41 Meanings
Add Yours

Changing of the Guards Lyrics

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
41 Meanings
An error occured.

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])

The Jupiter and Apollo line could refer to the children of Israel, torn between the raw power of Rome (Jupiter), and the hedonistic appeal of Hellenistic Judaism (Apollo).

'Lifted her veil' = violated her = invaded her. (The Romans, when they conquered the last holdouts in 70AD).

The 'broken chains' are normally thought of as being chains of sin. The 'rolling rock' is definitely a Jesus-image, as when they found Christ's burial site Sunday morning, the rock was rolled away and his body was gone.

An error occured.

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.

I agree with you. A lot of people misunderstood it at the time becaue Dylan had not professed his Christianity publicly as of yet.

I think this is a misunderstood masterpiece that basically explains why Dylan converted (as a solution to the personal chaos in his life, and as a means of piecing together a meaning for the history of Israel). It's because no one knew he had, and because of the second-rate Springsteen production that people hadn't gotten it.

An error occured.

i always thought it was about joan of arc

An error occured.

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?

16 years since his firts album to this one . 16 years in "the market place " 16 years CRUSADING (banners ) nietsche....thus spoke zarathustra ...zarathustra enters the market place after years of isolation and proclaims that "we have killed god "

@suckmykiss Bob Dylan and Sara were married from November 22, 1965 - June 29, 1977 so about 11 and a half years. Others have speculated on this point and it might be talking about his marriage and subsequent breakup with Sara. It certainly fits in well with the time when they broke up.

An error occured.

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...

An error occured.

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

The Changing of the Guards

The King of Swords is a symbol of intellectual power and authority, and has the courage and intellect to accomplish all that he desires. He represents judgement, command, and rulership. His character indicates the stern leadership of a judge, lawyer, or military commander whose emotions must be kept in check under the pressure of battle. Therefore, the King of Swords asks you to remain detached and objective in a specific situation, in order to ascertain the truth and seek out only the facts. You need to use your intellect to prove your point and succeed. Your education and experience are important but so are your day-to-day observations and thoughts. You can also solve problems by using history, rules, laws and diplomacy. The Queen of Swords represents the sternness of a mature intellect which is devoid of emotion. In mythology, the feminine is associated with emotion, yet in this card the woman is stern and composed, and without much feeling. This card therefore represents the intellect’s ability to judge and discern impartially, without the influence of emotion or sentimentality. She likes to know the how, what, why, where, when and who of everything to help her make sense of her environment and to better understand others. It is not that she does not care about others but she connects to other people through an intellectual understanding rather than an emotional understanding. The Queen of Swords is a sign that you need to be independent in thought and in judgement. You must use your unbiased intelligence in order to make a judgement of a particular situation, drawing upon every piece of information and fact that you have gathered along the way. Empathy or compassion towards others may distract you from the task at hand, so it is important that you think with your head and not with your heart at this particular time. Do not let emotion get in the way. Rather, use fact and logic to make your decisions. The Queen of Swords also has an innate ability to tell it like it is. She is a quick thinker and highly perceptive, and as such, she can cut through the noise and confusion to get straight to the point. There is certainly no ‘beating about the bush’, or ‘softening’ of her comments, opinions and thoughts. She is upfront and honest about her opinions, and expects the same from others. The best way to interact with the Queen of Swords, therefore, is to remain as impartial as possible, and to present your thoughts and opinions concisely and honestly.

An error occured.

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.

An error occured.

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.

An error occured.

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.

An error occured.

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.

An error occured.