"Ballad in Plain D" as written by and Bob Dylan Dylan Bob....
I once loved a girl, her skin it was bronze
With the innocence of a lamb, she was gentle like a fawn
I courted her proudly but now she is gone
Gone as the season she's taken

In a young summer's youth, I stole her away
From her mother and sister, though close did they stay
Each one of them suffering from the failures of their day
With strings of guilt they tried hard to guide us

Of the two sisters, I loved the young
With sensitive instincts, she was the creative one
The constant scrapegoat, she was easily undone
By the jealousy of others around her

For her parasite sister, I had no respect
Bound by her boredom, her pride to protect
Countless visions of the other she'd reflect
As a crutch for her scenes and her society

Myself, for what I did, I cannot be excused
The changes I was going through can't even be used
For the lies that I told her in hopes not to lose
The could-be dream-lover of my lifetime

With unseen consciousness, I possessed in my grip
A magnificent mantelpiece, though its heart being chipped
Noticing not that I'd already slipped
To the sin of love's false security

From silhouetted anger to manufactured peace
Answers of emptiness, voice vacancies
'Till the tombstones of damage read me no questions but, "Please
What's wrong and what's exactly the matter?"

And so it did happen like it could have been foreseen
The timeless explosion of fantasy's dream
At the peak of the night, the king and the queen
Tumbled all down into pieces

"The tragic figure!" her sister did shout
"Leave her alone, god damn you, get out!"
And I in my armor, turning about
And nailing her in the ruins of her pettiness

Beneath a bare light bulb the plaster did pound
Her sister and I in a screaming battleground
And she in between, the victim of sound
Soon shattered as a child to the shadows

All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight
I gagged in contradiction, tears blinding my sight
My mind it was mangled, I ran into the night
Leaving all of love's ashes behind me

The wind knocks my window, the room it is wet
The words to say I'm sorry, I haven't found yet
I think of her often and hope whoever she's met
Will be fully aware of how precious she is

Ah, my friends from the prison, they ask unto me
"How good, how good does it feel to be free?"
And I answer them most mysteriously
"Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?"


Lyrics submitted by nitsirhc

"Ballad In Plain D" as written by Bob Dylan

Lyrics © BOB DYLAN MUSIC CO

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Ballad in Plain D song meanings
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  • +3
    General CommentIn the extensive liner notes for Biograph (probably the most extensive Dylan has ever talked about his music), Dylan remarked that this was the only song he ever felt bad about writing.

    Ya see, the song is about his relationship with Suze Rotolo, and her sister Carla Rotolo. Dylan was good friends with Carla, but when he went through hard times with Suze, he really put a lot of blame on Carla, totally unfairly, as he later acknowledged.

    Just look at those lyrics, he REALLY lets Carla have it, and it's quite unfair of Dylan, really.

    So yeah, Ballad in Plain D, the one song Dylan regrets writing.
    Brian Croninon April 26, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General CommentUnlike other songs of Bob Dylan's songs, this song is not a song about a political situation or mood, it is a song about a very specific personal issue and specific individuals. Whilst many listeners ascribe their own interpretations; in truth, this song is about the trials of Dylan and his partner Suze and significantly, it spits out emotional venom at his partner's family.

    As mentioned by others, like Brian Cronin, this song is about Dylan, Suze, and older sister Carla. It's also about Suze's mother, a widow who disapproved of her daughter's relationship with Dylan. Undoubtedly, as a songwriter, Dylan couldn't help but write about his experiences and perhaps even use it as an emotional cartharsis. However, regardless of the poetry and musical ability used in this song, it is nevertheless a bitter, unfair and emotional backlash at vulnerable figures that Dylan clashed with. Even Dylan himself regretted releasing this song.

    Suze was with Dylan from 1961 to 1964 and was only 17 when they first met. They fell in love and Suze eventually moved in with him. During this time Dylan's fame grew and his early songs used by protest groups were strongly influenced by Suze and her political views. Almost concurrently Dylan became highly involved with Joan Baez, from 1962 to 1965.

    Suze lost her father when only 14 and so Suze's mother and older sister Carla, took on the paternal role in their Italian family. Naturally, they were were protective of Suze and often clashed with Dylan. Dylan resented the influence of Mrs. Rotolo and particularly Carla who probably took on more of the protective role. In 1963 Suze was pregnant to Dylan and had an abortion. Suze moved out of Dylan's home and lived with her older sister. That same year, Dylan wrote and released "Ballad in Plain D", specifically about this highly personal drama including descriptions of a bitter argument he had with Carla . In 1964, Dylan and Suze permanently parted and a few months later in January 1965, he recorded "It's all over now Baby Blue" which has also has hints of these events.

    Suze and the Rotolo family have always been very tight lipped about the personal dramas that happened during these years but eventually put on an amicable front for the media. Though the events of those years must have had a tremendous impact on her family, Suze was always gracious in her publically expressed views of Dylan. In 2008 Suze published her memoirs of those years. She said she understood that Dylan had to write about his experiences in his songs, she never admitted that his words hurt her. They say "still waters run deep" and so it is here - I believe Suze truly loved Dylan the man, and what's more, respected his position as a prominent and influential singer/songwriter. But somehow, I don't think Carla and Mrs. Rotolo shared the same sentiments as Suze.

    After her break up with Dylan, Susan Elizabeth Rotolo remarried, and had a son. She maintained her interests in art and beauty (worked as a jeweller). When she spoke of the sixties she once said "we had something to say, not something to sell". Suze passed away in early 2011, aged 67.

    To be quite frank, I believe that Mrs. Rotolo's and Carla's fears for Suze were probably well founded. Bob Dylan probably had no long-term intention of supporting Suze. Suze left home and lived in a de-facto relationship with a womanising poet/musician to whom she was pregnant at 19 years of age. I'm sure there would be plenty of mothers and older sisters who when faced with this situation would similarly try to protect their loved one from all the potential hurts and danger this kind of situation holds. Dylan's response wasn't just to find material to write about, but to publically insult these women through the medium of his music. The lyrics in this song are clear in whom they target and their intent, for example the words "for her parasite sister, I had no respect" doesn't need any poetic interpretation.

    The lyrics below pretty much sum up the song and the situation:

    "Through young summer's breeze, I stole her away
    From her mother and sister, though close did they stay.
    Each one of them suffering from the failures of their day,
    With strings of guilt they tried hard to guide us."
    nylexon April 10, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General Commentone of the saddest and loveliest songs I've heard
    pumkinhedon April 28, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAnyone in the world would be proud of "are birds free from the chains of the skyway?". Of course, only Dylan can allow himself to regret this masterpiece.
    cavernon May 02, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe reasons dylan can be comfortable about this song are these two verses:

    Beneath a bare light bulb the plaster did pound
    Her sister and I in a screaming battleground.
    And she in between, the victim of sound,
    Soon shattered as a child 'neath her shadows.

    All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight.
    I gagged twice, doubled, tears blinding my sight.
    My mind it was mangled, I ran into the night
    Leaving all of love's ashes behind me.

    It is hear that, in the context of the song itself, he reveals his regret. You can see how he didn't want to fight with Carla, especailly at the risk of losing Suze.

    This song is one of his most brutally honest, but that candid, spur of the moment aspect adds so much more weight.
    stowawayon July 20, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentYou can think of it as marriage, that's a good interpretation yet I don't make it my own. Simply I don't think in a song glorifying perfect love Dylan would conclude it by having other voices dissatisfied with marriage. There of course is the literal of actual friends in a prison who have not women, yet my interpretation is slightly different than that.
    In Huxley' Brave New World the masses of society are imprisoned in a web of happiness. In this web they are unable to feel real pain. Pain is one of the emotions that makes man feel most alive. However even today much of society situates themselves in ways that help them avd pain- through the creation of routines and familiar scenarios. Routines and familiarity proved odious to Dylan as they would Kerouac or Guthrie. It is the life of wanderer that is marred with pain either physical or spiritual that also helps sustain him and validate him. Yet in one of the deepest pains of his life Dylan asked is it all worth it? Is it worth trying to live as a musician instead of a store clerk or electrician? Is it worth it moving to New York when I could go to trade school in Minnesota? Is it worth living life as I feel I am driven to by my inner nature when I could live life as much of society urges men to and seemingly trades them security and some happiness for their dreams? My friends in college and my friends with jobs and cars ask me how fun is it to move around with just your thumbs and a guitar, but I ask them, between my nature and the open road do I really have a choice?
    nigelmustaphaon December 16, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI have often thought of this as one of Dylan's more enduring love songs simply for its title. All of his other songs that could be classified as "love songs" have a title that betrays either a name (ie. "Visions of Johanna") or a feeling (ie. "Tangled Up in Blue"). But "Ballad in Plain D" is exactly that...a ballad in plain D. It's almost as if Dylan felt that by stating a name or an emotion would in a sense tarnish who he was writing the song for. That's why I feel whoever this girl is she was probably Bob's greatest love interest. I have a theory as to who this song is about, but I could very well be (and probably am) wrong: I think it's about the Italian girl he wrote about in "Chronicles Vol. 1" that he was obviously very taken with. The "bronze skin" leads me to believe this, as well as (more importantly) the mother that stayed close. Now, we all know the Italian stereotypes of the close-knit family unit (and since I'm Italian I can relate) so I assume that in this song he is referring to a mother that would not let her daughter see a man that she didn't like. In "Chronicles" Dylan painted this picture very vividly. Those are my thoughts on the meaning of the song, but two things before I go: "Are birds free from the chains of the skyway" is one of my favorite Dylan lyrics ever, and I can't believe I am the first one to be posting for this song. I mean, for the love of God, someone at least call me a shithead in response so I know you have a pulse. Oh well. I'm finished.
    ishotmrburns18on April 01, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"Are birds free from the chains of the skyway"...one of my favourites lyrics too....hmm...how come noones posted any comments on this song...joined the site for this particular song...would like to know its meaning...
    siddpron April 07, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentBesides knowing the song is about Bobby, Suze, and Carla,
    What moves me is the core meaning of just how fragile we are when it comes to love.
    Bob is sorry he ever published this song, it is one of his most prolific love songs. Just true grit! And I don't agree that the lyrics are not fair.. True feelings are never NOT fair and although they don't need to be validated, to express them is cathartic.
    Oh..yeah..by the way, Brian...Carla and Dylan made up years ago!
    ShannyHon May 08, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love this song. I have listened to it for a couple hours straight several times. There is something about it that makes it my favorite Dylan work. "I gagged in contradiction/tears blinded my sight"

    it doesn't get much sadder than that.
    gulfman_74on December 14, 2006   Link

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