"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."

"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the cold distance a wildcat did growl,
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.


Lyrics submitted by oofus, edited by CrimsnEdge

All Along the Watchtower song meanings
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  • +11
    General CommentI remember reading an article about this song when it first came out (I believe 1968) by Paul Williams in Crawdaddy magazine, which was a cheaply produced, but very serious, intellectual magazine published by Williams. The thing that stuck with me from the article was that Williams compared the structure of the song to a moebius strip (because the starting point of the lyrics is actually in the middle of the song & the song opens with the middle part of the lyrics) & felt it gave the song a claustrophobic feel (because you come into it & leave it in the middle). The starting point would be "All along the watchtower" & then after the line "Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl", the next line would be "There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief", the joker & the thief being the two riders who were approaching, of course. This makes perfect sense to me & seems right. As far as the actual meaning, my own opinion is that it's a philosophical piece about how one finds meaning in a chaotic & very imperfect world. The joker sees this world & can't take it seriously because it's so false & is depressed because he can't find a way to make sense of it. The thief has come to this same realization in his past, but has found a way to move beyond it & create his own meaning. So it is, in effect, a parable about existentialism. Or maybe I'm totally wrong...
    eyelandon November 30, 2004   Link
  • +11
    General CommentIt's cool that a 35 year old song can still get people to think and more, to discuss meaning. That's the power of poetry. I've been listening to this song since 1968 and have a few thoughts. Back then Dylan was not writing or talking about Jesus at all, certainly not in any way that foreshadowed his conversion experience ten years later. But he had written poetry for a long time about the meaning of life and our dilemmas as thinking beings. What is there to believe in? What has real meaning? is there anyone we can trust? What is the risk of stepping outside the norms and commonplace meanings of things and looking at ourselves directly? This song, I think, borrows a mythical style and setting to set up the problem of meaninglessness in our existence. The two personalities are both outsiders, a joker who lacks conventional dignity and a thief who lacks conventional morality. They are outside of the walls of psychological safety, where the regular social order still holds, despite the threats from wolves and howling winds. I read these as metaphors for the psychological dangers one must face when throwing off easy explanations of life's meaning. One must be very brave to be outside those walls. But there is no going back once you have cast off conventions -"You and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate, let us not talk falsely now the hour is getting late." This is a crisis, he's saying, a crisis of existence itself.

    So, it's the opposite of an endorsement of Christianity or any other religion. It's a description of the land where a seeker of truth must find his own way, whatever the dangers may be.

    This song, in its three little stanzas, is wonderful writing and courageous personal philosophy. This is why Dylan was and still is considered one of our culture's great voices.
    Backstageon March 30, 2005   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI've read in many places this song is about government. The Thief and Joker represent the middle and lower classes, they stand over looking the castle (the upper class). They know that the upper class takes advantage of everything and looks down upon these two men. There must be some way out of here represents the struggle that these men put forward to break the cycle at hand. It all leads up to them standing outside the castle trying to figure out how to bring them down. But their is no reason to get excited cuz we don't know what they do in the end but we know this is not their fate!
    tayzha26on November 06, 2004   Link
  • +5
    General CommentNot that you could in any way compare Dylan with James Joyce (who put so many allusions in Ulysses that it is truly unimaginable how much one man could be familiar with so many phrases in language, and passages in so many books).

    Anyway, this is what Joyce wrote: "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality."

    Shakespeare's "Hamlet" opens on the tower of the watch. Joyce's Ulysses opens in a watch tower. Dylan's song, when taken in it's logical order in with the third stanza actually is the first, also opens on a watch tower (it is aslo the only song on the recording that begins with it's title). The original biblical reference was obviously known by all three, but that knowledge is probably coincidental, a mere simple twist of fate.
    woodshadowon December 25, 2008   Link
  • +5
    General CommentOk, we should put some things in contest. The song is written in 1967,a year before the great social uprising throughout the world. Dylan was obviously left oriented but was also raised in a religious enviorment, thus the biblical imagery.
    The joker and the thief represent two sorts of social outcasts. The joker represents the class of people which denounce the system because they realise it's flaws and find it unjust. This is probably a more middleclass and intelectual stand. The thief on the other hand is also an outcast but he is not an outcast by choice. Thievery is in most cases a result of poverty. The majority of those who steal do it because they need to eat and feed their families so the thief here represents the more down-to-earth proletarian ,working class side of the social outcasts. They are obviously the two riders approaching the watchtower. It is suggested here that they are in a silent march towards something which symbolises the capitalist/social darwinist society. The princes are concerned. They observe the situation from their watchtowers, the princes being the capitalist, those who own the wine and the earth mentioned in the first verse. That is a reference to the unjustness of private property. The land and its fruits should be for everyone, including the jokers and the theives of the world. So,the princes are concerned,yet not that much,here Dylan realises that the social movements only managed so far to stir the structure, the watchtowers,but not yet to endanger it. Yet the last verse is essential. It somewhat gives a glimpse of things to come. The wildcat growl and the wing that howls give you an unsettling sentiment,it sends goosebumps up your spine. You can feel a tension. The two riders are approaching. And when they come too close to the wathctowers there will be conflict.
    watchmanon June 21, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General CommentIt has been said that Bob Dylan visited the Crossroads and could've potentially made a deal with the devil.

    "There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
    "There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
    Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
    None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."

    The first verse could be him basically regretting the deal he made him being the joker/fool the devil being the thief (of his soul) and how the people enjoy what he does but none of them understand what he is going through to give them it.

    "No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
    "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
    But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
    So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

    This verse could go back to when he made the deal. The Thief/Devil tells him not to get excited about the fame he just sold his soul for. The people around him don't know how lucky they are not to be in his position. But the Devil and him know more than the others know, and a regular safe life is no longer his fate. So let's not drag on the conversation, we both know what you just did.

    All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
    While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
    Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
    Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

    The final verse as expected is the end of his life, the princes are the Devils guards keeping watch because Bob doesn't want to go to hell. The second line once again refers to his euphoric lifestyle that he's locked in. The last to lines seem to allude to Robert Johnson's "There's a hell hound on my trail" only this time it's a wild cat and two riders.

    Of course this is just my opinion :)
    brendangarofaloon January 19, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI'd start off with the third verse which describes the situation we find us in.
    The watchtower with the women and the servants is obviously a home of someone powerful and rich.
    "Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl" Outside is a dangerous jungle.
    The two riders are the thief and the joker.

    While riding towards the tower the joker and the thief have a conversation.

    The joker feels that the rich "businessmen" are stealing from him: "None of them along the line know what any of it is worth".
    Ironically he's telling that to the thief whose job is to steal. The joker probably doesn't know that his friend is a thief.

    "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke" replies the thief to the joker.

    So actually they are complaining about each other and they should be mad at each other. But they have teamed up to bring down the rich and powerful guy who has it all.

    Are they using him as a scapegoat for their status in the society?

    If they defeat the rich guy the thief is going to steal his stuff or even take his place (watchtower). And the joker is probably there for the princess.
    rtsenseon July 18, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI'm not quite clear on the meaning...but I've been told the song is about Jesus. On Taroh cards, the Jesus is depicted by the Joker card. Jesus was also crussified next to two thieves---hence the line, " 'There must be some way out of here,' said the joker to the thief."

    The line "Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl." can be compared to the passage from the bible:

    "I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! It's rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. THey were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth." -- Death and Hades being the two riders.

    As far as the title is concearned, the only thing I can think of are the watchtowers of Babylon...


    .....then again, I can be entirely wrong on all of this.
    masson February 20, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentHarmonicas are awesome, I'm tellin ya son.
    ondraon September 25, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAs a convert from Judaism to Christianity, Dylan was probably preaching the Gospel. I believe he was making a reference to the parable in Mark's Gospel:

    The Parable of the Tenants

    "A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 2At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.
    6"He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
    7"But the tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' 8So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
    9"What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.
    belteshazzaron October 07, 2004   Link

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