My Ruth’s In The Highlands A-Chaffing The Corn: Dylan’s Idealization of Women.

By Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan references the Romantic poets, especially those outstanding in their field; like them, he depicts women as being closer to Mother Nature than the male since the female body synchronizes with the cycles of the moon.

“There was me and Danny Lopez, cold eyes, black night, and then there was Ruth
Something there is about you that brings back a long-forgotten truth
Suddenly I found you and the spirit in me sings
Don’t have to look no further, you’re the soul of many things”
(Something There Is About You)

Dylan read about Ruth and the corn in the Bible:

“And Ruth … said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field,
and glean ears of corn after him in  whose sight I shall find grace”
(Ruth 2:2)

And the ghost of William Wordsworth, the worthy wordsmith of the Romantic transcendentalist poets, nods his head:

“Behold her single in the field
Yon solitary Highland Lass
Reaping and singing by herself
Stop here, or gently pass
Alone she cuts and binds the grain
And sings a melancholy strain
O listen, for the vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound”
(Wordsworth: The Solitary Reaper)

Dylan, whose song lyrics are often double-edged, contrasts the heavenly Worthworthian image of Ruth with her more down-to-earth wicked step-sister:

“When Ruthie says come see her
In her honkey-tonk lagoon
Where I can watch her waltz for free
‘Neath her Panamanian moon”
(Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again)

As with the writers of the Bible, for many Romantic poets a serpent in the Garden  of Eden is an irresistible image; but it’s not always a displacement symbol. Freud took great pains to explain this to his daughter: ‘sometimes a snake is just a snake.’

“The grass divides as with a comb
A spotted shaft is seen
….He likes a boggy acre
A floor too cool for corn”
(Emily Dickinson: A Narrow Fellow In The Grass)

Or it may simply represent evil:

“There came a wind like a bugle
It quivered through the grass
And a green chill upon the heat
So ominous did pass”
(Dickinson: There Came A Wind Like A Bugle)

A Dylan song that shows the influence of Dickinson:

“Struck by the sounds before the sun
I knew the night had gone
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drum of dawn”
(Lay Down Your Weary Tune)

A Dylan tribute to Mother Nature, but at the same time, a drum and a bugle serve as metonymy for the military.

And then there is melodious Ruth.

“The seasons they are turnin’ and my sad heart is yearnin’
To hear the song bird’s sweet melodious tone
Won’t you meet me out in the moonlight alone?”
(Bob Dylan: Moonlight)

Quite obviously Dylan is here once again inspired by  his favorite Romantic poet:

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when sick for home
She stood in tears amid the alien corn”
(John Keats: Ode To A Nightingale)


The Discussion Group

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The Chronology Files

These files put Dylan’s work in the order written.  You can link to the files here

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9 Responses to My Ruth’s In The Highlands A-Chaffing The Corn: Dylan’s Idealization of Women.

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    Dylan sings ‘drums of dawn’, though the lyrics I looked a gave the singular.

  2. Rob Geurtsen says:

    Larry,

    this is a nice little piece. I love reading this.

    I like to be convinced of your point of view, cause I see a completely different depiction of women in Dylan’s work. Nothing even close to “women as being closer to Mother Nature”.
    So I like your idea, and it comes useful as I am currently writing about the contrast between how Neil Gaiman depicts the magic women from a farm in ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ vs my own experience with a mountain girl vs. how Dylan doesn’t seem to experience women this close and comforting.
    .
    I also came across the difference between how the early Beatles songs depicted the experience of love and falling in love as warm and life changing ‘agape’ (Kenneth Womack) and where Dylan couldn’t resist to go the opposite like in ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’. Let’s face it, Dylan’s relation with women and ‘love’ is cool and one characterized by trouble, whereas McCartney’s picks the other side, and knows that even ‘silly love’ brings warmth and beauty in life – as ‘My love does it good’

    In the examples you gave I find it hard to see how Dylan idealizes women to be closer to nature, is there more evidence in his work? To me women in Dylan’s work come across as if they are only his muse and good for wet pussy. The examples you provide show how Dylan uses well known imagery that appear in his work, probably sometimes on purpose and then sometimes probably pure accidentally. I don’t see a concerted effort in Dylan work to depicts women as being closer to Mother Nature.
    .
    Can you share more examples or other sources/articles you have come across, so I can be convinced?

  3. Larry Fyffe says:

    I do not disagree with what you say but in the above piece I focus on another side of Dylan: his reading of the Romantic ‘nature’ poets like John Keats and Robert Frost. See: ‘Ramona’ who is compared to fire and ice.
    As far as muses go, Dylan seems to like to take the place of the chaffed corn cob.

  4. Larry Fyffe says:

    And there’s Love Minus Zero, of course…..I concentrate on Dylan’s lyrics, not his biography, on the songs, not the singer. Often he associates woman with nature and the moon: Moonlight, If Not For You, etc., etc.
    His love lyrics are often being double edged, however.

  5. Rob Geurtsen says:

    Interesting Larry, it is a lovely point of view and analysis, not judgmental, not biographical, thx for the response, it enhances understanding/interpretation. My reference at the muse and pussy wasn’t meant to be biographical, it my summary from his picture of women in his lyrics. I try to avoid autobiographical notions in art, because it might take away the emotional physicals response I hope art evokes. Yet the Lowland Lady Saga is as biographical and full of realistic metaphors.

    Why don’t you extend your piece with all other references with the same angle in mind. I appreciate what you write very much. A full article for higher lever literary magazine would work too,it is worth trying.

  6. Rob Geurtsen says:

    Thx Larry,
    what a great metaphor: “As far as muses go, Dylan seems to like to take the place of the chaffed corn cob.” Gorgeous

  7. Larry Fyffe says:

    Javier…interesting stuff…some of which had crossed my mind…But to keep my horse from riding off in all directions, I keep a tight hold on the reins… not wanting to cover
    so much territory that I get lost.

  8. Larry Fyffe says:

    That is to say, I don’t want my train of thought to get lost when its in the rain…and it’s Easter Time, too.

  9. Larry Fyffe says:

    Freudian treatises, Javier:

    As you can see in my article “Bob Dylan Meets Dr. Freud”, the good doctor seems not to have made much of an impact on Dylan’s agenda!

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