Girl from the North Country

Commentary

Girl from the North Country is the second song on the second album, and also the second great song on the second album. Like the first song, Blowin’ in the Wind, Girl from the North Country is simple and direct. It has a straightforward, wistful lyric, in which the narrator thinks back on an old but not forgotten lover and expresses his hope that she is being well-cared for and happy.

Many have pointed out that Dylan borrowed for this song English folksinger Martin Carthy’s arrangement of the traditional ballad Scarborough Fair. Matthew Zuckerman, writing for the Dylan fanzine ISIS, quotes Dylan: “Martin Carthy’s incredible. I learned a lot of stuff from Martin. Girl from the North Country is based on a song I learned from him.”

Zuckerman traces the history of the Scarbough Fair to Child Ballad #2, The Elfin Knight, which includes the lyrics:

Did ye ever travel twixt Berwick and Lyne?
Sober and grave grows merry in time
There ye’ll meet wi a handsome young dame,
Ance she was a true love of mine.

These lyrics are obviously very similar to those sung by Simon and Garfunkel on their hit Scarborough Fair. According to Zuckerman, Simon claimed the song as his own and has acknowledged neither the traditional lyrics nor Carthy’s arrangement.

Dylan borrows two lines directly from the traditional version for Girl from the North Country:

Remember me to the one who lives there,
She once was a true love of mine.

There has been a lot of speculation about who is the “real” girl of the north country. Dylan is from Minnesota, a very northern state, so the song must be about an ex-girlfriend, right? Maybe not, but anyway. Toby Thompson, who wrote an early biography of Dylan, was convinced that Dylan’s earliest girlfriend, Echo Helstrom, was the subject. Echo herself, of course, shares that opinion.

Dylan biographer Robert Shelton makes the case for a later girlfriend, Bonnie Beecher, whom Dylan met during his brief time as a student at the University of Minnesota. Beecher was an actress, and Shelton quotes Dylan as having said that the north country girl was an actress that he fell for. Shelton doesn’t cite the source of the quote.  Beecher ended up married to Wavy Gravy, of Woodstock fame. She became a singer, and also appeared in the TV series Star Trek.

Here she is singing “Come Wonder With Me”.

John Duffey of the Seldom Scene.


Lyrics

Well, if you’re travelin’ in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm,
When the rivers freeze and summer ends,
Please see if she’s wearing a coat so warm,
To keep her from the howlin’ winds.

Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
If it rolls and flows all down her breast.
Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
That’s the way I remember her best.

I’m a-wonderin’ if she remembers me at all.
Many times I’ve often prayed
In the darkness of my night,
In the brightness of my day.

So if you’re travelin’ in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

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