Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble,
Ancient footprints are everywhere.
You can almost think that you're seein' double
On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs.
Got to hurry on back to my hotel room,
Where I've got me a date with Botticelli's niece.
She promised that she'd be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece.

Oh, the hours I've spent inside the Coliseum,
Dodging lions and wastin' time.
Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see 'em,
Yes, it sure has been a long, hard climb.
Train wheels runnin' through the back of my memory,
When I ran on the hilltop following a pack of wild geese.
Someday, everything is gonna be smooth like a rhapsody
When I paint my masterpiece.

Sailin' 'round the world in a dirty gondola.
Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola!

I left Rome and landed in Brussels,
On a plane ride so bumpy that I almost cried.
Clergymen in uniform and young girls pullin' muscles,
Everyone was there to greet me when I stepped inside.
Newspapermen eating candy
Had to be held down by big police.
Someday, everything is gonna be diff'rent
When I paint my masterpiece.

Lyrics submitted by gracelyn

When I Paint My Masterpiece song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentThis is one of my favorite songs of all time. I think it's about one's struggles to find true love.

    The streets of Rome are the paths taken by all people on their quest for their soul mate. The colesium is the act itself of finding someone. Sometimes you dodge lions (deal with the pain of a relationship), other times it seems that your just wasting time with someone you really don't care for. The mighty kings of the jungle are the one's that make it seem so easy, that they can just walk up to another and start up with the sweet talk, or the couples that just seem so perfect. Rome, Brussels, the plane ride, they all symbolize the long journey you must take along the way. His masterpiece, then, would be the love that he's been looking for all this time.

    "everything is gonna be smooth like a rhapsody..." might be my favorite line ever.
    tobiaswitherspoonon August 07, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this song is about artist striving and dissatisfaction, the illusion that we are striving for something that can be achieved that will change everything, once we just arrive and paint our masterpiece.
    scogmoon February 09, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSome artists say they have a hole they spend their entire lives trying to fill. The masterpiece would fill that hole. Whether the masterpiece is a painting, the perfect song, the right drug, becoming famous, the love of your life, finding God, or all the above - just looking for the masterpiece to fill the hole.
    langetcon February 20, 2014   Link
  • +1
    General CommentCheck this poem out...

    "Unknown Title"

    There is a king out there,
    And I think there is a masterpiece going on.
    Could this really be?
    If you could tell me,
    Nobody has to know,
    Jusy between you and me.
    Is there really ancient secrets...
    Like this?
    What is the missing piece?
    Does it start with a W?
    Does it start with an h?
    Does any of this, make any sense?
    My mom told me
    that I should go see,
    in the islands of Hawaii...
    Mine are a little bigger then yours.
    Its getting harder to disguise.
    I want to tell you something.
    I feel them...
    Rather looking down,
    but blazing like the golden sun.
    Always in the background,
    behind my being.
    Open the curtains.
    It was you all along!
    I remember!
    You were the one protecting me.
    If you could tell me,
    Nobody has to know,
    Just between you and me.
    Are their really ancient secrets,
    like this?

    "unknown author"
    lolareezeon March 27, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis is a really underrated dylan song, similar to david bowie's "heroes"
    koenig1189on December 10, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGreat song, especially the version by The Band ! Thing is, I think its a result of Dylans tours of Europe, visiting all the "tourist" sites, Art Galleries etc. & deciding that although he loves the art etc. he'd prefer to be back in the U.S. where he intends creating his own masterpiece. Is this too simplistic ??
    GypsyDavyon May 13, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHe's wondering around the world to somehow find the inspiration to produce his masterpiece, but he knows he'll only get that when he gets back to the land of coca-cola coz right now it feels strange being in another country and he feels he'll be more assured and satisfied when he comes back home, to paint his masterpiece and maybe go back there seeing things differently.
    KitScotton December 24, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this is a Dylan's "pageant of civilization" metaphor song. Another song like this is Costello's "Waiting for the End of the World".

    Of course, it's a little bigger than that; the course of civilization is, in a way, mirrored in the individual. This goes along with the observation that as Dylan matured, he stopped talking about the social and started talking about the personal. Here, both are wedded perfectly.

    He starts in Rome; this is mankind's religious era. When he talks about "dodging lions and wasting time", he's talking about how apologetics (groomed argumentation on behalf of your religion) is wasted energy.

    The reference to the Spanish Stairs is an allusion to the idea that, in spite of the seeming linear structure to pageantry, there are pockets of transcendence. The Spanish Stairs is a famous hang-out for hip, dropped-out types; ostensibly people who transcend the pageant. So: is it ancient Rome, or modern Rome you see when you watch these hipsters smoking dope and making out on the Spanish Stairs? Can't tell; perhaps you're seeing double, eh?

    He moves on to Brussels; this is the post-religious era. There is a strong sense of the practical secularism sweeping Europe. The Enlightenment coming to a kind of sturdy (and not uncomical) fruition.

    And though it all is the powerful thread; the time will come when the hero paints his masterpiece. Is this the culmination of consciousness? God finally realizing the culmination of the dream he started when he chose to put this chain of events into motion?
    razajacon February 13, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSome of the imagery in the song might come from paintings Dylan saw when he was in Europe.
    There are famous paintings of the "Spanish Steps" and "Inside the Colosseum".
    And I'm reasonably sure that in the "original" Bob's date was with "Botticelli's VENUS",
    a very famous painting. Not his niece.
    I don't know about the verse in Brussels. Maybe the clergymen, young girls and newspapermen
    are subjects of more modern paintings, that "greeted" Bob when he stepped inside a museum.
    Or maybe the verse is just the stuff of Bob's life. It might be obstructing his painting
    his masterpiece, or at least not inspiring it. The irony being that it did inspire him to
    "paint" this masterpiece of a song.
    I don't know anything. Just puttin it out there.
    yammieplayaon August 11, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMy interpretation has always been the same as tobiaswitherspoon: art/paintings as a metaphor for finding love. By the time he wrote this song, Dylan had already created many masterpieces in the form of songs/albums that were both extremely popular and also artistically acclaimed, so I don't think that's what the song is about. But finding a true love is something that can be elusive to even the most rich, powerful or acclaimed; and it's something that can radically alter one's perspective ("everything's gonna be different...").
    spaceotteron November 20, 2013   Link

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