Boots of Spanish Leather

 

Key:

  • Blue: Bob Dylan
  • Green: The Lumineers
  • Pencil: My thoughts
  • First row of numbers: Line number
  • Second row of numbers: numbers of syllables in a line
  • Circled number: syllables, line position, and meter repeats

 

 

Introduction:

The poem “Boots of Spanish Leather” is in the “Popular Ballads of the Twentieth Century” section of The Norton Anthology of Poetry collection. “Boots of Spanish Leather” is written and performed by musician, Bob Dylan. Overall, the poem provides a narrative of two lovers at a crossroad in their relationship. “Boots of Spanish Leather” tells the story of their relationship ending through both partner’s perspectives.

I chose to focus on Bob Dylan’s performance from The Times They Are a Changin’ album.

Performance:

The marks in blue are the places where I see a difference or similarity between Dylan’s performance and the poem. Underline parts mean that in my mind, his performance matches the poem well. Blocks represent a difference in stress.

Overall, Dylan’s performance of “Boots of Spanish Leather” has a somber tone, focuses on voice change to emphasize words and relies heavily on the guitar in order to create mood.

Below are interesting aspects of Dylan’s performance.

1.) The soft guitar playing and fingerpicking in the background creates a relaxed ambiance. This mood is reflective of the speakers’ hope in the beginning of the poem.

2.) In addition to the guitar developing mood, it adds a layer of suspense to the poem. Lines 19, 24, 27, 32, 35, and 36 are bracketed in order to represent the lyrics where Dylan repeats a deep chord.  This sound begins at 2:18 in the video. The repeated sound shows how the relationship is dragging on and the growing friction between the two lovers.

3.) In regards to the last line in the poem; Dylan inserts a pause between “Spanish boots of” and “Spanish leather.” Furthermore, Dylan draws out the word “leather” in an interesting way. This line illustrates how the second speaker is trying to make his love last as long as it can. However, by drawing out the last line, Dylan is illustrating the second speaker admitting that the relationship is over.

4.) Dylan raises and lowers his voice in accordance to certain words or phrases in order to create emphasis. Dylan is somewhat repetitive with the words and phrases he emphasizes. I am going to compare two stanzas in order to demonstrate.

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Stanza Two:

No, there’s nothin’ you can send me, my own true love,

There’s nothing’ I wish to be ownin.

Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled,

From across that lonesome ocean.

 

Stanza Seven:

I got a letter on a lonesome day,

It was from her ship a-sailin,

Saying I don’t know when I’ll be comin’ back again,

It depends on how I’m feelin’.

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The bolded words symbolize the phrases or words Dylan emphasizes in the performance. One word that sticks out to me is “lonesome.” I dive into the use of this word in the thematic overview section of my analysis, but I feel that the emphasis on this word is distinct and purposeful. Through the emphasis of words concluding with “ing” or “in'”, Dylan creates a sense of unity and rhythm.

5.) Dylan adds additional words to the poem during his performance, but it the inclusion of words or phrases does not deter from the meaning of the poem. Dylan does this in order to make the performance seem like a more personal experience.  He also includes this in order to make the content match the melody more accurately.

Below are some examples of the variation between poem and performance.

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Original:

There’s nothin’ I wish to be owning’.

Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled,”

Dylan’s performance:

There’s nothin’ I’m wishing to be owning’.
Just to carry yourself back to me unspoiled,

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Original:

The same thing I would want from you today,
I would want again tomorrow

Dylan’s performance:

The same thing I want today
I would want again tomorrow

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Here are some examples of Dylan adding words in order to give a new meter to the line.

Original:

u              /         u     u     /    u    u    /     u

There’s nothing I wish to be ownin’.

Dylan’s version:

u                u        /      u     u        /      u   u   u  /

There’s nothing I’m wishing to be ownin’.

 

 

 

I originally recognized “Boots of Spanish Leather” because The Lumineers did a cover of Bob Dylan’s performance. I thought since Dylan was the creator of the poem, it is not exactly fair to do a performance on the subject that he intended to sing. I wanted to study what other performers did with his poem, so I decided to attach a second performance from The Lumineers.

I have attached my annotations from this performance. The marks in green are where I noticed differences.

The Lumineers followed the same basic emphasis as Dylan did in his performance. There was one major difference which I thought was very interesting; The Lumineers decided to use the guitar to symbolize a passing of time.  The last three stanzas are told from the lover who is left behind. In this stanza, the second speaker received a letter from their love who is gone. The Lumineers took the break between the sixth and seven stanza and turned it into a guitar solo. The guitar basically had a monologue of its own and made the reader take a pause in the narration. After listening to this performance I can see that The Lumineers were heavily influenced by Dylan in this song.

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In order to properly understand “Boots of Spanish Leather” I decided to look at form, punctuation, meter, lineation, rhyme, and thematic properties.

Form:

In The Poetry Handbook, John Lennard claims that Dylan commonly uses a calypsonian monologue. The term is defined by Lennard as a type of writing which allows characters to display personas and project their desires externally through speaking to the audience or a targeted subject. Calypsonian monologues typically relate to folk-tales, story-telling tropes, and first person narrative. According to Lennard, a calypsonian monologue can be seen in Dylan’s works like “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Idiot Wind.”

“Boots of Spanish Leather” is organized into nine quatrains which form nine stanzas. The initial five stanzas consist of a narrative between two lovers. The stanzas are alternating points of view which serve as a conversation between two people in a relationship. The last four stanzas concentrate on the lover that is left behind.

 

Punctuation and Lineation: 

The first, second, sixth, seventh, eight and ninth stanzas contain no signs of enjambment. All lines are ended with an end-stop in the form of a period, comma, or question mark. The use of an end-stop in a stanza shows how the speaker is sure of what they are saying and the content of the stanza is set in stone.The use of an enjambment in the third, fourth, and fifth stanzas symbolize the speaker’s confusion and worry about where the relationship is going.”Boots of Spanish Leather” contains no semi colons, colons, dashes, exclamation marks, or parentheses.

Below are examples of stanzas with enjambment and end-stops.

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Stanza with enjambment:

Oh, but if I had the stars from the darkest night (enjambment)

And the diamonds from the deepest ocean,

I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss (enjambment)
For that’s all I’m wishin’ to be owning’.

 

Stanza with end-stop:

So take heed, take heed of the western wind,

Take heed of the stormy weather.

And yes, there’s something you can send back to me,
Spanish boots of Spanish Leather.

 

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Since the majority of the poem is a conversational narrative, caesuras caused by commas are extremely present.  To expand further, the caesuras in the section above allows the second speaker to talk directly to the lost lover. The hesitation found in the stanza above is the second speaker finally admitting to themselves that their love was not meant to last and can be replaced with a material object (the boots).

A second example of important lineation in “Boots of Spanish Leather” is Dylan’s choice of enjambment and end-stop placement in the fourth stanza.

 

The alternation between enjambment and end-stop ensures that the reader reads this stanza as one sentence, but takes a pause at the comma. To illustrate in more detail the following stanza should be read aloud like this,

“Oh (pause) but if I had the stars from the darkest night and the diamonds from the deepest ocean (pause) I’d forsake them all for your sweet kiss for that’s all I’m wishin’ to be ownin’ (pause).”

This stanza serves as a hope for the physical connection the two speakers once had. It is the second speakers hope for her return and their relationship to continue. The enjambments symbolize the open ended relationship with dreams still obtainable.

 

Rhyme:

According to Lennard, the reason why some of Dylan’s lines in “Boots of Spanish Leather” and other works do not rhyme is because the poem is too close to a performance. Dylan’s background as a musician and his intention to perform this song cause the rhyme to be sparse.

Dylan’s use of rhyme in his performance also makes me question if the relationship was putting a stress on the two lovers, because Dylan seems to be trying very hard to make certain words rhyme. During the performance, Dylan makes some words sound similar due to their trochaic meter.

In the poem, there is a clear ABCB rhyme in the first stanza. In the majority of the poem there is a clear rhyme between lines 2 and 4 in each stanza, with a few exceptions. The pictures attached of my scansion illustrate the rhyme scheme.Dylan is making fun of a stereotypical ballad by making sure that the 2nd and 4th line in a quatrain rhyme, which is unlike the mold of a ballad.

Meter: 

Well, one of the many lessons I am going to take away from this class is that Bob Dylan and meter are not my friend. In a diligent effort to find meter in a poem I thought would be easily identified as iambic tetrameter or trimeter; I spent multiple attempts to separate the meter from the music, the poem, and my head.

With some advice, I eventually figured out that Dylan stayed within the boundaries of classical ballad feet (alternating tetrameter and trimeter) while somewhat demolishing the iambic meter stereotype. “Boots of Spanish Leather” contains some iambs, don’t get me wrong, but there are also anapest and hyper syllables at the end of the line in order to make the feet work. Every hyper syllable ending, ends with a unstressed syllable.

Major findings

1.) There is a pattern. In some cases, lines that correlate positionally in the stanza and contain the same number of syllables have the same meter markings. This is present in lines 2 and 6, 4 and 8, 5 and 13, 11 and 15, 3 and 27, 1 and 29, 17 and 31, 18 and 34, 1 and 33, and 7 and 35.

2.) Lines 24 and 25 contain two stressed syllables in a row. In line 24 the stress is caused by words “want” and “again.” The word “want” is stressed because it is a verb.  The word “again” is stressed because the first syllable is stressed. There is no avoiding stressing both of them. Line 25 is tricky. The words that are stressed are “a” and “letter.” The letter “A” should not be stressed because it is an article, but according to google it can also be a determiner. In this case it causes an anapestic foot. The word “letter” has a stress on the first syllable which collides with the stress on “a.”

However, the confusion with lines 24 and 25 serves a purpose. These stanzas are separated by a passage of time and the unavoidable breakup that will occur. The use of the trochees with “again” and “letter” in addition to the two stressed syllables right next to each other demonstrate conflict and the stress the second speaker is feeling. It is also the first time the second speaker has talked twice in a row.

3.) The left over unstressed syllable at the end of some lines shows a “feminine” ending to the lines. This is associated with feeling relaxed towards the end of the line.

4.) There are multiple accounts of unstressed unstressed unstressed stressed feet. These feet are found in lines that have too many syllables for the amount of feet they are supposed to have. The extra syllables are only found in stanzas where the second speaker is talking. It demonstrates how the second speaker is trying to fit extra material into their relationship. The second speaker is trying to cram all of their wishes or everything they want to say to the girl into their section.

5.) Dylan adds additional syllables and words into his performance. By doing this he messes up some of the stresses within the polysyllabic words. Dylan also does this in order to change the meter of the song and add his own version of sprung rhythm . The Lumineers follow in Dylan’s footsteps and add additional words and emphasis to their performance, but they follow the meter better than Dylan does in some cases. This variation is interesting because it does not change anything from the macro view (listeners still understand the message) but mixes everything up from the micro level.

Thematic Overview:

Can be found here

 

 

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