Songs as Sanctuary: Michael Delp on Bob Dylan’s “Ain’t Talkin”


Once, decades ago, Dylan went nuts, jumped from one universe into another and called himself a  Christian. Get this: I believe Bob is a prophet, and for proof, all you have to do is ask yourself what kind of mind writes as if he is channeling a Ouija voice, and is dipping his pen in an electrified ink well? He moves so easily between mysticism and sarcasm, dancing the edge of irony. But, Bob lost me for a time, back then, his voice gone gospel and soupy. I was lost without him, and then he turned and started all over. Reinvention, his trickster SOP, sucked me back in to the lovely black hole of a barbed wire voice churning down a back road headed for salvation. My song, of late, that closes the door and makes me brood with a glass of rum and God’s heart thumping out of the headphones:


As I walked out tonight in the mystic garden
The wounded flowers were dangling from the vines
I was passing by yon cool and crystal fountain
Someone hit me from behind

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Through this weary world of woe
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
No one on earth would ever know

They say prayer has the power to help
So pray from the mother
In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell
I’m trying to love my neighbor and do good unto others
But oh, mother, things ain’t going well

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
I’ll burn that bridge before you can cross
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
They’ll be no mercy for you once you’ve lost

Now I’m all worn down by weepin’
My eyes are filled with tears, my lips are dry
If I catch my opponents ever sleepin’
I’ll just slaughter them where they lie

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Through the world mysterious and vague
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
Walking through the cities of the plague

The whole world is filled with speculation
The whole wide world which people say is round
They will tear your mind away from contemplation
They will jump on your misfortune when you’re down

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Eatin’ hog-eyed grease in hog-eyed town
Heart burnin’ – still yearnin’
Someday you’ll be glad to have me around

They will crush you with wealth and power
Every waking moment you could crack
I’ll make the most of one last extra hour
I’ll avenge my father’s death then I’ll step back

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Hand me down my walkin’ cane
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
Got to get you out of my miserable brain

All my loyal and much-loved companions
They approve of me and share my code
I practice a faith that’s been long abandoned
Ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
My mule is sick, my horse is blind
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
Thinkin’ ‘bout that gal I left behind

It’s bright in the heavens and the wheels are flying
Fame and honor never seem to fade
The fire’s gone out but the light is never dying
Who says I can’t get heavenly aid?

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Carrying a dead man’s shield
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
Walkin’ with a toothache in my heel

The suffering is unending
Every nook and cranny has it’s tears
I’m not playing, I’m not pretending
I’m not nursing any superfluous fears

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Walkin’ ever since the other night
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
Walkin’ ‘til I’m clean out of sight

As I walked out in the mystic garden
On a hot summer day, hot summer lawn
Excuse me, ma’am I beg your pardon
There’s no one here, the gardener is gone

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Up the road around the bend
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
In the last outback, at the world’s end

It’s old Bob, wandering a lonesome road practicing a “faith that’s been long abandoned.” That voice cutting jagged edges through my own darkness. I imagine this is what Aramaic would sound like spoken in  a haunted garden, one guitar and a keyboard. Jesus sitting on a stone, the Holy Ghost   circling the heavy air, God in the wind. No altar. Only a moment that lasts and lasts almost in a vacuum,  the mystical come down to the ground and singing.

Michael Delp is a poet and a river demigod who enjoys catching old episodes of Fulton Sheen’s Life is Worth Living on the radio in the wilds of Northern Michigan. His most recent book is Lying in the River’s Dark Bed. 

Read more of Michael Delp for Sick Pilgrim at

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