There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth

No reason to get excited,the thief, he kindly spoke
There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl

Lyrics submitted by oofus, edited by CrimsnEdge, Dartman, Backstage

All Along the Watchtower Lyrics as written by Bob Dylan

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

All Along the Watchtower song meanings
Add Your Thoughts


sort form View by:
  • +29
    General CommentIt's cool that a 35 year old song can still get people to think and more, to discuss meaning. That's the power of poetry. I've been listening to this song since 1968 and have a few thoughts. Back then Dylan was not writing or talking about Jesus at all, certainly not in any way that foreshadowed his conversion experience ten years later. But he had written poetry for a long time about the meaning of life and our dilemmas as thinking beings. What is there to believe in? What has real meaning? is there anyone we can trust? What is the risk of stepping outside the norms and commonplace meanings of things and looking at ourselves directly? This song, I think, borrows a mythical style and setting to set up the problem of meaninglessness in our existence. The two personalities are both outsiders, a joker who lacks conventional dignity and a thief who lacks conventional morality. They are outside of the walls of psychological safety, where the regular social order still holds, despite the threats from wolves and howling winds. I read these as metaphors for the psychological dangers one must face when throwing off easy explanations of life's meaning. One must be very brave to be outside those walls. But there is no going back once you have cast off conventions -"You and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate, let us not talk falsely now the hour is getting late." This is a crisis, he's saying, a crisis of existence itself.

    So, it's the opposite of an endorsement of Christianity or any other religion. It's a description of the land where a seeker of truth must find his own way, whatever the dangers may be.

    This song, in its three little stanzas, is wonderful writing and courageous personal philosophy. This is why Dylan was and still is considered one of our culture's great voices.
    Backstageon March 31, 2005   Link
  • +23
    General CommentI remember reading an article about this song when it first came out (I believe 1968) by Paul Williams in Crawdaddy magazine, which was a cheaply produced, but very serious, intellectual magazine published by Williams. The thing that stuck with me from the article was that Williams compared the structure of the song to a moebius strip (because the starting point of the lyrics is actually in the middle of the song & the song opens with the middle part of the lyrics) & felt it gave the song a claustrophobic feel (because you come into it & leave it in the middle). The starting point would be "All along the watchtower" & then after the line "Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl", the next line would be "There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief", the joker & the thief being the two riders who were approaching, of course. This makes perfect sense to me & seems right. As far as the actual meaning, my own opinion is that it's a philosophical piece about how one finds meaning in a chaotic & very imperfect world. The joker sees this world & can't take it seriously because it's so false & is depressed because he can't find a way to make sense of it. The thief has come to this same realization in his past, but has found a way to move beyond it & create his own meaning. So it is, in effect, a parable about existentialism. Or maybe I'm totally wrong...
    eyelandon December 01, 2004   Link
  • +13
    General CommentOk, we should put some things in contest. The song is written in 1967,a year before the great social uprising throughout the world. Dylan was obviously left oriented but was also raised in a religious enviorment, thus the biblical imagery.
    The joker and the thief represent two sorts of social outcasts. The joker represents the class of people which denounce the system because they realise it's flaws and find it unjust. This is probably a more middleclass and intelectual stand. The thief on the other hand is also an outcast but he is not an outcast by choice. Thievery is in most cases a result of poverty. The majority of those who steal do it because they need to eat and feed their families so the thief here represents the more down-to-earth proletarian ,working class side of the social outcasts. They are obviously the two riders approaching the watchtower. It is suggested here that they are in a silent march towards something which symbolises the capitalist/social darwinist society. The princes are concerned. They observe the situation from their watchtowers, the princes being the capitalist, those who own the wine and the earth mentioned in the first verse. That is a reference to the unjustness of private property. The land and its fruits should be for everyone, including the jokers and the theives of the world. So,the princes are concerned,yet not that much,here Dylan realises that the social movements only managed so far to stir the structure, the watchtowers,but not yet to endanger it. Yet the last verse is essential. It somewhat gives a glimpse of things to come. The wildcat growl and the wing that howls give you an unsettling sentiment,it sends goosebumps up your spine. You can feel a tension. The two riders are approaching. And when they come too close to the wathctowers there will be conflict.
    watchmanon June 21, 2009   Link
  • +7
    General CommentNot that you could in any way compare Dylan with James Joyce (who put so many allusions in Ulysses that it is truly unimaginable how much one man could be familiar with so many phrases in language, and passages in so many books).

    Anyway, this is what Joyce wrote: "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality."

    Shakespeare's "Hamlet" opens on the tower of the watch. Joyce's Ulysses opens in a watch tower. Dylan's song, when taken in it's logical order in with the third stanza actually is the first, also opens on a watch tower (it is aslo the only song on the recording that begins with it's title). The original biblical reference was obviously known by all three, but that knowledge is probably coincidental, a mere simple twist of fate.
    woodshadowon December 25, 2008   Link
  • +6
    General CommentI've read in many places this song is about government. The Thief and Joker represent the middle and lower classes, they stand over looking the castle (the upper class). They know that the upper class takes advantage of everything and looks down upon these two men. There must be some way out of here represents the struggle that these men put forward to break the cycle at hand. It all leads up to them standing outside the castle trying to figure out how to bring them down. But their is no reason to get excited cuz we don't know what they do in the end but we know this is not their fate!
    tayzha26on November 06, 2004   Link
  • +6
    General CommentIt has been said that Bob Dylan visited the Crossroads and could've potentially made a deal with the devil.

    "There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
    "There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
    Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
    None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."

    The first verse could be him basically regretting the deal he made him being the joker/fool the devil being the thief (of his soul) and how the people enjoy what he does but none of them understand what he is going through to give them it.

    "No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
    "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
    But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
    So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."

    This verse could go back to when he made the deal. The Thief/Devil tells him not to get excited about the fame he just sold his soul for. The people around him don't know how lucky they are not to be in his position. But the Devil and him know more than the others know, and a regular safe life is no longer his fate. So let's not drag on the conversation, we both know what you just did.

    All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
    While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
    Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
    Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

    The final verse as expected is the end of his life, the princes are the Devils guards keeping watch because Bob doesn't want to go to hell. The second line once again refers to his euphoric lifestyle that he's locked in. The last to lines seem to allude to Robert Johnson's "There's a hell hound on my trail" only this time it's a wild cat and two riders.

    Of course this is just my opinion :)
    brendangarofaloon January 19, 2012   Link
  • +3
    General CommentInteresting post, but Dylan converted in 1977 and this song was written several years before. I don't know when Dylan wrote the song, but Hendrix covered it in 1968 so it's at least 9-10 years earlier. :)
    tsb2rxnon October 15, 2004   Link
  • +3

    The song is about The Record Industry. That is why other recording artists always want to record it. When explained correctly, all artists can identify with this track.

    The Joker is the Artist--In This Case Bob Dylan
    The Thief is his Manager-Agent-Label Contact...etc.--In This Case Albert Grossman (Dylan's manager at the time this song was penned)

    In the first verse, the Joker is going to his confidant and pleading to get him out of his current lot in life. 'Businessmen Drink His Wine, Ploughmen Dig His earth means--but none of them along the line know what any of it is worth' means that the recording artist is unhappy with the standard businessperson's approach towards selling art. They bottle it like Coca Cola, and it hurts the creative artist.

    Then in the Second verse, the Thief talks the Artist into not thinking about things so deeply (for to remain a Thief (or a leach, really), the Joker must continue to work). The Theif basically talks the Joker into getting back on Stage or in the Recording Studio or what have you. The Hour is Getting late means go be a professional and do your job, no matter what you think on a personal level.

    The last verse is about the decadence of being a Pop Star. Barefoot Servants and all that, it ends with a reflection that someday all this decadence must end. Dylan reflects on this a lot (Slow Train Coming comes to mind). The 2 Riders are kinda like the horsemen of the coming apocalypse. And The Wind began to howl...

    Get it?
    blthompsonon December 10, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThe most prevalent theme in this song is conflict. It's performed as a narrative with the first verse acting as an exchange between a joker and a thief: "There must be some kind of way out of here said the joker to the thief." The song begins with a sense of urgency, and it's apparent there is a sense of conflict. This first verse is the joker basically letting the thief know he's upset, and why he wishes to escape. The second verse begins with the thief consoling the joker. The thief sympathizes with and relates to the joker. The final verse shows a different image- with princes and servants, and ends with the two riders approaching.

    The joker and the thief are shown as outsiders in this song, two people that don't fit in. It's possible that Dylan saw himself as the joker in the song- a creative type who is frustrated with people that don't understand or take advantage of his music and talent: "Businessmen they drink my wine/Plowmen dig my earth. None of them along the line/Know what any of it is worth."

    The growl of the wildcat and the two riders in the night suggest even more conflict, tension building into something that will most likely end in collision. The song is about two people on the outside, who are no longer satisfied with the ways of society and their roles in it, who are most likely going to take action against it.
    jennawhitneyon April 23, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis song is about the Apocalypse of man. In a Biblical context, the Joker (fool) and Thief are always referenced as the ignorance and sins of man. But the time will come that even the lowest of men with some spiritual insight will sense the confusion in the world. Bible refers to confusion as Babylon. Many scholars refer to modern day Babylon as America. And Babylon the Great, it will fall at the end times.

    Businessman, they drink my wine. Plowman dig my earth. (They will be eating, drinking, building, buy and selling before sudden destruction comes) And there will come a time when no one realizes why they are actually on earth, and mindlessly go about trying to self actualize materially, rather than spiritually.

    Upon having this revelation, the Thief tells the Joker not to be excited, because there are others who have already come to this realization. But the point is, to stop following the masses and blinding themselves to the truth because the time is short.

    The watchtower represent when Jesus says be ever watchful, because he will come as a thief in the night. Surprisingly enough many governments (Princes) know the Apocalypse of man is coming. Our government knows California and almost the entire West Coast is going to sink, causing a Worldwide cataclysm. Its not a matter of if, but when. But us, we go about our business like nothing is going to happen. Wildcat IMO represents Satan, the Beast in the endtimes. Remember, in Revelations and Isiah, the two riders (witnesses) will come to Israel right after Babylon has fallen and during the time of the Beast.

    The Wind begins to Howl. That is the great tribulation and the destruction that follows foretold not only in the Bible, but by seers like Nostradamus and Mother Shipton . Remember, Dylan wrote this right after is near death motorcycle accident and the Height of the Cold and Vietnam war.
    donjuansdaddyon July 18, 2012   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top