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In reading the lyrics of "Mr. Tambourine Man," written by Bob Dylan, it has been suggested that the images portrayed are surreal.
My interpretation is that the narrator (the songwriter) is searching for something which he think the musician—the tambourine man— might help him locate. The song generally begins with words that tell the reader that the song's author is unable to sleep, and it seems this has been going on for a while. He also notes that he has no where to go. Literally, these images could describe exactly the sentiments as stated, but figuratively, the speaker may be pointing out that he is restless and cannot calm himself, and his lack of destination might point to his inability to move forward in his life. If the other man's song draws him, perhaps he speaks as a musician who is struggling to create his own music.
It is even suggested that the speaker is calling on his "muse," and that while he believes he has not been successful in creating something special, the very fact that he is singing this song makes the observation of the singer ironic.
I don't feel that the songwriter's tone is optimistic. He is wanting. In the following lines, he sounds abandoned:
Though I know that evenin's empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street's too dead for dreaming.
The speaker is also lacking direction: in the morning, he says he will following the tambourine player, inferring that he has nothing better to do, or that following this man is something he believes will be good for him. In this last suggestion (and it has been suggested by some critics), the tambourine man may be referring to Christ, and the allusion would be to men leaving what they knew to follow Him.
Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you.
The speaker notes that his present life does not inspire him, but leaves him feeling numb—leaving the reader with a reaction of sadness:
My senses have been stripped, my hands can't feel to grip
My toes too numb to step, wait only for my boot heels
To be wanderin'...
The next segment seems to find the "narrator" calling himself a clown and a shadow: one who follows the music but should not be taken seriously—this also provides a melancholy feeling in the reader.
...it's just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn't pay it any mind, it's just a shadow you're
Seein' that he's chasing.
Finally, the narrator wants only to dance and forget whatever is a concern, burying it beneath the sand until he must face it tomorrow on a new day:
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.
The lyrics of the song are not uplifting, however, they seem in stark contrast to the tone when the words are being sung, by Bob Dylan (the writer of the song). His voice does not carry a sense of sadness at all. It might be difficult to find any sense of low spirits in the singing of the song, in that the musical accompaniment is also very upbeat—which downplays the possible sense of melancholy in the song's lyrics.
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