Bob Dylan and William Carlos Williams

By Larry Fyffe

Social Darwinism is an ideology that sanctifies the control over the technological means of production by the capitalist class. Donning the mask of science, its advocates the claim that evidenced-based Darwinian natural selection explains the formation of classes under the capitalist economic system: a reaction to Karl Marx’s assertion that existing social conditions are the result of the control of the means of production for profit, including the production of products necessary for mankind’s survival.

In reaction to both Social Darwinism and scientific evolution, Modernist poet William Carlos Williams puts Hegelian Romanticism back on its feet, contriving a secular religion that envisions a slow but progressive process operating in the Universe.

The poet-priest declares the artistic imagination, with its thoughts both dark and bright, be the intended goal, pre-set in the constitution of Creation even before mankind arrives upon the scene. That is, essence precedes man’s existence, and random natural selection and philosophical Existentialisms are over-ruled by Design Creationism, by an imaginative spirit personified:

        Thought clambers up
        Snail-like, upon the wet rocks ….
        In that moist chamber, shut from
        The world – and unknown to the world
        Cloaks itself in mystery – ….
        And standing, shrouded there, in that din
        Earth, the chatterer, father of all

        (Williams: Paderson)

Earth, the Blakean symbol of the poetic imagination, but with its thoughts, its ideas, given a modern twist by Williams – a material basis, grounded in the objective correlatives of figurative language – that suggests Romantic idealism has its roots in scientific Darwinism.

But, according to Williams, it’s a tough struggle for the imaginative spirit within the brain to contend with the defiled social conditions imposed by capitalist economics:

        As if the earth under our feet
        An excrement of some sky
        And we degraded prisoners
        To hunger until we eat filth
        While the imagination strains
        After deer
        Going by fields of goldenrod in
        The stifling heat of September
        It seems to destroy us

        (Williams: The Pure Products Of America)

Alluding to a Scottish Romantic poem:

        My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart
        is not here
        My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing
        the deer
        Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe
        My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go

        (Robert Burns: My Heart’s In The Highlands)

Apparently, all is not well in America, and the Modernist poetry of Williams, as well as the Romantic of Burns, impacts the song lyrics of Bob Dylan:

        Well, my heart’s in the Highland
        Gentle and fair
        Honeysuckle bloomin’
        In the wildwood air
        Bluebells blazin’
        Where the Aberdeen waters flow
        Well, my heart’s in the Highland
        I’m going to go there
        When I feel good enough to go

        (Bob Dylan: Highland)

As I’ve pointed out before, when Dylan pays tribute to a poem in his song lyrics, he varies a bit the end-rhymes of the original: ‘roe’ and ‘go’ to ‘flow’ and ‘go’.

The poems of William Carlos Williams suggest the better a piece of art be adapted to contemporary social conditions and the technology thereof, the better chance of it surviving.

Oral and aural oriented lyrics intended to be sung with music, designed, not by money-hungry capitalists, but by the artistically skilled, to wake up the public-at-large to the message contained therein – rock and rolling folkish songs mixed in the basement with eye-catching images -, a recipe for a new art form to keep the chimes of the creative imagination freely flashing:

With “w’s” alliterating, Williams Carlos Williams writes:

        So much depends
        A red wheel
        Glazed with rain
        Beside the white

               (Williams: The Red Wheelbarrow)

Sings Dylan, accompanied musically:

        Little red wagon
        Little red bike
        I ain’t no monkey, but I know what I like
        I like the way you love me strong and slow
        I’m takin’ you with me when I go

        (Bob Dylan: Buckets Of Rain)

Neither Darwinist, Social Darwinist, nor Marxist, Romanic-influenced poet William Carlos Williams intuits a vitalistic spirit flowing through Nature; nay, throughout the whole Universe – below animating plants:

        One by one objects are defined
        It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
        But now the stark dignity of
        Entrance – Still, the profound change
        Has come upon them: rooted they
        Grip down and begin to awaken
        (Williams: By The Side Of The Road

        To The Contagious Hospital)

Bob Dylan, owl of Minerva flying at dusk, awaits the awakening of Man …

What did you see my blue-eyed son; what did you see my darling young one?

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order at the foot of 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.


  1. ‘Won’t You Ride In My Little Red Wagon’, a Rex Griffin song
    is alluded to in ”Buckets Of Rain”, the Dylan song mentioned in the text above.

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