Written and sung by Bob Dylan. Released 1963. An acoustic rock song that’s sung quite casually and in a relaxed manner, a big contrast to the song’s visceral and intense imagery found within the lyrics.
The idea of a coming storm is the centerpiece of the song. “It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall” is repeated at the end of each stanza. It hints to a coming destruction or storm that would destroy everything mankind had built.
The theme of war, destruction and social disarray is prevalent throughout the entire song. “Dead oceans”, “Black branch with blood”, “Guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children” are examples of this. A spiritual and religious tone can also be seen from the type of vocabulary Bob Dylan uses. “Misty mountains“, “Sad forests” and “Dead oceans” are references to volcanoes, deforestation and global warming. It seems Bob Dylan attributes all these growing problems to the foolish actions mankind has taken. The aforementioned “hard rain” he keeps referring to may be mankind’s downfall or if interpreted from a religious viewpoint, Judgement Day.
The song seems political in nature as well, acting as a social commentary to which Bob Dylan uses to voice his thoughts on the political backdrop during the time of the song’s release, a time of prevalent racial issues in the United States. “A white man who walked a black dog” is a clear metaphor to the mistreatment of African-Americans during that time period. “Guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children” is also a reference to child soldiers in Africa, which didn’t exist during the 60s, meaning it could be Bob Dylan’s prophesy, which has come true today.
Bob Dylan pulled inspiration from the 17th century ballad, Lord Randall. In the ballad a lord is having a conversation with his mother, and throughout the ballad it is slowly revealed that he has been poisoned by his lover. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall also somewhat follows the same story line, replacing the lover with humanity and the lord and mother with the protagonist and the “Blue-eyed Son”. The Blue-eyed son may be a reference to the next generation, who have to suffer for the mistakes of the previous one. The conversation between the protagonist and the “blue-eyed son” could be a reference to a conversation between God and Jesus. Which further adds weight to the song’s religious undertones.