Bob Dylan and Andre Breton

Bob Dylan And Andre Breton

By Larry Fyffe

In his poetic basement, Andre Breton, French poet, mixes up the medicine of Karl Marx’s exploitative economics with that of the subconscious mind.

Under its influence, Bob Dylan broadens protest against a particular war in Vietnam to songs that express abhorrence at war in general.

The song lyrics of Bob Dylan also give expression to the divide-and-conquer tactics of those who have power in modern society:

I’ve learned to hate the Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side
(Bob Dylan: With God On Our Side)

Surrealism, a mode of art concerned with the dreams of the unconscious mind, enters the arena of war; the correlatively objectified, and idealized female figure becomes Andre Breton’s poetic link to a Universe that otherwise appears uncaring; she is symbolized by various aspects of Nature, especially water, juxtaposed against the fiery disposition of man:

My wife with eyes full of tears
With eyes of purple panoply and of magnetic needle
My wife with savanna eyes
My wife with eyes of water to be drunk in prison
My wife with eyes of wood always under the axe
Of water-level eyes
Of eyes at the level of air, and earth
Of eyes at the level of fire
(Andre Breton: Freedom Of Love)

Surrealistic visions, taken up by singer Bob Dylan, and a strange brew it is of external associations and psychological imagery brought forward and updated by Breton from the days of Shakespeare:

Ramona, come closer
Shut softly your watery eyes ….
Your cracked country lips
I still wish to kiss
As to be under the strength of your skin
Your magnetic movements
Still capture the minutes I’m in
(Bob Dylan: To Ramona)

Below, an artist’s imagined dream-vision of the enduring female:

Now you stand with your thief, you’re on his parole
With your holy medallion which your fingertips fold
And your saint-like face, and your ghost-like soul
Oh, who among them do you think could destroy you?
(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

Poetic imagery that brings it biblically back home:

I have compared thee, O my love
To a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots
Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels
Thy neck with chains of gold
(Solomon’s Song, 1:9-10)

With Surrealistic images of a corrupted Christianity, of Anti-Virgins on fire:

O mystical rose of the mire
O house not of gold but of gain
O house of unquenchable fire
Our Lady of Pain
(Charles Swinburne: Delores)


Grey mists and ghost-like souls, white-capped mountains and sea waves, fog-bound ships – objects correlated by many Surrealistic male poets to the female sex, to signify supposed emotional states:

Queen Mary, she’s my friend
Yes, I believe I’ll go see her again
Nobody has to guess
That baby can’t be blessed
Till she sees finally that she’s like all the rest
With her fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls
(Bob Dylan: Just Like A Woman)

A song thought, rather oddly, by some music critics to be about a homosexual.

Singer Bob Ďylan even makes light of the Surrealistic method, and he uses its literary technique of motion-filled associated images to do so:

The commander-in-chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, ‘Death to all those who would whimper and cry’
And, dropping a barbell, he points to the sky
Saying, ‘The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken’
(Bob Dylan: Tombstone Blues)

The fiery ‘yellow bile’, associated with the summer sun, be a source of masculine military courage unless it becomes imbalanced due to an excess of female watery phelgm, according to the now discredited proto-psychological theory from Elizabethan times.

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.

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.  A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that 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. A couple of sites incorrectly give Breton as author of the Brock poem Five Ways Too Kill A Man.

  2. “My wife with eyes full of tears…” According to Allen Ginsberg this Breton poem was the inspiration for the fourth section of Kaddish (“with your eyes of Russia/ with your eyes of no money…”). Ginsberg always thought this was in part the inspiration for Dylan’s list of poetic attributes in “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” Dylan himself hints at this in the film Renaldo and Clara where he runs the audio of a live rehearsal of that song behind Ginsberg’s recitation of this very section of Kaddish.

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