Bob Dylan And Samuel Coleridge (Part ll)

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Bob Dylan And Samuel Coleridge (Part ll) (or maybe III)

(Part one appears as The Land Of Milk And Honey: Bob Dylan And Samuel Coleridge   while part II (ish) is published under  Bob Dylan And Henry Timrod: The Country Coleridge Rambles)

By Larry Fyffe

In many of his songs, Bob Dylan expresses the theme put forth by the Romantic Transcendentalist poets, ie, that Nature provides comfort and solace to mankind. But he holds on to that creed only by his fingertips. A go-between be necessary for Dylan, a female Muse to show him the way to Nature’s pleasant bower whatever the season:

If not for you
Winter would have no spring
Couldn’t hear the robin sing
I just wouldn’t have a clue
Anyway it wouldn’t ring true
If not for you
(Bob Dylan: If Not For You)

The blissful Transcendentalist view, presented in the verse below, that is preached by Romantic poet Samuel Coleridge, Dylan modifies to an extent:

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree
(Samuel Coleridge: Frost At Midnight)

Joyous as the apples of summer seems every season only if accompanied by a loving and lovely female, sings Dylan:

Winterlude, Winterlude, my little apple
Winterlude by the corn in the field
Winterlude let’s go down to the chapel
Then come back and cook up a meal
We’ll come out when the skating rink glistens
By the sun near the old crossroads sign
(Bob Dylan: Winterlude)

Beware, beware, Nature is transcendental; it’s above and beyond Man; certainly, it’s more than just a mirror that reflects one’s emotional state. So says the Christian poet Samuel Coleridge who is filled with the thought that all of Nature is God’s creation, referencing the authority of the Holy Bible:

For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise
(Coleridge: Kubla Khan)

Bob Dylan, referring to the Bible too, feels spiritually malnourished due to the materialistic greed exhibited in American society, and the depression that it brings:

It’s undeniable what they’d have you to think
It’s indescribable, it can drive you to drink
They said it was the land of milk and honey
(Dylan: Unbelievable)

Coleridge will have none of it:

A melancholy bird? Oh, idle thought
In Nature there is nothing melancholy
(Coleridge: The Nightingale)

Bob Dylan chides the Transcendentalist poet for being too happy, given the
sad state of modern society:

Well, my sense of humanity is going down the drain
Behind everything, there’s some kind of pain
(Dylan: Not Dark Yet)

Another Romantic poet, though inclined to melancholia himself, sides with Coleridge:

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
…. thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless
Singest of summer in full-throated ease
(John Keats: Ode To A Nightingale)

Perhaps due to drug-induced dreams, Coleridge turns somewhat away from the Romantic theme of joyful Nature to images more gloomy that suggest emotions dark and demonic:

Sir Leoline, the Baron rich
Hath a toothless mastiff bitch
From her kennel beneath the rock
She maketh answer to the clock …….
His heart was cleft with pain and rage
His cheeks they quivered, his eyes were wild
(Coleridge: Christabel)

Coleridge’s difficult-to-interpret narrative Gothic poems appeal more to Dylan, given his attitude toward human nature, ie, that it has, like the moon, a dark side:

He looks so truthful, is this how he feels?
Trying to peel the moon and expose it
With his businesslike anger and bloodhounds that kneel
If he needs a third eye, he just grows it
(Dylan: Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window)

Dylan turns down the overly bright light of the Transcendentalist outlook as Coleridge himself does, ie in the poem ‘The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’ one of Nature’s spirited and beautiful creatures is thoughtlessly dispensed with.

Yes, Dylan clings on to Romantic sentiment, but has no intention of wearing an albatross around his neck:

Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see for me if she’s wearing a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin’ winds
(Dylan: Girl From The North Country)

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.  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

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10 Responses to Bob Dylan And Samuel Coleridge (Part ll)

  1. I believe you when you write “Bob Dylan expresses the theme put forth by the Romantic Transcendentalist poets, ie, that Nature provides comfort and solace to mankind”, but I find the evidence you provide a bit thin. A word here, a word there seems to me to little to go on. I fail to see how the lyrics you provide link Dylan with Coleridge.
    I am fully aware though that you studied literature and I did not. I have read all your commentaries with interest and pleasure, they intrigue me, but I also seem to miss the point.

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    Joist, thanks for the response…

    I said in many of Dylan’s songs, including Winterlude and If Not For You, there is the presence of a Oneness with Nature, the core creed of the Transcendentalist Romantics which indeed is present in those two songs. It’s more the point of view than actual wording but note that both writers speak specifically of (1) robins and (2)apples as representatives of Nature.

    I go on to say that both Coleridge and Dylan diverge from
    this semi-religious point of view in other poems and songs.

    I’ll be glad to comment further if the point is still unclear to you if you could be more specific as to the reasons why you don’t connect the two writers.

    Dylan has pointed out somewhere that he’s familiar with the poet though I don’t recollect the source at the moment.

  3. Larry Fyffe says:

    Sorry….Joost, that should be.

  4. Larry, I read it again and it makes more sense now.
    PS Joist! I liked that one. I’ve been called all kind of things, like Yosht and Joost pronounced as boost with the J as in jazz. It should be pronounced as coast, boast, toast with the J as a Y: Yoast.

  5. Larry Fyffe says:

    I thought the name would be pronounced something like that. My tablet sometimes seems to take over and print what it considers the way the word ought to be spelled as I try to reproduce it accurately.

    Yes, the articles have to be read carefully and sometimes more than once to get the whole idea….I find I have to do that myself!….to make points clearer before sending the article off.

    Were more readers like you, they would realize that I’m not accusing Dylan of being a copy-cat….(was TS Eliot!)… but in fact the very opposite!….He takes on ideas of others and innovates on them….often giving hints or direct quotes of the artist’s lyrics to whom he’s referring.

  6. Ian Hamilton says:

    ‘Behind every beautiful thing…’, not ‘behind everything’.

  7. Larry Fyffe says:

    Yes, an accidental error of omission…

    Thank you, for pointing it out

  8. Larry Fyffe says:

    In short, according to Romantic poet Coleridge, an innocent child, given the opportunity, harmonizes with the joy of the natural world, but adult experiences, especially in the city, puts one out of touch; so the idea is to endeavour to stay forever young.

  9. p. chuter says:

    boy that ancient mariner sure loved nature.

  10. Larry Fyffe says:

    Yes indeed …. that aspect of the wayward mariner is pointed out in the article on Coleridge above.

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