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There Is No Success Like Failure Essay



APPEARS ONBringing It All Back Home (1965); At Budokan (1979); The Concert For Bangla Desh (2005, DVD only)

I've been pondering the meaning of this song for more than thirty years. LMZ/NL is one of my favorite Dylan songs (and therefore one of my favorite songs), although a precise interpretation has long eluded me. But, writing about a song uncovers meaning. Even the act of copying lyrics has an effect: I grasp much more from typing them instead of cutting and pasting.

For example, the meaning of this aphorism closing the second verse--

She knows there's no success like failure,
And that failure's no success at all
--perplexed me. Was Dylan being deliberately enigmatic, laughing up his sleeve as fans sought a profundity where none existed? Then I wrote it down and Dylan's point suddenly became clear: Since we learn more from our failures, they are more important than our successes ("there's no success like failure"). Thus, failure is nothing like success ("no success at all"). Dylan sets up the lyric nicely with an account of banal conversations and speculations irrelevant to what actually happens.

Dylan often deals in punch lines. LMZ/NL typifies this propensity, where the imagery of each verse sets up a clearly stated conclusion. Thus in the first verse, love's elemental nature renders mere store-bought valentines as an inadequate expression. In the surreal third verse, iconic figures ("madams," "horsemen," "pawns," and crumbling "statues") intermingle and destroy each other while love watches bemused ("My love winks"), not judging because it's all small stuff anyway.

In the climactic fourth verse, the banker's nieces' ideal of "perfection" (the "gifts of wise men") echoes the Nativity story. Compared to love, though, religion is a relatively earthly matter subject to corruption (hence the financial imagery). Love in all its forms -- romantic, platonic, brotherly -- is Dylan's higher power. We can see this by the way he invokes love's strength in the face of everything from the quotidian ("dime stores and bus stations") to the mystical ("ceremonies of the horsemen").

All which leads to the doozy of the finale:

The wind howls like a hammer,

The night blows cold and rainy,

My love she's like some raven,

At my window with a broken wing.

The power of love notwithstanding, human indifference can break it. The elements suddenly turn dangerous, reducing love to a futile exercise of battering at the window separating it from an unresponsive lover. And so, love can in the end fall victim to the banalities of human nature. Which is why we must strive to be "true, like ice, like fire" lest we lose love's great capacity to heal, bind, and reveal.


My love she speaks like silence,

Without ideals or violence,

She doesn't have to say she's faithful,

Yet she's true, like ice, like fire.

People carry roses,

Make promises by the hour,

My love she laughs like the flowers,

Valentines can't buy her.

In dime stores and bus stations,

People talk of situations,

Read books, repeat quotations,

Draw conclusions on the wall.

Some speak of the future,

My love she speaks softly,

She knows there's no success like failure,

And that failure's no success at all.

The cloak and dagger dangles,

Madams light the candles,

In ceremonies of the horsemen,

Even the pawn must hold a grudge.

Statues made of match sticks,

Crumble into one another,

My love winks, she does not bother,

She knows too much to argue or to judge.

The bridge at midnight trembles,

The country doctor rambles,

Banker's nieces seek perfection,

Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring.

The wind howls like a hammer,

The night blows cold and rainy,

My love she's like some raven,

At my window with a broken wing.

Newport, 1965:

From the Concert for Bangla Desh, with George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and Leon Russell:

A gorgeous version from 1994:

Have you ever heard the quote, “We learn from failure, not from success,” by Bram Stoker? I want you to read this quote a few times and think about its meaning for a second.

You may have heard that taking massive action is what gets results for people, but you still have trouble doing what must be done to progress towards your goals.

I’m willing to bet that if you have this problem, it is because you are worried about failing. This, of course, is understandable, especially when it comes to things like entrepreneurship.



You may be worried about what people will think or say about you if you fail, what kind of financial situation that would put you in, whether or not your self confidence would take a big hit, etc.

But, guess what, no one ever succeeds at everything on the first try. Failure is apart of life, as well as success. There is no success without failure.

You’ve probably seen this picture before that really illustrates what success is like:

It really illustrates it perfectly. You may be thinking that success is a straight line that is easy and perfect as soon as you get all the knowledge you need to take action.

You may think that if you just spend years preparing or learning about something before trying it, that you will succeed perfectly on the very first try. But, that isn’t how it works.

Trust me, I know first hand what it is like to think success will come easier for me than it did for others. I learned the hard way, just like countless other entrepreneurs that this isn’t the case.


Success Is Like A Checklist

You have to go through this checklist through process of elimination to figure out what will work the best for you.

This is just like how Thomas Edison tried 10,000 different ways to make a lightbulb and failed every time until he finally got it right.

The longer you wait to start crossing off things that don’t work, the longer it will take to see your goals and dreams be fulfilled. But, don’t get me wrong, education is extremely important to this.

By educating yourself on a daily basis, whether you are reading related books, listening to audio lessons, watching how-to videos, etc., you will be able to eliminate certain things without trying them.

If you are doing something that has never been done before, like Thomas Edison did, you won’t find too much education on what works or what doesn’t.

But, for most goals, you will reach them faster by not fearing failure and instead welcoming it as a learning experience that gets you closer to your desired end result.


“We Learn From Failure, Not From Success”

This quote by Bram Stoker really just means we need to not focus on eliminating failure from our lives (which is impossible), but focus on looking at it differently as a learning experience or just another bit of knowledge needed to reach success.

To get the best results and reach your goals, my best work has come from gaining a little knowledge everyday on the subjects I’m looking to succeed in and taking action on every theory or concept that could potentially work.

Fearing failure is not an option if you want to succeed my friend. You need to learn from your and others’ failures to correct course along the way.

Stop seeing failure as a negative outcome, and start trying to see it as a positive piece of education you have gained, allowing you to eliminate another option on your checklist, like Edison did as he progressed towards changing the world.

What does the quote, “We learn from failure, not from success” mean to you?


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Justin Bryant

I'm an entrepreneur, fitness freak, artist, car enthusiast, sports fan and self improvement addict. My goal is to help people be their best and create incredible businesses that change the world.

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