High water risin', risin' night and day
All the gold and silver are being stolen away
Big Joe Turner lookin' East and West
From the dark room of his mind
He made it to Kansas City
Twelfth Street and Vine
Nothing standing there
High water everywhere

High water risin', the shacks are slidin' down
Folks lose their possessions and folks are leaving town
Bertha Mason shook, it broke it
Then she hung it on a wall
Says, "You're dancin' with whom they tell you to
Or you don't dance at all"
It's tough out there
High water everywhere

I got a cravin' love for blazing speed got a hopped up Mustang Ford
Jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties overboard
I can write you poems, make a strong man lose his mind
I'm no pig without a wig
I hope you treat me kind
Things are breakin' up out there
High water everywhere

High water risin', six inches 'bove my head
Coffins droppin' in the street
Like balloons made out of lead
Water pourin' into Vicksburg, don't know what I'm going to do
"Don't reach out for me," she said
"Can't you see I'm drownin' too?"
It's rough out there
High water everywhere

Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew
"You can't open your mind, boys
To every conceivable point of view"
They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five
Judge says to the High Sheriff
"I want him dead or alive
Either one, I don't care"
High Water everywhere

Well, the cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies
I'm preachin' the word of God
I'm puttin' out your eyes
I asked Fat Nancy for something to eat, she said, "Take it off the shelf
As great as you are a man,
You'll never be greater than yourself"
I told her I didn't really care
High water everywhere

I'm getting' up in the morning I believe I'll dust my broom
Keeping away from the women
I'm givin' 'em lots of room
Thunder rolling over Clarksdale, everything is looking blue
I just can't be happy, love
Unless you're happy too
It's bad out there
High water everywhere

Lyrics submitted by nitsirhc

"High Water (For Charley Patton)" as written by Bob Dylan


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High Water (For Charley Patton) song meanings
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  • +1
    General CommentThis song is NOT a Charley Patton cover. Not only did he never record this song, many references in it (e.g. Big Joe Turner and the Ford Mustang) did not come about until long after he had died. It does however bear some similarity to Patton's song 'High Water Everywhere'

    This song contains many references to old blues songs, such as the title and the line "high water everywhere" referring to the above mentioned Patton song, the lines "Bertha Mason shook it - broke it/Then she hung it on a wall" refering to Pattons 'Shake it and Break it' and the line "I believe I'll dust my broom" refering to a Robert Johnson song of the same name to name only three.

    And to FackingHell, you shouldn't call someone a "fucking retard". You asked "could you be more wrong?". I don't know if he could, but you sure seem to manage it.

    LewisLoveon December 16, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt's not about a literal "flood of h20"...again, not literal. It's a flood of problems, trouble, deceit, theft, schemes, scams, disease, pestilence, economic failure, pandemonium, chaos, confusion, tyranny, lies, injustice, EVIL and the plundering of society (just to name a few things)....its about the "HERE and NOW". It's similar to the "flood" spoken of in the book of Revelations (not Noah's flood). And yes, "ITS BAD OUT THERE". It's a DELUGE of water. Just like the song the Levee's gonna break has nothing to do with literal water. That is about problems. If it keeps on "rainin'", the Levee's gonna break. In other words if we keep getting bombarded with problems more and more...something has to give.

    Bob Dylan is a literary genius and at the same time it's so simple a child could understand it.
    markrobion January 10, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI have no idea what this song means but I love it. It's my favorite song from Love & Theft (Mississippi is darn goodtoo but this one has grown on me and outstripped even that).
    heartbeats_xxxon July 09, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think this song is a political song on modern day culture i think the whole album relates to modern culture "love and Theft" a kinda of oxymoran sayin societys gone mad and were gonna pay the piper soon, "Things have changed was written bout the same time too and that states that people are crazy and times are strange. this song was wrote just before 9/11 in a worldwide state of wariness every one was walkin on egg shells a risk of terrorism was high and obviously inevitable the worlds was just so close to disaster it was looming on us and something was about to happed disaster will strike due to our ignorance and then what happened? 9/11 hurrican Katrina, a shit load of problems due to iraq and terrorism, 7/11,the recent terrorist attack on heathrow, and whatevers to come theres high water and its gettin higher by the day

    "High water risin', six inches 'bove my head"
    Alex_kx3on August 23, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"I believe I'll dust my broom"
    Maybe I'm just stupid, but I think it's funny that that very same line is used in "Wilbury Twist" by the Traveling Wilburys, which Dylan was in
    I wonder if that's a knock back to that band?
    UnForGivenon January 20, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHey Alex_kx3
    Man, I don't mean to offend you, but yours has got to be the stupidest opinion I have ever read in SongMeanings.
    I mean, not only are you wrong on your conclusions, which you are, but you're wrong from your starting approach.
    You cannot judge backwards effects of 9/11. They only work onwards. You can see Katryna on Modern Times, buy you can't hear Modern Times and say that it refers to any unexpected event that may happen later. That is just ......wrong.
    cavernon March 13, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentBob uses a lot of METAPHORS...in literature things like a "flood" or a "twister" or "winds" "driving rain" "hail" "storms" have meanings other than the literal.
    markrobion January 10, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHigh water risin' - risin' night and day
    All the gold and silver are being stolen away.
    I'm thinking this line at least, refers to the deficit. the debt ceiling,
    and wall street big shots wringing out our economy.

    Coffins droppin' in the street
    Like balloons made out of lead.
    Twin Towers? Maybe.
    dylansghoston May 04, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is incredible, tied with "Mississippi" for the best song on "Love and Theft," and one of the best Bob's ever written. Anyway, the reason the song is titled "High Water (For Charley Patton)" is because the chorus, "high water everywhere," refers to the song of the same name by early Delta Blues musician Charley Patton. There are several other references to old Blues musicians and songs scattered throughout the album, including the line "I believe I'll dust my broom," a reference to the legendary Robert Johnson. It's quite genius how Bob uses these to create vivid images in the listener's head, and turn the song into something entirely new. As pointed out before, the "high water" is not a literal flood, but rather represents increasing trouble. It reminds me quite a bit of "Desolation Row," which featured a lot of metaphorical imagery and references to classic literature and culture. The verse featuring Charles Darwin in particular is similar to many of the lines in that song. In this case, the "Englishman, Italian, and the Jew" are warned not to "open their minds to any conceivable point of view." In other words, they should blindly accept what they are told without questioning it and opening the door to other possibilities. Charles Darwin was infamous in his day for questioning things and changing the idea of what we previously believed to be fact. This is why the "Judge" wants him dead or alive - he doesn't like change and will do anything it takes to stop it, even at the expense of the truth. Every verse in this song is filled with similar metaphors and strokes of genius, and I could spend hours writing an essay analyzing it, but you'd be better off just listening to it and enjoying it for yourself. I remember first hearing it, along with the rest of the album, with high expectations following the brilliant "Time Out of Mind," released four years later. This is the moment where I realized that album was no fluke. Bob was back, and I'm happy to say that, at the age of 70, he's as brilliant as he ever was.
    HyperBullyon July 21, 2011   Link
  • 0
    Song MeaningYou may find an extensive lyric analysis of this greatsong on:
    Keesyon May 31, 2012   Link

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