Great observation, telltale. This song is like a hymn. I'll never forget the first time I heard it. I can remember the smallest details about what I was doing because it made such an impact.
A little bit from Countdown Kid's Blog. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands was the #1 song in his countdown.
The narrator makes his point by piling up the praise, both of her beauty (“your saintlike face”) and her nature (“your gentleness now that you just can’t help but show.”) But he also is in awe of the way she overcomes the hordes of marauders that wish to extinguish her inner light. That’s why he keeps asking those questions, the “Who among them” questions, because he knows what the answer is: None of them can carry, bury, persuade, employ, or destroy her. That is the ultimate commendation he can give.
And so the narrator decides to try his hand, having proven that he’s not like the other guys. He goes to the Lowlands himself, but doesn’t storm her gate, an action which would have just put him in the same class as all the rabble he just described. With only his humble offerings in tow (“My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,”) he leaves it up to her: “Should I leave them by your gate/Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?”
I always conjure up a mental image of Dylan at this point in the song, standing outside in the wind and the rain, blowing on his harmonica with impassioned gusto, staring up at her silhouette in the window, awaiting her reply. As a matter of fact, that’s kind of how I picture him in general, forever walking that lonely road, living that half-romantic, half-tragic life, allowing us to experience all of the wonder and woe of this unforgiving world through him. I know he rolls out of bed like everybody else, but a small part of me wants to believe he’ll always be in front of those gates, fighting the honorable fight for the rest of us.