Analysis of “My Back Pages” by Bob Dylan
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My guard stood hard
When abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.
“My Back pages” by Bob Dylan can be interpreted in any number of ways by any number of people for such is the beauty and artistry of his work. It possesses this quality which allows it to reach out and touch any individual who will permit it to do so. As far as what it is that these prose say to me I firmly believe that these lyrics are so elusive that their personal significance could change from moment to moment. As is such I will try to write quickly. In a general sense, with these verses Dylan is trying to say that the younger one is the more he thinks he knows but in reality he knows much less and as one approaches maturity he knows much more and is aware of that which he is in truth unaware.
Dylan has rightfully come to the conclusion in this piece that in his younger years he acted in a purported “adult” manner when in truth his views, goals, and purpose couldn’t have been further from this reality. He relates how he strove after certain “noble” pursuits in his youth and quite successfully in fact, only to discover that that which once allured him so was hollow and that which he neglected was in fact of the greatest value. He prematurely made up his mind about the world, about what is good and what is evil only to discover that his conceptions were false. He points out a frightful mistake which so many youth make. They think that they know it all or at least enough and place emphasis where it isn’t due only to realize that as a result of their narrow-mindedness they wasted a great deal of their time.
With nearly every verse of this poem Dylan seems to be imparting another lesson. He seems to beg us to keep an open mind to every new idea and every new person we come across while beseeching us to take notice of that which is true and right. He cautions us not to whittle our lives away with futility yet he warns us against excessive worry. Altogether, this short piece seems to be a well of paradoxical counsel that is both realistic and human.
They say that poetry can speak to the reader and that what it says is dependent on that reader. “My Back Pages” speaks to me personally and I find it so relevant to where I am on this road as a transient of life. Basically, I am a teenager at a cross-road preparing to make some rather important decisions equipped with only about sixteen years worth of life experience. The ironic part of this bizarre situation is that many of life’s defining decisions are made in the minds of people who don’t know very much about life at all. So one could come to the conclusion that while we possess free choice (a concept I believe in as a Jew) the decisions we make in these younger stages of life would possibly be different were we better prepared to make them.
The predicted lifespan for this generation is a century and most defining moments occur in the first quarter of this time. Marriage, college, and career, are just a few of these decisions that will have to be made before one has even really gotten to the core of this apple we call life. Knowing that these decisions will need to be made and knowing what Dylan has taught about perspective or lack thereof I am very aware of my capacity for error and the possibility that I may have already done irreparable damage and not even be privy to it yet.
In a more abstract sense of the same principles I find it fascinating how even the most earnest youth are made ridiculous by their views and goals. They can be so caring and so determined without realizing for a second the irrationality that cloaks them. It is at once their greatest flaw and supreme charm, at least noble if not real. I believe that most youth, myself very much included, live in an idealized version of the world or at least possess romanticized notions of how to improve it. We do think we know better than everyone else and it’s because we haven’t seen a lot of life’s brutal reality. I know that I am especially among those that feel this way yet there is no major event that proves my point. Rather it is my ever changing notions about everything from the meaning of life and the actuality of heaven to whether or not rap music is indeed an art form that illustrates the constantly evolving positions of my young mind.
With “My Back Pages” Bob Dylan struck a chord (no rather horrible pun intended) at least with me (how frightfully cliché). By making reference to the innumerable mistakes youth make as a result of too much confidence in their own logic he heeds us against erring as he himself did. In conclusion, this piece, though small in words, imparts lessons larger and nobler than many works of a lesser caliber can in pages.