As I went out one morning
To breathe the air around Tom Paine's,
I spied the fairest damsel
That ever did walk in chains.
I offer'd her my hand,
She took me by the arm.
I knew that very instant,
She meant to do me harm.

"Depart from me this moment,"
I told her with my voice.
Said she, "But I don't wish to,"
Said I, "But you have no choice."
"I beg you, sir," she pleaded
From the corners of her mouth,
"I will secretly accept you
And together we'll fly south."

Just then Tom Paine, himself,
Came running from across the field,
Shouting at this lovely girl
And commanding her to yield.
And as she was letting go her grip,
Up Tom Paine did run,
"I'm sorry, sir," he said to me,
"I'm sorry for what she's done."


Lyrics submitted by nitsirhc

As I Went Out One Morning song meanings
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15 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentThis song is about the problems that can occur from receiving an award and not knowing how to handle the situation. In 1963, Bob Dylan reeceived the Tom Paine award for promoting progressive thought and action in regard to civil liberties. At the award ceremony, Bob Dylan was very uncomfortable and gave a strange and controversial speech which is now well know to his fans. Here is a site with information about this : corliss-lamont.org/… .The fair damsel is the award. To secretly fly south is to accept the award and be the spokesman for this cause, and therefore to live in bondage to this cause. Tom Paine himself releases Bob Dylan from this servitude. The spirit of Tom Paine is the spirit of freedom. The lovely girl had tempted Bob Dylan and the spirit of freedom apologizes to Bob Dylan. This beautiful and intriguing song is both an explanation for Dylan's speech and a wish fulfillment for him. What do you think?
    danielsson June 24, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI don't know whether to be glad or sad that so many people do not understand what this song is about.

    ok here it, simple and true. the song on the most basic material world level is about the slave trade. about the slavery of humans, turning them into commodities to earn money for the slave owners.

    Tom Paine is the pimp. The lovely young woman is human who has been unfortunate enough to find herself enslaved in the sex trade. She has not been in it long enough to have lost hope, she is still desperately looking for a decent person to help her.

    But helping her would also put her hero in danger. Afterall, who wants to tangle with the evilness of black marketers?

    ok? get it now? fairly simple?


    The name, Tom Paine was chosen for its irony obviously. Tom Paine was one of the founders of our "free" country. A country that regularly fights for "freedom" in other countries, like for example, Vietnam. That war was waging at the time this song was written. That was a time when good citizens began to wonder if the freedoms we were fighting for were worthy of the fight. Were we fighting for the freedoms of human liberty? Or were we fighting for free trade, free commerce?

    Freedom and slavery is what this song is about.
    fortune8on July 04, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General Commenta damsel in chains wandering around tom pain's... secretly wishes to leave, but he narrorator won't have any of it. tom pain must be some sort of powerful man.. but then why would he say sorry at the end ? and what did she do but wish to leave.... sadly this one is over my head -- great song though.
    tswaterson March 09, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"Thomas Paine (Thetford, England, 29 January 1737 – 8 June 1809, New York City, USA) was a pamphleteer, revolutionary, radical intellectual, and deist. Born in Great Britain, he lived in America, having migrated to the American colonies just in time to take part in the American Revolution, mainly as the author of the powerful, widely-read pamphlet, Common Sense (1776), advocating independence for the American Colonies from the Kingdom of Great Britain."
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    21/05/2007

    Deism is a religious philosophy and movement that became prominent in England, France, and the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries. Deists typically reject supernatural events (prophecy, miracles) and divine revelation prominent in organized religion, along with holy books and revealed religions that assert the existence of such things. Instead, deists hold that religious beliefs must be founded on human reason and observed features of the natural world, and that these sources reveal the existence of one God or Supreme Being.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    21/05/2007

    Looks to me like he's talking about rejection of the Christian church, as an organisation that inhibits an individuals relationship with 'god' rather than facilitating it.

    Bob Dylan goes out one morning, 'wanting to smell the air around Tom Paine'. Either, he wants to smell the air of revolution, or he wants to smell the air of reason.

    He then spies the prettiest damsel, which I think is symbolic of Christianity.

    He realises however, that she will just do harm. Tom Payne then comes back, a deist, and apologises for what the she (or the church) has done.

    I think flying south may be a symbolic of going to hell too but I'm not sure, neither am I sure why he secretly accepts her, perhaps, if the above is true, then he is reversing temptation to be accepting the church rather than falling into sin.

    Great song, great album.
    Lnbodibicon May 21, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWell the south is the deeply religious part of the USA, so maybe that what the reference is to. A place where his Christian convictions will be safe from "Tom Paine" maybe.
    Alex_kx3on July 26, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI thik Lnbodibic was really great at interpreting it, however I thought the woman in chains was really sin or temptation and he's asking to be departed from the moment because it hurts too much. He secretly accepts her, secretly because he feels guilty and they fly south together, i agree that south means hell.

    I think Tom Paine is saying sorry for the church at the end, although I don't think that goes with my theory.
    linentreeson November 29, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWikipedia has some further info on the background of the lyrics: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    The Bishopon June 14, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWhen i listen to this song of course i think of the revolution because of the early reference to tom paine. The second stanza definitely makes me think that dylan is portraying himself, or the narrator, as a symbol for the Americans before the revolution. The woman could be a symbol for Great Britain, because the narrator tells her to leave, and of course she doesn't wish to.

    "I beg you, sir," she pleaded
    From the corners of her mouth,
    "I will secretly accept you
    And together we'll fly south."

    This could mean that Great Britain lied (corners of her mouth) to the Americans and told them they would "fly" south and gain more land. Thomas Paine's most famous pamphlet, Common Sense, is known for its revolutionary thoughts where Thomas Paine knew that there could be no reconciliation with Great Britain. Which brings me to the only part of the song that doesnt quite make sense to me, seeing as he apologizes to the narrator.

    Hope this makes sense to you folks, none of it is substantiated, they are just my personal thoughts on the song.
    hardingon August 22, 2008   Link
  • 0
    Song MeaningIn my opinion, the song is about a man getting duped into giving up his ability to think for himself.

    The man starts off free and with the ability to think and to do for himself. (went out one morning, to breathe the air of Thomas Payne) [Thomas Payne is a symbol of free thinking]
    While he is free, he see's the attractiveness of religion. (fairest damsel)
    Once he is drawn into the religion, he is promised heaven (together we'll fly south).
    When he is speaking to the damsel, he is unable to do as he wants.
    When Thomas Payne arrives, he see's that the religion has chained him into bondage (releasing her grip) [if you read into this, she is releasing the grasp of the chain that was just placed around his arm].
    Thomas Payne is sorry that the man is now unable to think for himself.
    rybo1131on December 26, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationI guess, unless we have a chat with Mr Dylan himself, we can only speculate about what was going on in his head when the song came to him. His 'John Wesley Harding' album was released soon after he recovered from a bad motorbike crash that got him laid up for more than 6 months. Dylan was doing a lot of reading during his convalescnce, especially the French poet Rimbaud. The minimalist imagery of "As I Went Out One Morning" strikes me as influenced by Rimbaud's impressionistic poetry. A lot is hinted at but never stated, and the internal drama is stark and symbolic, like seeing from afar two people silhouetted against a desolate backdrop, and not getting any other clues about the context of their encounter.

    "The fairest damsel that ever did walk in chains" - this conjures a powerful sense of the Feminine Principle, the Goddess suppressed by the rise of patriarchy, the commodification of female beauty in the form of sex slavery, prostitution, the Kept Woman. The romantic poet offers her his hand in friendship - but the damsel is desperate, hungry for more than companionship - she wants his lifelong allegiance, his whole arm, not just his hand... and this makes him panic, afraid of being trapped, or being taken over completely by an unknown power.

    He tells this beautiful vision to leave, but only with his voice - not his heart. She can feel his vulnerability, and refuses to let go. She offers him her affections ("I will secretly accept you") and suggests that they elope ("and together we'll fly south") where human conventions do not apply - the south representing body wisdom, the loins, the instinctual self - as opposed to the north, the rational Apollonian intellect, social mores.

    But as the romantic poet stands undecided, the master himself, Tom Paine, shows up and reclaims his slave - and he apologizes, gentleman to gentleman, for any inconvenience or embarrassment caused. The window of opportunity closes - there will be no drama, no elopement with another man's wife or sister. The poet can continue his walk in peace, but he will spend the rest of his life thinking about the mysterious beauty who assailed him one morning and pleaded to be rescued from her unhappy lot.

    And the irony of it all - Tom Paine intellectualized about freedom and justice, yet was unwittingly part of a male-dominated system that subjugated the Feminine Principle, that enslaved Eros in service of the Status Quo, of respectability and convention.

    There are so many complex ideas compressed into this short, enigmatic song. Literary analysts could write entire dissertations around this one little-known Bob Dylan masterpiece. Incidentally, Mr Dylan celebrates his 70th birthday today. Happy Birthday, Bob!
    maitreyaon May 24, 2011   Link

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