Bob Dylan And Edgar Allan Poe: the howl in the songs


by Larry Fyffe

The ghostly poetry of Gothic Romanticist Edgar Allan Poe howls in the songs of Bob Dylan, in songs that depict psychological forces demonic and dark in conflict with those godly and light. In the poems of Edgar Allan Poe, there’s often a male individual tormented by memories of a young and innocent female companion gone.

Like Annabella Lee in her sepulchre by the sea, a personal paradise lost that is so traumatic it leads to dreams filled with images of hell:

Ah, dream too bright to last
Ah, starry hope!; that didst arise
But to be overcast ….
And all my days are trances
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy gray eye glances
And where thy footstep gleams –
In what ethereal dances
By what eternal stream
(Poe: To One In Paradise)

Never more hope for a green and pleasant land. Poe’s personal poetic nightmare artistically reconstructed to one political by the singer/songwriter:

I cross the Green Mountain
I sit by the stream
Heaven blazing in my head
I dream a monstrous dream
Something came up out of the sea
Swept through the land of
The rich and the free
(Dylan: Cross The Green Mountain)

Poe’s dream of the lovely, lost Lenore is black for sure:

Open here I flung the shutter
When , with many a flirt and flutter
In there stepped a stately raven
Of the saintly days of yore ….
Perched, and sat, and nothing more
(Poe: The Raven)

Dylan has dark dream-songs too, ie, of youthful innocence broken:

The wind howls like a hammer
The night wind blows cold and rainy
My love she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing
(Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

The theme again expounded in the poem below:

For, alas! alas! with me
The light of life is o’er
No more – no more – no more ….
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree
Or the stricken eagle soar
(Poe: To One In Paradise)

The alliterative poet couples the dark with the bright, the former usually
overwhelming the latter:

Hear the mellow wedding bells –
Golden bells ….
Hear the tolling of the bells
Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their
monody compels
In the silence of the night
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone
(Poe: The Bells)

A melancholy theme likewise of the singer:

As the echo of the wedding bells
before the blowin’ rain
Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned
and forsakened
Tolling for the outcast, burnin’ constantly
at stake
(Dylan: Chimes Of Freedom)

But fear not – there’s always one dream that comes true – do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee:

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand –
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep
While I weep – while I weep
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
(Poe: A Dream Within A Dream)

The theme of death sounded as well by poets John Donne, and William Blake:

I hear the ancient footsteps like
the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn there’s someone
there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the
reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain
of sand
(Dylan: Every Grain Of Sand)

Comes as a surprise that singer/songwriter Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize In Literature it should not!

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. ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ by Bob Dylan shows the influence of the song below:

    And listen to the chimes of trinity
    Tolling for the outcast
    Tolling for the gay
    Tolling for the millionaire
    And friends long passed long away
    (Chimes Of Trinity: MJ Fitzpatrick-writer/composer)

  2. There’s
    Sad path alas, where grows
    Not even one lonely rose
    (Poe : To F….)


    I don’t have one single rose
    (Bob Dylan: I Feel A Change Coming On ~ Dylan/Hunter)

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