I've become interested in Bob Dylan's song "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", which I find perplexing and hard to make sense of. Looking at the lyrics, it seems that there is quite a bit of ambiguity as to how the song should be interpreted. Here's the first verse:
Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall
From reading the lyrics I can't figure out if the song is meant to be sad or uplifting. On one hand, a lot of the imagery connotes death and misery, such as "a dozen dead ocean" and "seven sad forests". And end end of a verse--"a hard rain's a-gonna fall"--seems ominous, almost like a warning of a coming storm. However, the song also seems to be about the reunification of a parent and his son: the parent is asking where the son was, and the son responds with a description of his travels.
The final verse adds to this ambiguity. The son informs the parent that they are leaving again ("Oh, what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son? / Oh, what'll you do now, my darling young one? / I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin'"). This could be considered as sad--they are departing--but also a good thing--the son is continuing with his travels. In addition, the son informs that they expect to drown in the rising water--sad--but that they know their song and will sing it as they drown--defiant, inspiring, and perhaps an uplifting conclusion.
Dylan's performances of the song only add to this ambiguity. In one of his latest renditions of the song, he is accompanied by an orchestra, and the music is similar to an inspiring, uplifting soundtrack that would be played at the end of a movie. In another version from 1963, Dylan is accompanied by only an acoustic guitar, and his voice has the characteristic mournful quality that I associate with his music. And in a third version from his 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue, the song sounds like a bar song: mournful but funny and entertaining at the same time.
So my question is: is the song supposed to be mournful or uplifting? What accounts for the range of interpretations of the song, both from a close reading of the lyrics, and from the various ways that Dylan has performed the song throughout his career.