Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died

from Bob Dylan – Tangled Up In Blue Lyrics on Rap Genius

Meaning

This is a pretty bizarre line—the rest of the song is pretty definitely 20th-century, but it’s hard to make the slave trading fit into that context. Some people have interpreted this as a reference to the life of Rimbaud, who is supposed, apocryphally, to have gotten involved in the slave trade. Rimbaud is referenced more directly elsewhere on the album, and Dylan articulates the importance of Rimbaud’s shady-african-trading period to him in a Playboy interview where he says:

“ [I have] Not really written yet anything to make me stop writing. Like, I haven’t come to the place that Rimbaud came to when he decided to stop writing and run guns in Africa.”

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