A deep sense of regret
Tony Attwood struggled with this song in his commentary on his illuminating and highly recommended website bob-dylan.org.co.uk and Len hit the nail on the head with his comment of November 20, 2016. It's about an ugly divorce.
When I first heard the song I was still happily married to a woman well endowed and the lyrics almost immediately inspired me to paint three large canvasses with images from the song: The pale white horse, the angel with four faces and the woman well endowed.
The paintings are now in another country, gathering dust underneath my ex wife's bed that she shares with a stranger. I wish her a long and happy life and him an erectile dysfunction 'till the end of his days.
I guess Dylan was in a similar mood when he wrote “Angelina”. Dylan can bite and kick, charm and seduce in his love songs and then say truly terrible things such as “you just kind of wasted my precious time”. He can bear a grudge for a long time, just as he can pine for his lost lover for almost forever.
So this is Dylan, sitting on a bench, looking back, talkin' to himself.
Let me first admit that I took chances, maybe I didn't treat you right, cheated on you even. But what did you expect of your song and dance man, always on tour with his band, his concertina?
I've been traveling, performing from shore to shore, standing in the spotlight, my hair looking like it's on fire. Ah, it's been a long time and in my mind I am knocking on your door. What shall I say? Will you still know me, Angelina?
I am seeing myself, my eyes are like slits, but I have a powerful face that painters would want to paint. (and the rest of the crowd would want to film or photograph).
I am good looking and your body was well endowed. But your true nature was in your head. The head of a scavenger, a hyena.
If I knock on your door, what will I say? “Okay, I've been wrong, I've made mistakes, you want me to turn the other cheek?” “You know it all, why must I explain? And no, I cannot change, I know nothing about the man you want me to be, Angelina.”
There is no point in going back. Things were well once, when we lived in the land of milk and honey, a long time ago, almost as as in Biblical times when giants roamed the earth and the milk and honey flowed, but it all came to an epic end. Everything exploded. I couldn't help it, you wanted the divorce, the subpoena.
You are no longer my wife, you cease to exist and who do you think is to blame? I did the best I could, but the game is over and you know why? I am both the best and the worst, good and bad, loyal and falsehearted, both husband and artist. I cannot play this game, Angelina.
I remember the divorce lawyers arriving in their black Mercedes, the scene turned ugly, a combat zone. But, boy, was I ready. I was going to slay them, they were already half dead, and you, my lady, were down to the bone. I planned to hunt them to the ends of the earth and overthrow them. Very generously I let them choose the place of their demise. It could be anywhere, Mexico or Tibet, Jerusalem or Argentina.
Now I'm thinking how it all could go so wrong. We married young, of course, she was only a child when I stole her from her mother, and now she's got her revenge, but had to sell all of her possessions. And look at me, standing tall with God on my side and four angels around me. You cannot see me, you're stumbling in the dark, Angelina.
So I have won the battle, but I can also sense the apocalypse, the end of time. One last attempt to reconcile what cannot be reconciled: “Tell me what you want and you'll have it of course.” Come out and discuss it. In the arena.
But it's too late, she won't come out, so everything is lost. It's now truly over and full of regret I retreat, up the spiral staircase into unknown territory, I see trees of smoke and angels with four faces and I must find a place to weep and beg for mercy.