Narrow Way

It’s often difficult to tell what Dylan’s song are exactly about, especially his later works. Is this song autobiographical? About Jesus? A woman? The War of 1812? Maybe a bit of all of the above. I’m not altogether sure. I don’t think anybody really is, including Dylan. That’s sort of the beauty of it.

It’s clearly a song about being on a quest of some sort. Perhaps a quest for salvation, or love, or revenge even. It reminds me of Isis, a bit.

The “narrow way” is clear a biblical reference. Perhaps to Luke 13:

13Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

Matthew 7 speaks on the same topic. (I’m not advocating for what is said in the video below – but it helps understand the reference.)

The phrase “If I can’t work up to you / You’ll have to work down to me someday” is a reference to the Prayer Before a Crucifix.

Prayer Before a Crucifix

Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus
while before Your face I humbly kneel and,
with burning soul,
pray and beseech You
to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments
of faith, hope, and charity;
true contrition for my sins,
and a firm purpose of amendment.

While I contemplate,
with great love and tender pity,
Your five most precious wounds,
pondering over them within me
and calling to mind the words which David,
Your prophet, said to You, my Jesus:

“They have pierced My hands and My feet,
they have numbered all My bones.”

The “moving finger” is a reference to Omar Khayyam’s work, Rubayyat.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

“Cake walking baby” is a tribute to the song Cake Walking Babies recorded by Dylan favorite, Bessie Smith. Cake walking babies refers to competitive dancers, really good ones that “can do no wrong.”

Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Deceitful Brownskin Woman could be the source of “heavy-stacked” woman (Bob seems more of a breast than ass man). Note the phrase “meat shakes on the bone”, which Dylan borrowed for Tough Mama.

Ah it’s one more drink : going to drive these blues away
Lord it’s heavy-hipped mama : and the meat shakes on the bone

Lyrics

I’m gonna walk across the desert ‘til I’m in my right mind
I won’t even think about what I left behind
Nothin’ back there anyway I can call my own
Go back home, leave me alone

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you
You’ll have to work down to me someday

Ever since the British burned the white house down
There’s a bleeding wound in the heart of town
I saw you drinking from an empty cup
I saw you buried and I saw you dug up

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you
You’ll have to work down to me someday

Look down angel, from the skies
Help my weary soul to rise
I kissed your cheek, I dragged your plow
You broke my heart. I was your friend ‘til now

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you
You’ll have to work down to me someday

In the courtyard of the golden sun
You stand and fight or you break and run
You went and lost your lovely head
For a drink of wine and a crust of bread

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you
You’ll have to work down to me someday

We looted and we plundered on distant shores
Why is my share not equal to yours?
Your father left you, your mother too
Even death has washed his hands of you

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you
You’ll have to work down to me someday

This is hard country to stay alive in
Blades are everywhere and they’re breaking my skin
I’m armed to the hilt and I’m struggling hard
You won’t get out of here unscarred

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you
You’ll have to work down to me someday

You got too many lovers waiting at the wall
If I had a thousand tongues I couldn’t count them all
Yesterday I could have thrown them all in the sea
Today, even one may be too much for me

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you
You’ll have to work down to me someday

Cake walking baby, you can do no wrong
Put your arms around me where they belong
I want to take you on a roller coaster ride
Lay my hands all over you, tie you to my side

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you
You’ll have to work down to me someday

I got a heavy stacked woman with a smile on her face
And she has crowned my soul with grace
I’m still hurting from an arrow that pierced my chest
I’m gonna have to take my head and bury it between your breasts

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you
You’ll have to work down to me someday

Been dark all night, but now it’s dawn
The moving finger is moving on
You can guard me while I sleep
Kiss away the tears I weep

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you
You’ll have to work down to me someday

I love women and she loves men
We’ve been to the West and we going back again
I heard a voice at the dusk of day
Saying, “Be gentle brother, be gentle and pray”

It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you
You’ll have to work down to me someday

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