Every Grain of Sand (1981) – Bob Dylan

I familiarised myself with Every Grain of Sand after hearing it on 1991’s The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991 (version below) featuring Jennifer Warnes on backing vocal. I was in complete awe of it when I first heard it and I still am to this day. It evokes allusions to Jesus, Judaism, Faith and Spirituality. The commercial, but weaker version (in my opinion) was released on Dylan’s Christian record Shot of Love. Every Grain of Sand by Bob Dylan contains some of the best lyrics I have heard in any song;

In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There’s a dying voice within me reaching out somewhere
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair

Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake
Like Cain, I behold this chain of events that I must break
In the fury of the moment, I can see the master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

The song was well known for its haunting imagery, which has been compared to that of William Blake. Although it is filled with numerous Biblical references, it may also have been partly inspired by the following lines from William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

Every Grain of Sand” is “perhaps his most sublime work to date“, wrote Clinton Heylin, “the summation of a number of attempts to express what the promise of redemption meant to him personally“.
This is a difficult song to write about since I have written so much about Dylan and it’s better to let this song rest with the listener. It’s a spiritual epiphany of sorts and will affect people in different ways. What can you say about this song that expands on his lyrics? Almost zero..

Every Grain of Sand – Wikpedia

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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18 comments on “Every Grain of Sand (1981) – Bob Dylan
  1. A beautiful song, and I like the sounds of a dog barking in the background.

  2. badfinger20 (Max) says:

    Great post Matt. You post Dylan songs very well. I’m terrible at it…everytime I post one I feel I need to have an interpretation of it…and I don’t do that well. I have one coming up soon…

    • Hi Max. Thanks very much for your kind words. Regarding interpreting his songs, I sometimes prefer to let the Dylanologists do the talking like Heylin in this article. Sometimes I’ll have a crack lol I look forward to reading your upcoming article. Cheers Max

      • badfinger20 (Max) says:

        Thanks Matt…yes the songs mean so many different things to different people. That is what makes his songs so appealing. He keeps it vague enough to keep you guessing on some songs.

      • I don’t know if they still do, but they ran actual Uni courses in the US dissecting Dylan’s lyrics. I like your observation about their general appeal due to their broad and varied meanings. I think with ‘Every Grain of Sand’, Heylin hit the nail on the head – that it was about Bob’s recognition of redemption. I couldn’t agree more with his analysis of it.

      • badfinger20 (Max) says:

        I would agree with that one…
        Some like It’s Alright Ma…is probably about many things.
        I have heard of Dylan classes yes…and Beatle classes.
        Bailey is taking a Basebal class next semester…where was this when I was going?

      • A baseball class at Uni? That’s cool. How did Bailey go in Germany?

      • badfinger20 (Max) says:

        Yes…the guy giving it is or was the radio announcer for the Washington Nationals.
        He comes back home on Friday. He loves it…exploring historical places over in Berlin.

      • Oh nice. I bid him safe travels.

  3. You cited one of my favourite Willian Blake quotations, Matthew! – I know him pretty well including “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience”. My favourite poem by Blake is “The Book of Thel”. Loved the Dylan connection you made.

  4. I agree that the Bootleg Vol 3 version is superior and it’s a great song.

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