Besides Love in Vain Dylan has written many more love songs – some may sound bitter, others wise. I count Love Minus Zero / No Limit to the latter category, abstracting from the trials and tribulations of relationships between humans, and pointing to a higher level, where love is limitless, including everything and everyone, and not excluding anything.
The song was first released in 1965 on the album Bringing It All Back Home, titled Subterranean Homesick Blues in Europe.
The lyrics remind me of the spiritual teacher Krishnamurti, who did not want to be a Guru, and animated his listeners to let go of all earthly bonds to get free.
Love requires neither ideals nor violence; she is faithful without having to talk about it, she is incorruptible and doesn’t need presents.
My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire
People carry roses
And make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her
In an inner state of this type of love, there is no more room for worries, speculations, and the rational mind keeps silent. It can only be found in the present moment, so it doesn’t care too much about an unknown future …
In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk of situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall
Some speak of the future
My love she speaks softly
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all
The third verse: Horsemen and pawns
I find the third verse more lyrical:
The cloak and dagger dangles
Madams light the candles
In ceremonies of the horsemen
Even the pawn must hold a grudge
What to make of horsemen and pawns? A spiritual key to this imagery could be to see it all happening within one person. There are higher and lower aspects in humans, noble traits and mean traits, like Smeagol and Gollum in the movie Lord of the Rings. It does not work to pretend to be all noble, or to suppress one’s dark sides. So the worldly personality (the pawn) can only retreat calmly and leave room for the high energy of pure, unearthly love. Only the divine-spark-within (the horseman) is worthy of this love.
Everything that can be achieved by human ability will perish sooner or later. The higher aspect of love sees through the ups and downs of life and does not lose itself to hope and despair. She does not take sides.
Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks, she does not bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge
Why is love’s wing broken?
The song does not exactly provide a happy ending:
The bridge at midnight trembles
The country doctor rambles
Bankers’ nieces seek perfection
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring
The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows rainy
My love she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing
Why does Dylan liken this pure love to a raven with a broken wing? Maybe a hint that this level of love is not meant to be realized (“exploited” would be a harsher term) in a world of opposites. The high-flying hopes of “bankers’ nieces” will not be fulfilled the way they want. The energy that this love brings about can only nourish the spirit-soul.
Those who appreciate a reference to the bible may look at 1 Corinthians 13.
Artists who recorded cover versions include Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, and many more.