Elaine Bougie Gilligan

“The World is Old” - Bob Dylan                                     




When I was 18, I had a wild hippie boyfriend who studied Bob Dylan's song lyrics as religiously as an evangelical studying the bible. (Possibly more religiously.) For years thereafter, I was perhaps overcautious about hero worship and Robert Allen Zimmerman: I didn't want to go to that loopy place I had seen him go, trying to catch crumbs from The Genius.


With my man of these past two decades, however, I've had a gentler, easier time of it with the Dylan thing. He has collected lots of Dylan movies and music over the years–I had a little of my own. The breadth and quality of the work has made me a bigger fan than ever before. When the media started playing up Dylan's recent 70th birthday, I wanted to mark the milestone Robert Zimmerman and my generation just reached. Really, we must all step up together and say we are not now "Forever Young", that thing my generation has always worked pretty hard at being.

I remember a wary-looking Dylan at the Oscars in 2000, accepting Best Song statuette for his tune from The Wonder Boys, Things Have Changed. It's not a bad Dylan offering. But having caught only the closing credits of the 2003 Civil War picture, Gods and Generals, I think a more remarkable Dylan soundtrack contribution is the song, 'Cross the Green Mountain, song player below.


Those who don't get Dylan often fault him for not having a pretty voice. This is beside the point, as he's made a plain voice an extraordinarily expressive one. As in many Dylan story songs, the lyrics and the delivery make us feel he's singing about himself. In every part of his half-century in the biz, this artist has taken us where he is going, singing every character to life with enough of himself to make it real and usually, really interesting.

What's different about Bob Dylan of 2003 compared to 1963 is, well, maturity. In '63 we get "It ain't me babe, no, no, no." An angry young fallen-out-of-love man. In 2003 we get, "We loved each other more than…We ever dared to tell." And even though he's probably just written it to script, we may feel we've arrived somewhere he intended at the end of his song, a detached and accepting place. Dressed in civil war uniform, this is a celebration of growing older and gaining wisdom.
?The World is Old.@ …but that's okay… ?I'm lifted away, in an ancient light, that is not of day.@ Perhaps after all these years, like my old boyfriend, I'm sifting for spiritual crumbs from Bobby.


Full lyrics below.

‘Cross The Green Mountain
Words and music Bob Dylan
Written for the soundtrack of the film Gods And Generals (2003),
released on Tell Tale Signs (2008)


I cross the green mountain

I slept by the stream

Heaven blazing in my head

I, I dreamt a monstrous dream


Something came up

Out of the sea

Swept through the land of

The rich and the free


I look into the eyes

Of my merciful friend

And then I ask myself

Is this the end?


Memories linger

Sad yet sweet

And I think of the souls

In heaven who we'll meet


Altars are burning

With flames far and wide

The fool has crossed over

From the other side


They tip their caps

From the top of the hill

You can feel them come

More brave blood do spill


Along the dim

Atlantic line

The ravaged land

Lasts for miles behind


The light’s coming forward

And the streets are broad

All must yield

To the avenging God


The world is old

The world is gray

Lessons of life

Can't be learned in a day


I watch and I wait

And I listen while I stand

To the music that comes

From a far better land


Close the eyes of our captain

Peace may he know

His long night is done

The great leader is laid low


He was ready to fall

He was quick to defend

Killed outright he was

By his own men


It's the last day's last hour

Of the last happy year

I feel that the unknown

World is so near


Pride will vanish

And glory will rot

But virtue lives

And cannot be forgot


The bells

Of evening have rung

There's blasphemy

On every tongue


Let them say that I walked

In fair nature's light

And that I was loyal

To truth and to right


Serve God and be cheerful

Look upward beyond

Beyond the darkness that masks

The surprises of dawn


In the deep green grasses

And the blood-stained woods

They never dreamed of surrendering

They fell where they stood


Stars fell over Alabama

I saw each star

You're walking in dreams

Whoever you are


Chilled are the skies

Keen is the frost

The ground's froze hard

And the morning is lost


A letter to mother

Came today

Gunshot wound to the breast

Is what it did say


But he'll be better soon

He's in a hospital bed

But he'll never be better

He's already dead


I'm ten miles outside the city

And I'm lifted away

In an ancient light

That is not of day


They were calm, they were blunt

We knew them all too well

We loved each other more than

We ever dared to tell


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