A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

Meanings of “A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss”

This phrase, “a rolling stone gathers no moss” is one of the famous English proverbs. It is taken literally, and a rolling stone refers to a wanderer or traveler. Here, the moss is a symbol of patience, experience and persistence. It is a common perception about mosses that they only thrive on stones, walls, or trees as they stay stagnant for long.  Therefore, it means a person who does not settle at one place, or job might be unreliable.

Origin of “A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss”

This phrase has a Latin and Greek origin as Erasmus quoted its different versions in his book, Adagia published in 1508.  This book is based on the collection of Latin proverbs. This phrase was found in the third volume of this book.

In the English language, this phrase was used by John Heywood published A Dialogue containing the number in effect of all the proverbs in the English tongue in 1546. It has appeared: “The rollyng stone neuer gatherth mosse”.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Rollin’ Stone – written by Stan Wilson and sung by The Kingston Trio

“A rollin’ stone gathers no moss.
So, as far as I can see, I guess I was meant to be just a rollin’ stone.
A rollin’ stone gathers no moss.
A rollin’ stone hasn’t a boss.
Just like a Spring or a Summer’s breeze, I can roll just where I please.
I’m just a rollin’ stone.
Can’t lose my way, all directions are the same when I’m a-travelin’.
I’ve got no home, sweet home.
Just keep boppin’, never stoppin’, couldn’t even if I wanted to, I’ve got to roam and roll.
A rollin’ stone gathers no moss.
A rollin’ stone’s like that coin that you toss.
But I don’t need level ground. I can roll up hill or down.
I’m just a rollin’ stone.
When I’m travelin’, all directions are the same. A string unravelin’, I don’t think that I’m to blame.
Some might think my life’s a loss. A rollin’ stone never gets lost.
So, I’ll just keep playin’ it straight ’til I roll right through that gate.
I’m just a rollin’ stone.
A rollin’ stone.”

Rollin’ Stone is a popular song sung by a famous American musical band, The Kinston Trio. The singer compares himself to a rolling stone who does not settle anywhere. In the song, the phrase has been used as the title as well as a refrain. Its usage gives its true essence in the song as the poet compares himself directly with rolling stone and prefers to enjoy his life being a traveler. Therefore, it is an extended metaphor of the poet himself.

Example #2

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss by Harry Graham

“I never understood, I own,
What anybody (with a soul)
Could mean by offering a Stone
This needless warning not to Roll;
And what inducement there can be
To gather Moss I fail to see…

Of all the Stones I ever met,
In calm repose upon the ground,
I really never found one yet
With a desire to roll around;
Theirs is a stationary role, —
(A joke,– and feeble on the whole).

But, if I were a stone, I swear
I’d sooner move and view the World
Than sit and grow the greenest hair
That ever nature combed and curled.
I see no single saving grace
In being known as ‘Mossyface!’ …

Then, human stones, take my advice,
(As you should always do, indeed);
This proverb may be very nice,
But don’t you pay it any heed,
And, tho’ you make the critics cross,
Roll on, and never mind the moss”

Here, moss is defined as merit set by society for a successful person. At the beginning of the poem, the poet seems confused about the warning about rolling and gathering of moss.  After a few stanzas, he considers himself a stone which he admires as he sees the world through a stone’s eye. However, in the last stanza, he contradicts the real meaning of the phrase and uses it positively as he prefers to keeping rolling or moving without having any worry about the moss, which means experience.

Example #3

Like a Rolling Stone – by Bob Dylan

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People’d call, say, “Beware doll, you’re bound to fall”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging around
For your next meal
How does it feel?
How does it feel
To be without a home
With no direction home?
Like a complete unknown?
Like a rolling stone?

These verses are taken from the lyric of the same title sung by Bob Dylan and written by Robert Dylan. This song is about a woman who used to be rich and successful in her past. However, her present is not the same. Now she is homeless, with no direction and is a stranger like a rolling stone. Hence, the phrase is used in its literal sense as “rolling stone” is a metaphor used for the woman who doesn’t have a permanent place to stay.

Examples in Sentences

Example#1: “He just five years old, so every day he will dream of becoming something new when he grows up. Once he is old, he’ll know a rolling stone gathers no moss.”

Example#2: “What do you want to be, a doctor or an engineer. Choose wisely. Don’t be like a rolling stone that gathers no moss. Be consistent in your career.”

Example#3: “Tim was partially right. I am indeed a rolling stone. I will not gather any moss at the end. It’s fine with me, and I don’t want to settle in one place.”

Example#4: “Don’t be a rolling stone Allen, flourish! Don’t be a mule, prosper! Otherwise, you will end up with no moss but regrets and remorse.”

Example#5: “According to Julie’s mother, if a girl is not married by 25, she is a rolling stone that gathers no moss because she doesn’t have a family of her own. However, Julie wouldn’t care because she wanted to be a successful musician.”