Leave it to Bob Dylan to turn a simple farewell based on English folk song into a touching mediation on moving on. At first blush, the song appears to be a traditional about being forced to leave one’s love behind. But much like Boots of Spanish Leather, which Dylan penned around the same time, there is room for more complexity. In that canonical track, Dylan turned the classic farewell story on its head by writing an epistolary beginning before the departure occurs, and ending when it becomes clear that the distance has grown too great. In Farewell, the mournful goodbyes before the journey begin as expected, but it slowly becomes clear that the singer is not truly being forced to go. In fact, they are leaving despite obstacles that might stand in their way. That’s not to say that it isn’t a fraught goodbye, but the way that Dylan expresses the pain reveals what’s going on beneath the surface:
So it’s fare thee well my own true love/We’ll meet another day, another time It ain’t the leavin’ that’s a-grievin’ me/But my darlin’ who’s a bound to stay behind
The singer simply needs to leave, not because there is something wrong with his love, but because sometimes we all simply need to leave to find ourselves. Even though the “weather is against” him and he has no clear destination, even though there is a sadness in saying goodbye, it’s become necessary to go, to discover a new life. And with that necessity, the singer is resigned to the aching task of saying goodbye to his old life. It’s an elegant and heartfelt farewell: an apology, an appeal for goodwill and an expression of love all wrapped into one.