Bob Dylan And Henry Timrod: The Country Coleridge Rambles

By Larry Fyffe

If you have been following Untold Themes, you will know I have pointed out previously that when the singer Bob Dylan pays tribute to a poet by referencing a poem, the songwriter may take direct quotes from that poem, and/or he may employ what I have coined the literary technique of the ‘Dylanesque Twist’:

Self-explanatory be the following two examples:

(1)The goat-and-daisy dingles
(Dylan Thomas: Under Milkwood)

The cloak and dagger dangles
(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

(2)That distant peak which on our vale looks down
And wears the star of evening for a crown
(Henry Timrod: A Vision Of Poesy)

My pretty baby, she’s lookin’ around
She wears a multi-thousand dollar gown
(Bob Dylan: Tweedle-Dum And Tweedle-Dee)

Noted too is that not all Romantic poets are dyed-in-the-wool Wordsworthian Transcendentalists who are able to feel the spirit of a loving and caring Creator that pervades through every tree in the forest and all the stars in the sky, uniting everything and everybody into One.

The aforementioned Henry Timrod is among the unworthy; to him, Eden’s forever sealed. Like John Keats and Samuel Coleridge, with their nightingales protected by a hidden bower, and Robert Frost, with his dividing wall, Timrod, though blessed with the imagination of a poet and armed to the hilt with words, confesses that he cannot unravel the unknowable mystery of how and why the Universe exists; indeed, as time passes, the Civil War poet contends that, like a Swedenborgian Creator, God is falling farther and farther back into the vast emptiness of space.

Apparently, the Deistic God of the Enlightenment is not dead; He’s simply missing.

Meanwhile, man’s more powerful technologies, the dogs of war, that are capable of destroying not only mankind himself, but the Earth as we know it, come closer and closer to being slipped.

Depressing are the lyrics of the white songster walking his black dog; war is utter hell for both sides though to each the cause is thought just. So asserts a Dylan song about the American Civil War:

All along the dim Atlantic line
The ravaged land lies miles behind
The light’s coming forward, and the streets are broad
All must yield to the avenging God
(Bob Dylan: Cross The Green Mountain)

The singer samples the Romantic Southern poet who concludes that, frankly Scarlet, neither Nature, be it ever so joyous and beautiful, nor its Creator, gives a damn which side wins or which side loses; doesn’t care whether or not the southern city is destroyed:

But still along yon dim Atlantic line
The only hostile smoke
Creeps like a harmless mist above the brine
From some frail, floating oak …..
God has inscribed her doom
And all untroubled in her faith, she waits
The triumph or the tomb
(Henry Timrod: Charleston)

Nonetheless, Timrod refuses to profane the critical thinking of his alliterative English Romantic predecessor:

We may not thus profane
Nature’s sweet voices, always full of love
And joyance! ‘Tis the merry nightingale
(Samuel Coleridge: The Nightingale)

And all should cry ‘Beware, beware!’ Neither does the Creator construct the imaginative and unconscious dreams that Tweedle- Dum, and Tweedle-Dee have about setting up their own separate ‘Kubla Khans’:

Well, a childish dream is a deathless need
And a noble truth is a sacred creed
(Bob Dylan: Tweedle-Dum And Tweedle-Dee)

Sampling once again the poet:

A childish dream is now a deathless need
Which drives him to far hills, and distant wilds
The solemn faith and fervour of his creed
Bold as a martyr’s, simple as a child’s
(Henry Timrod: A Vision Of Poesy)

You’re basically on your own, sings Dylan existentially; he, unlike the female who laughs like the flowers, is scarcely affected by the moon:

The moon gives light, and it shines by night
Well, I scarcely feel the glow
We learn to live, and then we forgive
O’er the road, we’re bound to go
More frail than the flower, these precious hours
(Bob Dylan: When The Deal Goes Down)

Sampling once more the Coleridge-influenced male poet, who
feels the power of the sun:

These happy stars, and yonder setting moon
Have seen me speed, unreckoned and untasked
A round of precious hours
Oh! here in that summer noon I basked
And strove, with logic frailer than the flowers
(Henry Timrod: A Rhopsody Of A Southern Winter Night)

As mentioned above, both John Keats and Coleridge influence Henry Timrod:

My task hath been, beneath a mightier Power
To keep the world forever fresh and young
(Henry Timrod: A Vision Of Posey)

Which samples:

More happy love! More happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoyed
For ever panting, and for ever young
(John Keats: Ode To A Grecian Urn)

And that brings us all back home to the William Blake’s innocence of childhood:

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
(Bob Dylan: Forever Young)

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


  1. As if Timrod didn’t borrow from previous poets:

    And the dim low line before
    Of a dark and distant shore
    (Percy Shelley: Euganean Hills)

  2. Keats too:

    When glad morning-stars together sung
    My task hath been, beneath a mightier Power
    To keep the world forever fresh and young
    (Henry Timrod: A Vision Of Poesy)

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