The song is founded on a conviction that the movement for social change isunstoppable, that history will conform to morality. In its second verse, Dylan issues a brash, enduring challenge to the punditocracy: “Come writers and critics/ Who prophesizewith your pen/ And keep your eyes wide/ The chance won’t come again/ And don’t speak too soon/ For the wheel’s still in spin.”
It was the unexpected achievements of the civilrights movement, a grass-roots upsurge which transformed the American political landscape, that made this challenge and the song as a whole possible and even plausible. But it wasDylan’s genius to articulate the universal spirit animating the specific historical moment.
The protest songs that made Dylan famous and with which he continues to be associatedwere written in a brief period of some 20 months – from January 1962 to November 1963. Influenced by American radical traditions and above all by the civil rights and ban thebomb movements, he engaged in his songs with the terror of the nuclear arms race, with poverty, racism and prison, and war.
This creative firestorm gave us ‘Let Me Die in MyFootsteps’, ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’(which was written during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962), ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game’ (that he sang on the 28 August1963 after the Walk in Washington with 200 000 people and after Luther King’s speech). As for as ‘Masters of War’ (taking on the military-industrial complex, with lyrics such as“and I hope that you die), and the magnificent ‘Hattie Carroll’, a clear-eyed account of a single injustice that becomes an indictment of a system and its liberal defenders.