Boots of Spanish Leather - Part 1

by Patrick J. Webster

523 words on

Half-loves and half-rhymes


The opening lines of the song are misleading:

Oh, I’m sailin’ away my own true love,
I’m sailin’ away in the morning.
Is there something I can send you from across the sea,
From the place that I’ll be landing?

The second word of the song points to a heterodiegetic narrator - in other words a narrator who is within the narrative, acting as one of the main characters. The narrator speaks tenderly to the ‘own true love’ and explains of a parting the following day.

It is because this is a song sung by a man, and also possibly because men have a tendency to leave women, that we might be forgiven for thinking the initial heterodiegetic ‘I’ was a man. It is not and this is why the opening of the song is misleading and why the song is such a significant example from Dylan’s vast canon of love songs.

The female voice - and we have no idea whom she might be, the text leaves the identities of the two protagonists completely anonymous - already at this early stage seems emotionally remote, insomuch as her mind is more on material things her lover may desire than the feelings he may be feeling. This he makes clear in the second verse:

No, there’s nothing you can send me, my own true love.

The address he makes: ‘my own true love,’ is the same as his lover’s in the opening verse, yet here the intent seems more veracious and sincere. He goes on:

There’s nothin’ I wish to be ownin’
Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled,
From across that lonesome ocean.

To turn, for a moment, from content to style, the effortless half rhyme in the verse of ownin’ and ocean makes it difficult not to become caught up in the effective use of half to full rhymes in the song as a whole. The rhyming sequence through each of the eight stanzas is ABCB. And yet the rhyming of the second and fourth lines has an understated eloquence that works upon the understated eloquence of the hurt masculine pride in a quite remarkable way. We get:

morning landing
ownin’ ocean
golden Barcelona (An original rhyme)
ocean ownin’ (An inversion)
askin’ passin
sorrow  tomorrow
sailin’  feelin
roamin’ goin
weather  leather (The only expected rhyme)

Some of these are full rhymes, some are half-rhymes, whilst some have so little rhyme that it is only the subtlety of Dylan’s voice that allows the listener not to feel the anachronism. Dylan is a writer who has often been lampooned for dropping his ‘g’s’ and yet I think we can perceive here how such a device allows his voice to achieve a tenderness and an expressiveness beyond the page.

I want to leave the reading of the song here, next time I want to enlarge the discussion to a comparison with the usual journeys we find in Dylan’s work, journeys that are decidedly masculine, and the ways in which we can compare the journey found here in ‘Boots of Spanish Leather.’

Bob Dylan and Dave Stewart