Bill Horton was a cautious man of the road
He walked lookin' over his shoulder and remained faithful to its code
When something caught his eye he'd measure his need
And then very carefully he'd proceed

Billy met a young girl in the early days of May
It was there in her arms he let his cautiousness slip away
In their lovers twilight as the evening sky grew dim
He'd lay back in her arms and laugh at what had happened to him

On his right hand Billy tattooed the word love and on his left hand was the word fear
And in which hand he held his fate was never clear
Come Indian summer he took his young lover for his bride
And with his own hands built a great house down by the riverside

Now Billy was an honest man he wanted to do what was right
He worked hard to fill their lives with happy days and loving nights
Alone on his knees in the darkness for steadiness he'd pray
For he knew in a restless heart the seed of betrayal lay

One night Billy awoke from a terrible dream callin' his wife's name
She lay breathing beside him in a peaceful sleep, a thousand miles away
He got dressed in the moonlight and down to the highway he strode
When he got there he didn't find nothing but road

Billy felt a coldness rise up inside him that he couldn't name
Just as the words tattooed 'cross his knuckles he knew would always remain
At their bedside he brushed the hair from his wife's face as the moon shone on her skin so white
Filling their room with the beauty of God's fallen light

Lyrics submitted by oofus

Cautious Man song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentAh, little lad, you're staring at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil? H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I'll show you the story of life. Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t'other. Now watch 'em! Old brother left hand, left hand he's a fighting, and it looks like love's a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love's a winning! Yessirree! It's love that's won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!
    – Preacher Harry Powell, The Night Of The Hunter
    anon109on March 03, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe tattooes are a little over-the-top, but the story of this song is still very palpable.
    jnb987on December 29, 2004   Link
  • 0
    Song MeaningI thought this website has a good interpretation:

    The key part:
    "Take “Cautious Man,” for instance, where the ambivalence on display probably was hitting close to home. Springsteen’s marital woes bubbled to the surface in the guise of a man named Billy, whose life of solitude and wandering is interrupted, against all odds, by a sudden love affair. This guy is right out of some pulpy film, what with the symbolic tattoos and his adherence to the code of the road, but all that quickly goes by the wayside when this girl comes into the picture.

    Domesticity wins out.

    But only for a little while. Despite all of his good intentions and efforts to stay true, the road keeps calling to Billy. Again, a dream is the turning point, and when he wakes to find his new wife “breathing beside him in a peaceful sleep, a thousand miles away,” he tears out to the highway. But even that has now lost its luster, as Billy finds no answers, just “nothing but road.”

    In many ways, the song, just acoustic guitar and brooding synths, ends in the middle of the story, with Billy returning to his wife’s bedside in an ironically peaceful scene as the moon pours light into the room. We can guess how it’s going to end from the “coldness” that Billy feels, and we can extrapolate how it ended from Springsteen’s own eventual divorce. But we don’t know, and it’s the not knowing that gives “Cautious Man” its depth and unsettling sadness."
    Mark1971on September 21, 2016   Link

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