Bob Dylan Has His Blake, And Keats It Too

Bob Dylan Has His Blake,
And Keats It Too

By Larry Fyffe

At a bar, Bob Dylan is sitting with Greg Lake (laughin’):

“Let’s do a song together.”

Lake: “I’ll do it, if the Guinness is free.

“No, not a Yeats’ poem; a Keith’s perhaps?”

“Funny thing you should say that……
The other evening, I did have a night in Gale Storm.”

“I must love you too much!”

“Well, my Mama, said the girl’s puttin’ you down
She’s gonna ruin my life
I must have loved you too much
Must of loved you too much”

The Dylan/Lake song lyrics stir a sweetish twist into the poem ‘Ode To A Nightingale’ by the melancholic John Keats:

“‘My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains…..
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot
But being too happy in thine happiness”

William Blake, the preRomantic poet,  is not at all jealous of children
being too happy with their lot:

“No, no, let us play for it is yet day
And we cannot go to sleep
Besides in the sky, the little birds fly
And the hills are all covered with sheep”
(William Blake: Nurse’s Song)

Dylan end-rhymes ‘fly’with ‘dry’, not with the above internal rhyme ‘sky’, when he reworks the poem into a song:

“Let the bird sing, let the bird fly
One day the man in the moon went home and the river went dry
Let the bird sing, let the bird fly
The man in the moon went home and the river went dry”
(Bob Dylan: Under The Red Sky)

Likewise, in the following song, Dylan celebrates the innocence of youth  sheltered somewhat from the detestable storms of adulthood:

“He’s young and on fire
Full of hope and desire
In a world that’s been raped
Raped and defiled”
(Lord Protect My Child)

The end-rhyme ‘fire’ and ‘desire’ are by Dylan varied in the lines above, changing the a-b-a-b  scheme that’s contained in Blake’s original:

“Bring me my bow of burning gold
Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spear; O let the clouds unfold
Bring me my chariot of fire”
(William Blake: Jerusalem)

Dylan changes ‘unfold’ to ‘unfolds’ from the above verse, and slightly off-rhymes the pluralized word with ‘old’, in the following verse:

“As his youth now unfolds
He is centuries old
Just to see him at play makes me smile
No matter what happens to me”
(Bob Dylan: Lord Protect My Child.)

Blake’s end-rhyme ‘fire’ and ‘desire’ again Dylan utilizes in:

“Every time we meet together
My soul feels like it’s on fire
Nothing matters to me
And there’s nothing I desire
‘Cept you”
(Bob Dylan: Nobody ‘Cept You)

Dylan playfully draws on the face of William Blake’s art: to get the trope, the concrete image, or the symbol he wants that imaginatively expresses the meek and the wild side of mankind’s existence here on Earth:

“Did He smile His work to see
Did he who made the Lamb make thee
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night”
(William Blake: The Tiger)

Dylan admires the murdered singer-songwriter John Lennon’s vitality when he was alive:

“You burned so bright
Roll on John
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
In the forests of the night”
(Bob Dylan: Roll On John)

And expresses his own tiger/lamb innateness, his ‘animal’ versus ‘human’ side:

“A little confused, I remember well
And stopped into a strange hotel
With a neon sign burning bright
He felt the heat of the night”
(Bob Dylan: Simple Twist Of Fate)

Plus the spiritual and mystical feelings and visions that humans are capable of

“To see the world in a grain of sand
And Heaven in a wildflower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour”
(William Blake: To See The World In A Grain Of Sand)

Dylan follows Blake; rhymes ‘bright’ and ‘night’; ‘sand’ and ‘hand’:

“Don’t have the inclination to look back
on any mistake
Like Cain, I  now behold this chain of
events that I must break
In the fury of the moment, I can see the
master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand”
(Bob Dylan: Every Grain Of Sand)

Like Blake, Dylan considers organized religion a chain binding an individual’s freedom. Except for death, social norms are impossible to escape completely, even if you join a group like ‘Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything’:

“I saw a serpent…..
Vomiting his poison out
On the bread and on the wine
So I turned into a sty
And laid me down among the swine”
(William Blake: I Saw A Chapel)

It is characteristic of the Dylanesque writing technique to retain at least one of the end-words or end-rhymes used by the poet to which the songwriter alludes: end-rhyme ‘swine’ and ‘vine’ rather than ‘swine” and ‘wine’:

“Kill the beast and feed the swine
Scale the wall and smoke that vine
Feed the horse and saddle up the drum
It’s unbelievable, the day would finally come”
(Bob Dylan: Unbelievable)

The ‘drum’ being metonymy for ‘war’.

What else is on this site

1: Over 360 reviews of Dylan songs. 

2: The Dylan Chronologies.  

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  .

4:   The Discussion Group    Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.

6: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines


  1. ‘You cannot eat your cake and have it too’- Proverbs
    John Keats: On Fame

  2. Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth
    …. He was a burning and a shining light
    And ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light
    (John 5:33,35)

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