I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine is the second song to appear here from Dylan’s underrated 1967 record John Wesley Harding. It has been covered by many artists, including Joan Baez on her all-Dylan album Any Day Now, as well as Eric Clapton. Jimi Hendrix at one point intended to cover this song, but felt it was too personal to Dylan and instead covered a different song from the album, All Along the Watchtower which was reviewed here Sep 2019. The pensive tone of John Wesley Harding and today’s featured song was such a departure from Dylan’s punk-rocker ’66 phase. The album uses spare, unobtrusive musical accompaniment and reflective delivery.
I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive as you or me
Tearing through these quarters
In the utmost misery
With a blanket underneath his arm
And a coat of solid gold
Searching for the very souls
Whom already have been sold
“Arise, arise,” he cried so loud
With a voice without restraint
“Come out, ye gifted kings and queens
And hear my sad complaint
No martyr is among ye now
Whom you can call your own
But go on your way accordingly
But know you’re not alone”
It took me some time to appreciate the John Wesley Harding record. Like a lot of Dylan’s music, it can be an acquired taste. I really enjoy the soft-rollicking acoustics of I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine. The following is mainly taken from the Wikipedia article below:
The opening couplet of the song paraphrases the song Joe Hill, which begins with the lines “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night“. Joe Hill was a folk song written as a tribute to the union organizer Joe Hill, who was viewed by supporters as a martyr after he was convicted of a motiveless murder based on weak evidence. The reference is ironic, since the song seems to deny the existence of modern martyrs to lead humanity towards salvation.
The St. Augustine in the title has often been linked to St. Augustine of Hippo, although St. Augustine of Hippo was not martyred, but died shortly before the Vandal sack of Hippo. He was, however, a philosopher who wrote about evil and guilt, he defined the concept of original sin and therefore mankind’s ultimate guilt and could have viewed himself as being martyred in the sense of being killed by his own sins.
1. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine – wikipedia