Bob Dylan: Symbolism Of Fire

By Larry Fyffe

Poet William Blake transforms the ‘element’ of fire into metaphor, into a symbol, for the physical sexual urge, and for the mental drive of the artistic imagination that is derived therefrom:

“Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night….
What the hammer? What the chain
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its dreadly terror clasp?”
(Blake: The Tyger)

Bob Dylan, too, in his song lyrics, chooses the word ‘fire’ as a metaphoric stand-in for sexual desire, and as a hyperbolic trope for unleased creative energy, energies that heat up and burn out, that can be destructive as well as regenerative:

“This wheel’s on fire
Rolling down the road
Best notify my next of kin
This wheel shall explode”
(Dylan: This Wheel’s On Fire)

The American heavy metal band ‘ManoWar’ employs Blakean/Dylanesque imagery to express the artistic creative energy that is ignited by the open road:

“Wheels of fire burn the night
Ride across the sky
Wheels of fire burning bright
We love to ride….
I’m fire
Burning, burning, burning, burning
Ready to explode
Don’t want nothing left of me to scrape off the road”
(ManoWar: Wheels Of Fire)

A female Muse, or any inspirational figure, can fan the flames:

“You’re the one that reaches me
You’re the one that I admire
Everytime we met together
My soul feels like it’s on fire
Nothing matters to me
And there’s nothing I desire
‘Cept you, yeah you”
(Bob Dylan: Nobody ‘Cept You)

Reading the poetry of William Blake sparks Dylan’s creative imagination:

“Bring me my bow of burning gold
Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spear; O clouds unfold
Bring me my chariot of fire”
(William Blake: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

The imagination, an innocent psychic energy inherent in the young, is, according to Blake and Dylan, often dampened by authorities who seek to construct an ordered society:

“He’s young and on fire
Full of hope and desire
In a world that has been raped and defiled
If I fall along the way
And can’t see another day
Lord protect my child”
(Dylan: Lord Protect My Child)

Real fire, in the wrong hands, a dangerous thing:

“Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody’s escaping
To Desolation Row”
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

What is on the site

1: Over 390 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

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

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.

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