Bob Dylan’s Got A Lot Of Gall: The Four Humours (Part II)

Got A Lot Of Gall: The Four Humours (Part II)

By Larry Fyffe

That the culture of poetry is filled with the left-over diction of the fuzzy pseudo-science of ‘the four humours’ is demonstrated, on one interpretative level, by the following song lyrics:

Well I’m grinding my life out, steady and sure
Nothing more wretched than what I must endure
I’m drenched in the light that shines from the sun
I could stone you to death for the wrongs that
you’ve done ….
I pay in blood, but not my own
(Bob Dylan: Pay In Blood)

Here, Dylan presents a male persona with a choleric personality, dominated by
a fiery fluid within the body that’s affected by the summer sun, a temperament prone to anger, vengeance and violence, unlike the moon- influenced phlegmatic female.

Protective he is of the forever-young sanguine optimism induced by blood flowing throughout the body, associated with the fresh air of springtime. For sure, he’s not going to spill his own blood for the sake of others, turn the other cheek, as Jesus did.

The passive female temperament overcomes this masculine fire-fluid by the dominance of a cold watery one:

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
(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

In ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’, a play by William Shakespeare, a woman with a ‘humour’ imbalance is corrected.

And don’t forget what happened to Jesus Christ for being overly optimistic, for being too sanguine:

I been to Babylon
I must confess
I could still hear the voice
in the wilderness
What looks large from a distance
Close up is never that big
Never could learn to drink that blood
and call it wine
Never could learn to look at your face
and call it mine
(Bob Dylan: Someone’s Got A Hold Of My Heart)

If Dylan is speaking for himself in song, he’s trying to keep his four ‘humours’
in a balance that works for him.

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order below on this page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.  Also a list of the most read articles on this site.

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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