Sixteen years
Sixteen banners united over the field
Where the good shepherd grieves
Desperate men, desperate women divided
Spreading their wings 'neath the falling leaves

Fortune calls
I stepped forth from the shadows to the marketplace
Merchants and thieves, hungry for power, my last deal gone down
She's smelling sweet like the meadows where she was born
On midsummer's eve, near the tower

The cold-blooded moon
The captain waits above the celebration
Sending his thoughts to a beloved maid
Whose ebony face is beyond communication
The captain is down but still believing that his love will be repaid

They shaved her head
She was torn between Jupiter and Apollo
A messenger arrived with a black nightingale
I seen her on the stairs and I couldn't help but follow
Follow her down past the fountain where they lifted her veil

I stumbled to my feet
I rode past destruction in the ditches
With the stitches still mending 'neath a heart-shaped tattoo
Renegade priests and treacherous young witches
Were handing out the flowers that I'd given to you

The palace of mirrors
Where dog soldiers are reflected
The endless road and the wailing of chimes
The empty rooms where her memory is protected
Where the angels' voices whisper to the souls of previous times

She wakes him up
Forty-eight hours later, the sun is breaking
Near broken chains, mountain laurel and rolling rocks
She's begging to know what measures he now will be taking
He's pulling her down and she's clutching on to his long golden locks

Gentlemen, he said
I don't need your organization, I've shined your shoes
I've moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either getting ready for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards

Peace will come
With tranquility and splendor on the wheels of fire
But will bring us no reward when her false idols fall
And cruel death surrenders with its pale ghost retreating
Between the King and the Queen of Swords

Lyrics submitted by Jack, edited by Mellow_Harsher, Tvelo42, BlackPeter

Changing Of The Guards Lyrics as written by Bob Dylan

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Changing of the Guards song meanings
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  • +2
    General Comment
    Until last night I thought the lyrics were about the history of Dylan's music, but now I see it more of a love story. I understand how a lot of people see the religious side to this, but to me the story seems to be that the girl he loves is about to get married (hence religious imagery), and he realises he must go for it now or risk losing her forever. So: he "steps forth from the shadows, to the market place" (he stops hiding and declares his love); the "captain" about to marry her "awaits celebration" of marrying her. But Dylan explains his love and "the captain is down" upon hearing about this, but believes his "love will be repaid" (with the girl marrying him anyway). Other key lines in the story would be 'jupiter and apollo' (which would be Dylan and his love rival); and after they'd lifted her vail: 'With the stitches still mending 'neath a heart-shaped tattoo.Renegade priests and treacherous young witches. Were handing out the flowers that I'd given to you' (the pain breeding contempt towards all those involved in the wedding, eg the priest and bridesmaids). The endless road and the wailing of chimes (the ailse and church bells seem to last forever to him) She wakes him up...near broken chains (she is now with him...broken chains of marriage) I don't need your organization, I've shined your shoes (I don't need your blessing to go with the girl, I've lived a good life) Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards (so you must be prepared for the girl to 'change guards', eg, change her husband [who will look after/guard her])
    originlon October 15, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Comment
    Dylan can write some cryptic lyrics, but the meaning of this one practically jumped off the page at me when I first heard it at age 12. The song is evidence of how Christianized Dylan had already become by early 1978. The song is kind of a poetically history of Israel. Picture Yahweh as the "captain" and Israel as the " beloved maid" who was "torn between Jupiter and Apollo" (conquered by pagans) who "lifted her veil" (defiled her with pagan practices.) Then think of the Christian imagery later in the song, i.e. "she wakes him up 48 hours later" (48 hours, give or take a few, after the Crucifixion) "near broken chains" (of sin) "...and rolling rocks" (no, not the beer, the stone at the mouth of Christ's tomb.) The Changing of the Guards is the New Covenant. The final verse portends the final defeat of evil by this Covenant. (The King and Queen of Swords are tarot cards and can be taken to represent occult practices.) I must mention for reputation's sake that I am NOT a Christian, and there are a few verses that may be there simply for poetry rather than allegory. Still, the basic theme of the song is exceedingly clear imo.
    DJacques75on May 24, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Comment
    i always thought it was about joan of arc
    willardon November 16, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Comment
    Sixteen years .... isn't that how long he was married, before he was divorced in 1978, which is the year _Street Legal_ and this song came out?
    suckmykisson August 19, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment
    Roddy, Here's another take on the line: "Renegade priests and treacherous young witches Were handing out the flowers that I'd given to you." I've always seen this as a Dylan self-reference--that is, other (lesser) artists are recording, releasing, and profiting from his songs (the Byrds, Cher, even Hendrix...although Dylan seemed to appreciate that one). A clever image (flowers substituting for songs). Speaking of Hendrix, the same sentiment is expressed in Watchtower--"Businessmen they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth" -- you write my contracts, profit off my records, analyze my lyrics and record/imitate my songs...
    bcostel1on August 26, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    Basically a man who's released he's become a victim of 'the masters of war'. He's fed up off doing their dirty work for them while they sit behind their desks
    Nogtopooon May 18, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    i had no idea what this song meant but I used to hear it every morning when my mom would drive me to school and we spent about a year debating what the true meaning was. now i pretty much agree with DJacques.
    queenjaneon September 26, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    Maybe the changing of the guards refers to a situation where a man is no longer able to protect a woman, and has to stand down so that another can take his place.
    Detectiveon March 25, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    Perhaps superficially, Detective, but closer examination reveeals: "Or else your hearts must have the courage / Of the changing of the guards"...the 'changing of the guards' is here shown to be the cowardly option.
    elephant_rangeon April 01, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment
    Im not disputing that, If fact the word coward was bought up in a conversation with me and a friend a while back when talking about this song. But it does become apparent that the song is about a relationship breaking up ,with various metaphorical references. And the lyrics "Changing of the guards" might (reveal) some reference to that too.
    Detectiveon April 03, 2005   Link

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