"Love Minus Zero/No Limit" as written by and Bob Dylan....
My love, she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn't have to say she's faithful
Yet she's true like ice, like fire
People carry roses
And make promises by the hour
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can't buy her

In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk of situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall
Some speak of the future
My love, she speaks softly
She knows there's no success like failure
And that failure's no success at all

The cloak and dagger dangles
Madams light the candles
In ceremonies of the horsemen
Even the pawn must hold a grudge
Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks she does not bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge

The bridge at midnight trembles
The country doctor rambles
Bankers' nieces seek perfection
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring
The wind howls like a hammer
The night wind blows cold n' rainy
My love, she's like some raven
At my window with a broken wing

Lyrics submitted by roger wilco

"Love Minus Zero/No Limit" as written by Bob Dylan

Lyrics © AUDIAM, INC

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Love Minus Zero/No Limit song meanings
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  • +8
    My InterpretationI've thought for a while about the meaning of this song and I have made sense of it in my mind. The thing about a lot of love songs is that the subject of love is left ambiguous for the listener's interpretation. Here, love can be a person, object, symbol, or place. It can mean anything that holds some sort of eternal perfection. We can argue on and on about what Dylan really meant by love but we will never know for sure and that's the way it's supposed to be.

    Basically in this song every two lines offers an idea and each verse has 4 of these pairs of lines. Except for the first and last (I'll get to the last verse later), it is obvious that he uses the first 3 pairs of lines or so to set up an image of how society is, and he uses the last pair of lines in a reversal showing how his love transcends that.

    I'll do a breakdown of my own interpretations of each of the lines, based on everything I've read about it on this site and on wikipedia:

    "My love she speaks like silence,
    Without ideals or violence,
    She doesn't have to say she's faithful,
    Yet she's true, like ice, like fire."

    Here he is saying his love is something so fundamental (like ice, like fire), like truth itself. It is not an ideal, it is real. It doesn't need to speak to prove itself. It doesn't take sides since it is on both the sides of ice and fire, two conflicting forces.

    "People carry roses,
    Make promises by the hours,
    My love she laughs like the flowers,
    Valentines can't buy her."

    He says people do these unnecessary things to prove their love but in a reversal, his love doesn't have to be proven by any of that. Her laughter is as good a proof of faithfulness as flowers.

    "In the dime stores and bus stations,
    People talk of situations,
    Read books, repeat quotations,
    Draw conclusions on the wall."

    Dylan describes people in everyday life. They do things as if reciting quotations, not really understanding. Then they try to predict the future, drawing conclusions. "On the wall" as mentioned in wikipedia may be symbolism for ill omens as a reference to the Book of Daniel.

    "Some speak of the future,
    My love she speaks softly,
    She knows there's no success like failure
    And that failure's no success at all."

    In a reversal, his love isn't like that. His love knows old quotes like "There's no success like failure" but also knows the truth that "failure's no success at all", unlike those who just go around reciting quotations without understanding.

    "The cloak and dagger dangles,
    Madams light the candles."

    These two lines bring the image of ill omen. Cloak and dagger traditionally symbolizes contempt and looming violence. The lighting of candles symbolizes the coming of night and darkness.

    "In ceremonies of the horsemen,
    Even the pawn must hold a grudge."

    The horsemen, knights, are compared to pawns (chess pieces). He is saying a pawn (person of low class or little wealth) likely holds resentment towards the more valuable knight (high class or wealthy).

    "Statues made of match sticks,
    Crumble into one another,"

    The statues symbolize those social constructs and the ideas of wealth and class. They are self-destructive.

    "My love winks, she does not bother,
    She knows too much to argue or to judge."

    His love knows this. His love knows not hold any resentment or judge a person based on those mentioned social constructs.

    "The bridge at midnight trembles,
    The country doctor rambles,"

    I believe the bridge symbolizes a bridge between life and death, and it trembles because of people crossing it. The country doctor brings up the idea of mortality again.

    "Bankers' nieces seek perfection,
    Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring."

    Bankers' nieces refers to Henry James' novel "A Portrait of a Lady", where the niece is searching for something impossible to find. "Gifts that wise men bring" is a reference to the gifts wise men brought to Jesus' birth. In a world of death, that the previous two lines set up, the banker's niece is searching for a miraculous birth, something seemingly so impossible.

    "The wind howls like a hammer,
    The night blows cold and rainy,"

    He continues with some ominous imagery, and a clever simile.

    "My love she's like some raven
    At my window with a broken wing."

    And this is the ultimate reversal although it may not seem so at first. Like the banker's niece, trapped in a world of misery and mortality, this raven is injured and trapped in the harsh weather. Unlike the niece who seeks something impossible however, the raven is right by the window. Dylan is saying he can save the raven. This final reversal is also a reversal on another level. You can notice that the structure of the entire song is like the structure of a verse in the song. Rather than the idealistic view of love that he presented to us in the past 3 verses, this love is surprisingly delicate.

    Of course, I'm not putting this here as fact. I think everyone probably has a slightly different interpretation. So, please tell me what you think. I'd love to discuss any points of disagreement or interest.
    veyenon September 06, 2012   Link
  • +7
    General Commentthe title is supposed to be a fraction: love minus zero divided by no limit, which equals absolute love.
    jasssson October 26, 2009   Link
  • +4
    General CommentThis is probably my favorite love song. I've really enjoyed reading others interpretations. I had always imagined that "my love" was an actual, but idealized person, but I've started wondering whether "my love" is more of a personification of a perfect kind of love. It seems unlikely that a person could truly have all these qualities, and perhaps it's mawkish to assume that Dylan is just romanticizing an actual person.

    The thing that got me thinking this way is that the song's tone becomes much darker in the last two verses. There are hints of apocalyptic imagery. Perhaps all the foolish, petty ways of humanity are leading to ruin of civilization? And the ideals embodied by Dylan's love have less place in society? The raven seems to signify death; perhaps the death of his ideals?

    Also about the beautifully cryptic "no success like failure" line. I've come to see this couplet as an argument against either dogma or ambition. The first part "no success like failure" seems a straight reading of that adage that you learn more from your failures. To me the second line turns that on its head and says, "But failure still sucks." So perhaps that means why bother with your arguments and lofty pronouncements? Why try so hard and wind yourself up for failure? Why hold on so tightly to your ideas? Speak softly and humbly.

    Just some thoughts...
    lemming72on September 14, 2008   Link
  • +3
    General Commentwhile the song does read as a straight love song to his ideal woman, the other side of it criticizes society for how they don't measure up to his ideal...by carrying roses, making promises, arguing and judging others, etc. at least to me, he wants people to see the selfishness and pointlessness of their actions.

    as for the "cloak and dagger dangles" verse, he talks about the ingrained rituals, ceremonies, and traditions of society that "even the pawn" is forced to follow. traditions and beliefs that lead to mistrust and hate for people the pawn has no experience with. the statues of matchsticks to me represent all the artificial structures of the society like those beliefs (e.g. communism is evil, black people are inferior) that generalize a large group of people, or even social constructs like class, gender roles, etc.

    but his ideal person realizes that there are two sides to every story, and that each person has their own beliefs and reasons for their actions. so how can you judge them lower than yourself, and what good will argument bring? it seems she even sees the ridiculous humor in the whole thing.

    the last lines could mean that his ideal person is bound to get frustrated with the people in society being so blind and unaware, and comes to him for a shelter.

    i think this song really has a slightly larger message than a typical love song. or maybe he just wrote a love song.
    normalasylumon October 16, 2006   Link
  • +3
    My InterpretationThis is not a song about a woman. his love is the muse of poetry, a harsher master than any in the ordinary world.
    rhjacmasonon June 26, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis has got to be one of my all time favorite Dylan songs. This love of his is just so wise, and he can get lost in her and hide from the real world. She knows too much to argue or to judge.
    russ'llon June 19, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI have pondered this song for years, and was never able to come up with a decent theory as to what it meant (which is the reason it really thrills me to stumble upon this site), but I have always felt that the subject was not not a person, but rather a (from dylan's point of view) truth of some sort. For instance, Dylan says his love is true, like ice, like fire. Human beings all have flaws, therefore no human being could come close to being as true as something as elemental as ice and fire. Also, in the line "without ideals or violence," once again all flawed human beings possess both ideals and a tendency towards violence of some sort, whereas some kind of deep, concrete truth is the only thing that could attain this level of detachment from human affairs. I think the end line maybe refers to Dylan perhaps realizing that the truth he believed in for so long is not without its flaws also.

    I also just now thought of a song whose first line parallels the last line of this song. In It Aint Me, BAbe, the song begins..."Go away from my window..." Perhaps this is referring to the raven with a broken wing. Of course, I always assumed It Aint Me, Babe referred to an actual woman, and this parallel could make sense of Love Minus Zero/No Limit is indeed about a romantic love. Who really knows?

    This is why I freakin' LOVE Dylan. His lyrics can be interpreted in so many different ways, much like all the poetic greats of the past...how many modern songwriters can claim that?
    lamantedivitaon June 14, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentA Beautiful Song, means so much and striking different cords wherever it is heard.

    For me, one night late, listening to Dylan, the bridge at midnight trembled.

    It was as if the very stillness of the warm night air began to tremble - it was so full of the richness of life and of the song that it could no longer remain still. Dylan's song captured my heart that night. The drunken country doctor, coming home from his rounds in his horse drawn buggy, stopped on the bridge, his ramblings part of the deep dark quietness of the trees, the hills and the shimmering stars. The country bankers' nieces, warm in their beds, and lost in an innocence of impossible dreams.

    Then the change: For Dylan, the elements of nature forever beyond man's call, come crashing in. The wind, the cold, the wet - the hardness of life - bringing even the beauty of his love - the one who speaks like silence, who speaks softly - to his window, like some raven with a broken wing.
    iancarron January 20, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General Commentthis is not a song about women. his love is the poets muse I'm guessing Euterpe. muse of lyric poetry. the poets muse holds him to a higher standard than normal life. many of the lyrics refer to this. Not necessarily faithful yet true like ice like fire. Quiet delicate and can't be bought.
    rhjacmasonon June 23, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI also love this song. A lot of people forget that, besides writing political songs, Dylan also wrote some great love songs. I used some of the lyrics in my wedding vows. He knew how to create the image in few words: "true like ice, like fire." He knew that you can't get much truer than that! "knows too much to argue or to judge." That is one heck of a person to be in love with!
    bachbeeton July 24, 2005   Link

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