Bob Dylan: Fire And Desire: Love And Sex


By Larry Fyffe

The ancient Greeks for one consider the physical world of nature to be composed of four basic elements: earth, air, water, and fire. From this primitive ‘science’ develops the Elizabethan ‘psychology’ of the four ‘humours’. In an ideal state, fire is balanced by water.

Used in tropes, symbols, and allegories by Elizabethan artists, these elements remain in the poetry to this very day. And very conveniently indeed, ‘fire’ rhymes with ‘desire’; the two words blaze in many a lyricist’s head:

Alcilia’s eyes have set my heart on fire
The pleasing object that pain does feed
Yet still to see those eyes I do desire
(Philoparthen: Alciĺia’s Eyes)

The element of fire represents not only the emotion of love, and the sorrow and joy that comes with it, but the sexual urge that causes the heart to beat faster:

My love is like ice, and I to fire
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my so hot desire
(Edmund Spenser: My Love Is Like Ice)

In modern times, singers still associate fire with love and sexual desire. It is said that June Carter read from a book of Elizabethan poetry:

Love Is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire
(Johnny Cash: Ring Of Fire)

Bob Dylan most likely recalls the rhyme from the pre-Romantic poet William Blake who uses the ‘element’ to represent creative as well as sexual energy:

Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spear, O clouds unfold
Bring me my chariot of fire
(William Blake: Jerusalem)

The singer/songwriter Dylan describes sexual encounters as though the female were a fiery Muse that sparks his creative drive:

You are as whorish as ever
Baby, you could start a fire
I must be losing my mind
You’re the object of my desire
(Bob Dylan: I Feel A Change Comin’ On)

The ‘Gothic’ band Black Sabbath plays with the religious idea that sex is sinful:

Big black shape with eyes of fire
Telling people their desire
Satan’s sitting there, he’s smiling
Watches the flames get higher and higher
(Black Sabbath: Black Sabbath)

The part-time Romantic poet Robert Frost takes the geological path and plays down the religious and sexual connotations of the word ‘fire’:

Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire
(Robert Frost: Fire And Ice)

At least in the following song, for singer Billy Joel, both he and Dylan being readers of William Blake, fire is a metaphor for sexual attraction:

Though you dream in good intentions
You will never quench the fire
You’ll give in to you desire
When the stranger comes along
(Billy Joel: The Stranger)

Bob Dylan goes further and uses fire in both a sexual, and spiritual context:

My soul feels like it’s on fire
Nothing matters to me
And there’s nothing I desire
‘Cept you, yeah you
(Bob Dylan: ‘Cept You)

Likewise, the band U2:

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in my finger tips
It burned like fire
This burning desire
(U2: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For)

Below, Dylan employs the trope of fire in the Blakean sense as representing the innocent spirit of youth, oft despoiled by the experiences of adulthood:

He’s young and he’s on fire
Full of hope and desire
In a world that’s been raped and defiled
(Bob Dylan: Lord Protect My Child)

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


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *