eats the forbidden fruit and they in turn are cast out of Paradise (Eden). In the poem, Adam tells Eve that there is no reason to think about the dream or what it means, because it is just a dream and it is something that she would never do in real life. What follows in "Gates of Eden" is Adam speaking after the fall, or after being kicked out of Eden:

    "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."

    If you read Paradise Lost, or the Book of Genesis (though Paradise Lost is much more in depth), you realize that there are major differences between the way that humans think before and after the fall. Before the fall, the world is black and white. Everything is clearly defined- there are "truths" and nontruths and nothing in between. However, once Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit they realize that they now have the ability to reason- in a sense, to make decisions on their own and decide what is "right" and "wrong". Since defining these terms are very subjective, then there reallly "are no truths outside the gates of Eden" Sort of like Pontius Pilate said, "What is truth?" The only truth that really exists to Adam or to all human beings is that there are no "truths" in the world.

    Therefore, this song to me is about all of the things that humans do to get to this ideal world of Eden, that frankly does not exist. Some examples:

    Verse 3- The complaining soldier, and the deaf shoeless hunter remain because they think they are "heading for Eden". They use war to get to Eden.

    Verse 4- Aladdin, the monk, the Golden calf- all of these things use spiritualism or magic to get to Eden. All believe in promises of Paradise, but inside the fantasy world of Eden laughs are heard.

    Verse 5- Ownership, conquering, kings and queens think they can get to Eden, but these things dont exist in the fantasy world of Eden.

    After all this mumbo jumbo, I really take this song as saying a simple statement- that there are no truths. There are no real solutions or answers to the problems that exists, because everyone views the world differently through their own eyes, and they have since Eve ate the forbidden fruit in Eden. I think Dylan was saying on a personal note, that he did not have the answers and was not the savior because there is no such thing as having the answers.

    WOW NO ONE WILL READ THIS BECAUSE ITS EXTREMELY LONG.
    billhilfon December 26, 2007   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThe main point of this song is that Bob seems to be trying to highlight all the differences between what is happening inside the "gates of Eden" and what is occuring in the real world. So for me the song is saying religious people preach to you of paradise in the afterlife and try to tell you, you should follow their religion because of how great this life will be, whislt at the same time behaving in exactly the opposite way in the real world, as though this promise of paradise is a licence for their hypocrisy and the chance to fool people into believing their pointless lives are worthwile.
    Young Teamon January 02, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentWell, I wish I was sure what this song means, I suppose it comes down to what it means to me. I disagree with those who think it means only that religion is bad and secular human endeavors are all that matter. However, they have some points.
    First, I think there is considerable war imagery and the fact that human conflict causes distortion of the truth and There is also dismay at the fact it threatens human extinction, but seemingly God could care less or doesn't exist (with a crushing (?) but meaningless blow no sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden.) But I suppose that one could see it another way, although these "cowboys" claim to be "angel" there is no evidence presented that God is really behind all these wars........
    To support this latter view, the next verse contains sound, sound that isn't appreciated - probably not even by the dogs, since they are distracted making sounds all their own. Fairly funny imagery, "shoeless" is, of course, an allusion to the saying about a man having no feet (the soldier I suppose here). People ignore the truth about war, even the soldiers who are maimed by it the wounded bury their heads in sand, and their compatriots and supporters (dogs of war) largely ignore their suffering, instead focusing on the enemy, who, just like them are moving toward death and judgement.
    I love the image of all these phonies that sit "side saddle" on the Golden calf. They can't embrace anything fully - not their false religious claim of salvation nor the material manifestation of it (golden calf). What is really amazing is how many people can take them seriously, God, however, is laughing at their absurdity.
    Human beings are so greedy, but they won't be able to take it with them, now will they? but, me, I try to harmonize with songs the lonesome sparrow sings.
    You know what else is weird? Rich and middle-class people with good jobs complain about all the bad things all the "bad" people do while they are busy screwing their secretaries or relieveing little old ladies of the burden of their life savings or all sorts of things that are at least as bad as anything the "bad" people do. If people lived the way God intended them to, well, things would be a whole lot better.

    " 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"

    Materialist really gain nothing of value in this life. Others, think they can find the answer to what really matters, but it is all just so much sophistry and solpsism. But

    "It doesn't matter inside the Gates of Eden"

    This is the criticism that the irreligious can't take. It is the will of God that matters. They can think they are better than the grubby materialist, but this is simple the same old sin in a different manifestation. Pride is just greed/lust on another level. The fundamental sin is narcissism - to believe that our will and desires as individuals are paramount.
    You know, people do all sorts of things - sleep or even die, instead of busying themselves with the task that God has given them.
    Now, the hard part. "there are no words
    But these to tell what's true"
    I suppose those words are clear to the concrete Christian. They would be "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
    But, that isn't what Dylan has in mind. However, I think what he has in mind explains those words. Dylan means that you and everything you love is going to die, after it decays and become perverted, etc.... Whether you are a prince, a princess, a black madonna, a grey suit, a compassionless soldier whose lost both his legs and all his friends.....This is the fundamental truth. All you have is thread that human life creates - other people. They are either your hell or your salvation.
    The choice is up to you. You are wholly, totally free.
    montresoron July 29, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti interpreted this song as a commentary on religious dogma.
    the first verse deals with the obvious physical suffering that religion itself has generated in the world, yet the negligence with which religious people approach it. that is, the truth that "twists" is the proclaimed religious method towards perfection, while in reality it creates many hardships (which is why the angel's candle is waxed in black).
    the second verse is difficult to understand.
    in the third verse, the savage soldier and deaf man, i think, are representative of those peoples for whom the religious prerequisites to enter heaven (Eden) are impossible to achieve.
    the fourth verse deals with the treatment of other religion/belief systems by a certain religious dogma. that is, aladdin can represent the islamic world. the golden calf, in the bible is "wrongly" worshipped by townsfolk who are subsequently punished. alternatively, it can be taken to represent hinduism/religions of the east, in which the cow is often considered sacred. utopian hermit monks are obvious in their representation of alternative belief systems. "you will not hear a laugh" outside the gates of eden - this line depicts the relationship of that particular dogma to all the aforementioned beliefs; that is, all of those other beliefs are null and void, and only that particular religious dogma offers happiness.
    the next verse is critical of the hierarchy that organized religion often creates. that is, churches and popes and monks, etc. all collect dues and money to support the organization; the "normal" people are to look to them for guidance. the last line in this verse illustrates the contradiction between this state of affairs and that promised by religion; in other words, all those popes and religious leaders have no advantage in the afterlife, yet they are to be revered and served in real life.
    the next verse is very cryptic, but i think that the "gray flannel dwarf" should represent all those white-collar businessmen who cheat others out of their money and posessions and cause trouble. however, this dwarf is forgiven after he cries for repentence, since "there are no sins inside the gates of eden."
    the next verse is about the inherent nullification of real life experiences that the existence of a heaven brings about. that is, real life means nothing in light of an eternal heaven, in which all those things we are "supposed" to do in earthly life - like reject material possessions, educate ourselves, etc. - mean nothing and do not have to be adhered to in Eden; nor does philosophy or intelligence or even personality mean anything in Eden. (they discuss what's real, paupers change possessions - none of it matters)
    this next verse i am quite sure of. the bed that the "foreign sun" sets upon is the deathbed, of resignation from life. many wish to simply not exist (for any number of reasons, eternal life may not be enticing). however, this is impossible in Eden, since there is offered only eternal life. "leaving men wholly, totally free to do anything they wish to do but die."
    finally the last verse, i think may be revisiting the idea that personal relationships, life, philosophical pondering and everything we do here loses meaning and significance with the existence of Eden; more particularly, however, i think it posits that free thought, and personal conclusions are impossible with the existence of an ultimate, absolute, authoritative Truth, like Eden.

    that is my humble interpretation of this one of Dylan's finest, most poetic songs.
    El_Cheon March 06, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentreligion is bad, that's what you take from this song? religion to me in this song seems nearly irrelevant, there are no truths outside the Gates of Utopia, the Gates of perfection, The Gates of the ground our own sins have sacrificed
    We as a race and as an ongoing cancer to ourselves are the ones that have forsaken paradise, with selfishness and envy, with greed and with hatred
    Is religion a part of that, sure as it stands along side egregious economical diversity as one of the things men kill for, for everything one man kills for there is something one man dies for, so many deaths have no meaning and so much killing has no reason, no reason that would exist inside the Gates of Eden
    nmustaphaon September 06, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI never saw this as a directed attack on religion as such. Although organised religion is subject to some of the criticisms thrown around by Dylan, the 'Gates of Eden' recurrent throughout the song are more likely a symbolic representation of an ultimate truth unknowable by human minds. More than anything Dylan sets out to remind us all how evasive and unattainable this truth is but in turn he also lays heavy criticism on those who lead their lives in ignorance of this fact. This is a particularly severe crime when our supericial or constructed belief systems lead to violence, snobbery and a Sartreian (possibly a made up word) false consciousness.
    I think there is also an element of frustration in Dylan's tone and lyrics. Although Dylan may be more aware of the fact than many, it gives no comfort to realise that he is as lost as the rest of us.
    Specific examples can be highlighted to flesh out this interpretation. Most obviously, the time rusted comfort blade and golden calf are representations of whatever belief system you wish to choose. Perhaps Catholicism, Marxian economic theory or whatever eschatologically centred religious cult is currently commiting suicide in an underground bunker somewhere.
    The pretentious, logical realist Princess and Prince, educated and academically minded, try to define and distill our reality through discussion and analysis, They're perhaps more lost than the rest of us in their arrogance and conviction that their endeavours will lead to some revelatory discovery.
    I could go on but these examples illustrate the point most effectiely. Does the Eden of which Dylan sings exist? I never really considered that question until reading some of the above comments. I suppose the fact that we will never find it in this lifetime is a more important message to be drawn from the song. Now stop hating people, putting on your useless masks and blowing up babies.
    rbh104on June 15, 2008   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI think this song is a view of the world around Dylan that he sees through the lens of Milton. The last line of each stanza tells us the reason why people yearn for a paradise/utopia. This song is not as simple as an attack on religion or materialism, nor is it simply a protest song. It is far deeper than that. It expresses a rage against the current scheme of things, it then posits an Eden that men shall search for, and then proceeds to show that such an Eden is unattainable. It contrasts the two essential facts of history, man's search for Utopia and his failure to attain it, and shows that both arise from the same fundamental human nature. I also think that each stanza refers to a particular historical epoch.

    "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"
    Lucifer (trans. Morning Light) is the cowboy or rebellious Angel. His candle being lit into the sun is a reference to Lucifer challenging the rule of god in the beginning of paradise lost. Its glow being waxed in black is a reference to the falsity of his message. Except beneath the trees of Eden, i.e. the Tree of Knowledge. In contemporary times it is a reference to mysticism, a dark knowledge, that propels men to search for the gates of Eden and brings their Fall, similar to that of Eden. Historically, this would refer to the period of the Renaissance and/or Enlightenment

    "The lamppost stands with folded arms
    Its iron claws attached
    To curbs 'neath holes where babies wail
    Though it shadows metal badge
    All and all can only fall
    With a crashing but meaningless blow
    No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden"
    Historically, I think this stanza refers to the Industrial Revolution, the next great epoch. The lampost might be a reference to the gas lamps that sprung up all over cities during this period. To curbs beneath the holes, where babies wail, could be a reference to the high infant mortality at that time or to a yearning for a simpler life, a return to mankind's infancy that filled many people at that stage. The hope for an end to this drives men to search for another Eden.

    "The savage soldier sticks his head in sand
    And then complains
    Unto the shoeless hunter who's gone deaf
    But still remains
    Upon the beach where hound dogs bay
    At ships with tattooed sails
    Heading for the Gates of Eden"
    This I think is a reference to War, or more specifically, the first two lines refer to soldiers in the trenches, hence the phrase 'sticks his head in sand'. I have been thinking abt the shoeless hunter, could it possibly be Khurschev?He banged his shoe on the lectern at the UN. He was also the people's Commisar for Defense, if I am not mistaken during WWII. 'Upon the beach where hound dogs bay' might be a reference to fighting on the beaches of France. 'Ships with tattooed sails' could be a reference to the D-Day landings. 'Heading for the Gates of Eden' in this case might be a reference to the yearning for peace that followed the Second World War, when people thought it would usher in a new Age of Peace, after the defeat of Hitler.

    "With a time-rusted compass blade
    Aladdin and his lamp
    Sits with Utopian hermit monks
    Side saddle on the Golden Calf
    And on their promises of paradise
    You will not hear a laugh
    All except inside the Gates of Eden"
    I think this stanza refers to religion, or more specifically to superstition and false dogma. 'Aladdin and his lamp' is a reference to magic and incantations. The last three lines are a bit enigmatic. It could refer to people in Heaven actually laughing at their foolishness or to the fact that they (the false prophets) claim that there could be no happiness until their version of Eden was attained


    'Relationships of ownership
    They whisper in the wings
    To those condemned to act accordingly
    And wait for succeeding kings
    And I try to harmonize with songs
    The lonesome sparrow sings
    There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden'
    This stanza I think is a critique of Marxism. 'Succeeding kings' could refer to the leaders of the Soviet Union who were de-facto Red Tsars. The lonesome sparrow refers to the opposition within the Soviet Union (or could be Trotsky). In this case, Utopia was pursued with a zeal in order to create a classless society (There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden), but failed. In this stanza as in each of the previous ones, Dylan describes in detail the failed attempt at Utopia and then in the last line tells us what inspired the Utopia in the first place thereby showing how the anti-thesis of the desired outcome to the revolution resulted.

    VikramKrishnanon March 21, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this one's simpler than we're making it out to be.

    23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

    The GATE is the penalty for original sin, separating man from God. The day before, God and man walked side by side, communing directly. Forevermore we're separated. By that gate. And on that day, not only did man fall, but all of creation fell. Death, disease, war, crime, lust, hate, natural disasters, etc all entered the world together. They exist outside the gates. Outside = consequence = mans fault. Inside = Gods perfection, unadulterated, wonderful.

    Each verse to me seems like a portrait of a consequence of the fall.
    bizmarkieon April 19, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI was surprised that this song wasn't even listed on this website, so I added it. Undoubtedly, "Gates of Eden" is one of Bob's deepest and most poetic songs, one that I couldn't begin to comprehend until I really focused when I listened to it.

    My take on this song is that it's a reflection of all the problems in the world when Bob wrote it, especially the threat of nuclear war. For instance, a good part of the first verse could describe a nuclear explosion, and the "all and all can only fall with a crashing but meaningless blow" line definitely points to, in a tragic way, the idea that the end of the world is imminent and will ultimately be for nothing.

    Dylan concludes every verse with a contrast between his world and the perfection of Eden. In a way, it seems like he's sad that, according to the Biblical creation story, man ever "ate the apple" and was forced to leave Eden in the process. We would've been much better off there.

    I might go verse-by-verse into this song later. There are some that I still don't understand (like "The motorcycle black madonna"), but I have an interpretation for most of it.

    Overall, this is a sad but beautiful song. Though it's filled with great imagery, the last three simple, direct lines (At times I think...) are my favorite.
    MagiDrakeeon February 16, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentexcept for the two who posted here, have you guys all been drinking? this song is amazing, the lyrics are astounding. but you've all had too much to drink, so...
    plaincl0thesmanon July 26, 2005   Link

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