“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”

Hattie Carroll was a maid in the kitchen
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger…

The tempered, almost lawyerly voice that recounts Carroll’s history; the unforced off-rhymes that would look at home in a Dickinson poem; the unconventional, doom-laden repetition of the same word at the end of three consecutive lines; the surprising appearance in a 1963 song of the phrase “a whole other level”, here given a slight mystical nudge even as it’s yoked to the image of some dirty ashtrays; the harmonious coexistence of assonance, internal rhyme, alliteration, and Biblical echo all in the single line “Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane”; the way all of this builds to a description of the murder that’s journalistically precise yet, when heard sung, comes at you in sections like Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase; and finally, all of this taken together yet never detracting from the obscenity of the actual deed…Even for a young Dylan it’s impressive.

Hattie Carroll headline -- Free to Share and Use via MS Edge -- 4-4-16

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