Bob Dylan And Carl Sandburg

By Larry Fyffe

Unlike many of the Romantic Transcendentalist poets, who seek to express through words an actual link they feel with Nature, Modernist poets often use language as a tool to make looser associations, comparisons, and analoies with natural events like the changing seasons to graphically represent  thoughts about mankind’s existence on the planet; the reader is given some leeway in the  interpretation of lyrics.

That life itself, and the day-to-day doings of humans, be as complex as the structure of language itself, is the overhanging theme. Though a Postmodernist might toss pieces of paper printed with words into the air in order to conjure up a striking new way of expressing a thought, the Modernist poet seeks original meaning through the mind’s processing of a fluid language, the rules of its structure not capable of being written down in solid stone.

A poet may even quote another’s line because he likes the way it sounds though he does not fully understand its meaning, but still he intuits that it fits his own poem because he generally understands, or at least feels,  what the original author is trying to express.

Those who try to establish hard and fast rules to follow, ie, elitist and academic poets, vagabond-poet Carl Sandburg challenges along with the objective language used by the empirical-based works of Darwin and that of the historical-documented writings of Marx.

Sandburg, a pseudo-Darwinian poet like Carlos Williams, melts the lot into a poetic pot, filled with earth, wind, air, and fire, creating a language that struggles to survive for the benefit of the contemporary common man by its giving meaning to the plight of the working class under capitalism; not in an impersonal language, but in a sensual one that conveys emotion  – but most of all, is open to interpretation:

The earth is a forgotten cinder
A heaving fireball cooled off
Thus the story of the rocks
Each river came later than the cooling
Next comes the freezing of the globe
A heaving iceball will travel alone
The rivers will be too cold to move
Each flowering valley will be a memory
The autobiography of a wild rose will run
My leaves pressed between the the times
of a fireball and an iceball
(Carl Sandburg: Timesweep)

Squeezed between the thoughts of geologists and evolutionists are writings of Burns that loves a wild rose, and Frost that undermines a wall and so needs mending.

The Sandburg poem reminds one of …..”

In the jagged flames green
To red, instant and alive. Green!
Those sure abutments gone …Gone!
Lost to mind
(William Carlos Williams: Burning The Christmas Greens)

Song lyrics of Bob Dylan reveal the influence of poet Sandburg, both in content and style:

My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true like ice, like fire
People carry roses
And make promises by the hour
My love laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her
(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

Language creates it’s own world; takes on a life of its own; flows and beats along like music:

Relationship of ownership
They whisper in the wings
To those condemned to act accordingly
And wait for succeeding kings
And I try to harmonize with songs
The lonesome sparrow sings
There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden
(Dylan: Gates Of Eden)

The gates to the Eden of the human mind opened by the keys of language to release prisoners from the chains of alienating capitalism or from any authoritarian society for that matter:

Can love be locked away and hid?
Yes and it gathers dust and mildew
And shrivels itself in shadows
Unless it learns the sun can help
Snow, rain, storms can help –
Birds in their one-room family nests
Shaken by winds cruel and crazy –
They can help:
Lock not away your love nor keep it hid
(Carl Sandburg: Honey And Salt)

What is on the site

1: Over 400 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.



  1. Yes, I should think the connection a difficult one to make because of Dylan’s reluctance to endorse party-structured politics over instilling self-awareness of individual freedom lost within any social, economic, or political organization, including the family.

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