BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND–part 3 of a series

Teaching and Contrasting Cultures using “Dust in the Wind”, “Winds of Change” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”—Part 3

By Kevin A. Stoda, international educator in Taiwan

This is the third of 3 “wind”-themed songs, I used last month to help my junior high students to connect to American music and Western culture through listening, reading, and discussing about symbolism.
Part 1: Teaching and Contrasting Cultures using “Dust in the Wind”, “Winds of Change” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”

Part 2: Teaching and Contrasting Cultures using “Dust in the Wind”, “Winds of Change” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”

Part 3 focuses on the older song of the three, “Blowin’ in the Wind”.

Bob Dylan came to sing in Taiwan this past April.

A lot of adults were inspired to go see him play and sing, but I doubt whether most (or any) of the 7th and 8th grade students in my English Speaking-and-Listening class even knew who Dylan was or for what kind-of-music (genres) he was popular in during the 1960s, i.e. when the song “Blowin’ in the Wind”, was written. Bob Dylan’s lyrics have now been used in music and literature classes in public schools in America for generations—not only to impart literature but to help one generation share with another its collection of memories. Moreover, all viewers of 1990s pop culture can recall, too, how the “Dylan” texts were used in the film DANGEROUS MINDS to motivate under-achieving students. [1]

It is believed that “Blowin’ in the Wind” is Dylan’s most covered song of all time.

It was written in 1962 and became very popular only when Peter, Paul, and Mary made it into a protest classic a year later. It has been recorded by Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, ….you-name-it.

According to music lore, “Dylan wrote this [“Blowin’ in the Wind”] in about 10 minutes one afternoon. He put words to the melody of an old slave song called ‘No More Auction Block,’ which he might have learned from Carter family records. In the evening, Dylan took the song to the nightclub Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village, where he was due to play a set. Before playing it, he announced, “This here ain’t no protest song or anything like that, ’cause I don’t write no protest songs.’”

Naturally, Dylan was being somewhat ironic. However, I was interested in what my students of 7th and 8th graders would pick up or interpret.


The version of “Blowin’ in the Wind”, which I played for my students was an unnamed female vocalist in a collection of music for English language music created for Taiwanese schools. It was a pleasant voice for my students to listen to on the “Blowin’ in the Wind” cloze activity that we did. The students enjoyed the voice, which in some ways reminded me in tone like the version of Jenny’s in the movie, FORREST GUMP. [2]

After checking the answers on that fill-in-the-blank (or cloze) activity for “Blowin’ in the Wind”, I talked about the song with the class, and then had my students take time to reflect and write down their opinion as to the text’s meaning.

Meanwhile, I reminded them of the other two “wind” songs we had use during to prior weeks of class, namely “Dust in the Wind”, by Kansas and “Winds of Change” by the Scorpions. I asked them to look at the metaphor of wind and any other symbolism or metaphoric phrases in the text that stood out for them.

NOTE: Don’t forget that wind is one of the five basic elements in East Asian cosmologies. Moroever, as far as dreams go “wind” has the dualistic interpretation, which is common to Dylan’s classic. Namely, “To dream that the wind is blowing, symbolizes your life force, energy, and vigor. [a] It reflects changes in your life. Alternatively, the dream suggests that you need to speed up toward achieving your goals or solving some lingering problem. [b] To dream of strong or gusty winds, represents turmoil and trouble in your life. You are experiencing much stress in some waking situation.”

I asked each student to make at least 5 separate written comments to the right side of those written lyrics [the “Blowin’ in the Wind” lyrics covered only the left side of the paper—the right side was blank] . The students were asked to reveal their thoughts, impressions and feelings, i.e. about what the written text was passing on as messages to each of them.

I, myself, recall singing the lyrics of “Blowin’ in the Wind” around 1970-73 in my elementary school music classes. (Since the Anti-Vietnam War Movement was just then changing the tide in USA history, we non-minority America school kids, probably saw it as an anti-war song more than a civil rights movement tune, i.e. via our own personal histories.

In class, sang out (or belted out) in the Dylan lyrics:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before they call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
How many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

How many years must a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
How many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
How many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
How many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
How many deaths will it take ’til he knows
That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Since many of us (e.g. my elementary school classmates and their generation) were born and raised in the midst of the civil rights movement and especially amongst the infighting to end the Vietnam War. We interpreted the text and tone as a lamentation for justice and the need to keep struggling to end not just that one war—but to end all wars..

Meanwhile, in 2011 only a few Taiwanese students saw the text as written as a protest song. Most students focused primarily on “the tiredness” conveyed in the message.

“How many roads must a man walk down?”

Confucius stated millennia ago, “”A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

This long-term and somewhat optimistic approach to long-term effort by Confucius and generations of Chinese is somehow either lost in translation to English or is not fully incorporated as an optimistic thought (i.e. of eventually completing ones journey or the long term goal one is striving toward) in modern Chinese culture, especially in Taiwan.

In other words, most Taiwanese students responded to the question of “how many roads?” or “how many miles?” by falling back on interpreting the text of the song, “Blowin’ in the Wind” with a traditional stoic attitude towards life and struggle—one which they have been being taught to carry on throughout their lives—and which has been imparted to them constantly by family, school, society, economy, and culture. In their training of many of these students, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is not an optimistic one.

It is more a lament of a new and de-motivated military recruit, i.e. “I have thousand miles to go and I have only taken one step. Oh, Boy! I am going to be exhausted. Can I make it?”

The chorus in the Dylan song is “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind”. For many of the students they receive the refrain by saying that “the journey is long and these people have no place to rest their heads”.

“How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?”

My students think: “These poor doves!”

The Taiwanese majority sees simply a very tired soldier on a long march who has no time to see the stars:

“How many times must a man look up,
Before he can see the sky?”

In short, most of the class of Taiwanes students focused on the straining and stoic momentum expressed in the text. Well over the majority did not interpret it as a hopeful, marching, protest song.

In short, these students would concur with Bob Dylan himself, who had said, “”This here ain’t no protest song or anything like that….”

On the other hand, I do have to admit that a few of the students—interestingly most of them were males—did find that the song of Dylan’s conveyed a bit more hopefulness and a readiness to march on. However, this was a tiny minority


In the future, I think that I will try to get students to look online for their own favorite interpretation of a song, poem, or text. Here is, for example, one of the more popular interpretations of Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” currently online:

“This song, to me, is about how knowledge and enlightenment is right in front
of us but we cannot see it (just like the wind.)

‘how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?’ and
‘how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?’

are very clear anti-war messages and Dylan’s saying that people still don’t realize that war is pointless.

Additionally, the line about the mountain washing to the see shows that nothing lasts forever,[and] the line about people not being free shows that there is too much oppression in the world. He also talks about people turning their heads and pretending they do not see the trouble in the world. Dylan is saying that the answer to all these questions is right in front of us, yet we do not see it.”

Finally, according to ANSWERS.COM , Dylan probably always had two ways to read the song in mind when he wrote it back in 1962 (the year I was born).

“Answer: [3]
Bob Dylan doesn’t give much of a clue, but I would suggest two possibilities:
1. Nobody knows. I don’t mean that nobody knows what the phrase means, I mean that nobody knows the answers to the questions in the song, so there’s nothing we can do about any of it.
2. The answer is all around you, like the wind; breathe it in, and you become part of the answer. For example, you (and I, and all of us) get to determine “how many times the cannon balls fly before they’re forever banned.” The answer is there all around us, just like the wind, and it’s always been there. All we have to do is breathe it in.

Which of those answers you prefer? I guess it depends on your mood – cynical or idealistic. For me, given his strong feelings of making a change, I’d go for number 2.”

Me, too.

However, let your students dig in and decide on their own what they want to take from the Dylan classic–and all the other “wind”songs covered in this 3-part article.


[1] “Dangerous Minds (1995) is an American drama film based on the autobiography My Posse Don’t Do Homework by former U.S. Marine LouAnne Johnson, who took up a teaching position at Carlmont High School in Belmont, California, where most of her students were African-American and Hispanic teenagers from East Palo Alto, a then-unincorporated town at the opposite end of the school district.”

[2] “This song [“Blowin’ in the Wind”] is played in the movie Forrest Gump by the character Jenny. She’s in a strip club, performing as ‘Bobbi Dylan.’ She’s sitting on a stool naked playing guitar and singing, and when the drunk men start to get fresh Forrest tries to save her.”

I didn’t share this FORREST GUMP tale with my Taiwanese students but many of my university level classes for foreigners-learning-English have included watching the entire film FORREST GUMP in order to impart 4 decades of change and struggle in America to them in a relatively short period of time.

I have also used FORREST GUMP in my film classes (for enrichment courses) over the decades because the film uses so much significant music & lyrics that people of my generation take for granted but that younger generations would barely comprehend without a little bit of pop music education. Moreover, FORREST GUMP imparts so many cultural clues—which would likely go over a non-American’s head, i.e. if someone didn’t explicitly show other films and share the lyrics with the students
along our journey in class.

[3] Another eastern metaphor and interpretation for “wind” comes from the Buddhist word “Nirvana”, which literally means “blowing out”—as in blowing out ‘of the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion”. Nirvana is the central concept in Buddhism.

Richard Gombrich, Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benāres to Modern Colombo. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988, page 63: “Nibbāna means ‘blowing out.’ What must be blown out is the triple fire of greed, hatred, and ignorance.”

Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit is described like a powerful wind in the Bible (Acts 2:2).
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.”

However, Jesus, a Jew, used Jewish metaphors or parables to describe how people are to respond to “a wind”. For example, at the conclusion of one of Jesus’ stories was “that the oak, because of its refusal to compromise, could end upon losing its life in the storm, but the reed, though it might survive, could only do so by continual bending.”

According to MY ISLAMIC DREAM, there are many metaphors for wind in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

(a) Winds and storms — Normal blowing of wind without any sign of darkness heralds blessings and barakah as suggested by this verse of the Holy Quran: And it is he (Allah) who sends the winds life heralds of glad tidings, going before His mercy. But if such winds resemble storms, typhoon etc. they suggest grief, sorrow and perplexities as is known from the following verse of the Holy Quran : And in the people of Aad there was another sign when we sent against them a wind barren of any goodness.
(b) Wind — Wind or air, in Arabic, is almost an homonym for whim and the verb “to fall” (in a precipice). The interpretation of dreams involving air or wind is especially based on this consideration. Strong winds mean terror and havoc. The breeze is a good augury.
(c) Wind — (Blow; Changing course; Hurricane; Storm; Trap; Tornado; Wonder) In a dream, winds represent the person in authority or the leader. In that sense, winds in a dream represent the sphere of one’s control and his power to change things, or to maneuver people’s interests. Winds in a dream also may represent a leader, his army, commands and helpers. Wind was once one of the servants of Allah’s Prophet Solomon, upon whom be peace, as it moved under his command by Allah’s leave. A stormy wind in a dream may represent calamities, destruction, or plagues. A tornado in a dream means destruction or a calamity. On the other hand, wind in a dream may also mean pollination, good harvest, prosperity, victory, or success.
(d) Blowing — To blow into fire in a dream means kindling a conflict or exasperating and intensifying it. Blowing into the ground in a dream means unveiling a secret or reprimanding one who does not keep a secret.


About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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