John Brown went off to war to fight on a foreign shore
His mama sure was proud of him!
He stood straight and tall in his uniform and all
His mama’s face broke out all in a grin
Bob Dylan begins off by saying that John set out to fight on a foreign shore and his mother was very proud of her son as she thought taking part in the war was of glorious essence. John stood straight and proud in his uniform and his mother couldn’t help but smile.
“Oh son, you look so fine, I’m glad you’re a son of mine
You make me proud to know you hold a gun
Do what the captain says, lots of medals you will get
And we’ll put them on the wall when you come home”
She exclaimed to her son that he looked fine and she was glad to have given birth to him. Her blatant glorification of war is evident in the statement that he made her proud by holding a gun which she considered to be a virtue. She advises him to listen and do whatever the captain tells him to do and he would surely win a lot of medals and then they would the medals on the wall when he would return from the war.
As that old train pulled out, John’s ma began to shout
Tellin’ ev’ryone in the neighborhood:
“That’s my son that’s about to go, he’s a soldier now, you know”
She made well sure her neighbors understood
As the train began to leave, John’s mother began to shout proudly, telling everyone in the neighborhood that it was her son that was about to go in the train and the fact that he was now a soldier. She made the declaration emphatically so as to ensure everyone truly understood the importance of her son being a soldier. The mindless glorification of going into battle is foolhardy which is subtly implied by Bob Dylan.
She got a letter once in a while and her face broke into a smile
As she showed them to the people from next door
And she bragged about her son with his uniform and gun
And these things you called a good old-fashioned war
She got a letter once in a while and that used to make her smile. She used to go about bragging about her son in the soldier’s uniform.
Oh! Good old-fashioned war!
Then the letters ceased to come, for a long time they did not come
They ceased to come for about ten months or more
Then a letter finally came saying, “Go down and meet the train
Your son’s a-coming home from the war”
Then the true picture of war is shown when the letters from John ceases to arrive for a long time. They had stopped coming for more than ten months and then finally one day a letter came telling her to go down to the train station for her son was coming back home from the war.
She smiled and went right down, she looked everywhere around
But she could not see her soldier son in sight
But as all the people passed, she saw her son at last
When she did she could hardly believe her eyes
She smiled and went to the station and looked everywhere but she couldn’t see her son anywhere and finally after all the people had passed she saw her son at last and she could hardly believe her eyes.
Oh his face was all shot up and his hand was all blown off
And he wore a metal brace around his waist
He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know
While she couldn’t even recognize his face!
John Brown was a picture of pity and his face was all messed up and his hand been blown off and he wore a metal brace around his waist. He whispered slowly in a voice that her mother had never heard before and she couldn’t recognize his face.
Oh! Lord! Not even recognize his face
“Oh tell me, my darling son, pray tell me what they done
How is it you come to be this way?”
He tried his best to talk but his mouth could hardly move
And the mother had to turn her face away
Her mother cried and asked her son to tell her how he came to be in such a horrible condition. However John Brown tried his best yet he could barely speak and his mother turned her face away unable to bear the condition of her son.
“Don’t you remember, Ma, when I went off to war
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
I was on the battleground, you were home . . . acting proud
You wasn’t there standing in my shoes”
John Brown breaks his mother’s perception of war by stating the obvious. He mocks her by stating that she had thought that his going to war was the best thing he could do. He fought in the battlefield while she was home feeling proud. Yet she didn’t know what he was going through for she wasn’t standing in his shoes.
“Oh, and I thought when I was there, God, what am I doing here?
I’m a-tryin’ to kill somebody or die tryin’
But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
And I saw that his face looked just like mine”
John Brown tells her that he wondered as to why he had gone to the battlefield while he was in the midst of the battle. He knew that he had to kill or be killed and the thing that scared him the most was the fact that his enemy looked just like him, human!
Oh! Lord! Just like mine!
“And I couldn’t help but think, through the thunder rolling and stink
That I was just a puppet in a play
And through the roar and smoke, this string is finally broke
And a cannonball blew my eyes away”
He knew through the mud and thunder that he was just a puppet amidst all of this. Then the inevitable happened when a cannonball was fired and he was physically handicapped.
As he turned away to walk, his Ma was still in shock
At seein’ the metal brace that helped him stand
But as he turned to go, he called his mother close
And he dropped his medals down into her hand
As he turned to walk away, his mother was in shock seeing the metal brace that was helping him stand. As he turned to go, he called his mother and put down the medals into her hand that she had once glorified not knowing the price one had to pay to earn them.