Bob Dylan And Lucien Ducasse: The Maldoror

Bob Dylan And Lucien Ducasse: The Maldoror

by Larry Fyffe

The writings of Lucien Ducasse have a strong influence on the Romantic- Symbolist poets, and on the less Romantic-inclined poets of Surrealism. Ducasse borrows from the gloomy images of the Gothic Romantics, but he’s precursor to the Freudian Surrealism of Modern/Post-Modern art. He reacts negatively to the Judeo-Christian light that still shines from the ‘Spirit’ in Romantic poetry and prose:

The many layers of meaning in the narrative prose-poem ‘Songs Of Maldoror’, with its black humour, has Ducasse’s persona Satan questioning the morality of the male God who throws Adam and Eve out of Eden, and then has the audacity to claim that He’s sacrificing his son for the sake of mankind. Says Maldoror, truth be known, Social Authority sacrifices the young in order to satisfy the cruelty that lies within the hearts of men:

O human beings, how young and naked like a worm
In the presence of my diamond sword
(Ducasse: The Songs Of Maldoror)

The singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, with lighter humour, demonstrates Ducasse’s influence on his own lyrics:

Oh, God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’
Abe said, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on’
God, said, ‘No’; Abe say, ‘What?’
God say, ‘You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’, you better run’
(Dylan: Highway 61)

The surrealistic Ducasse mocks religious pretenders who claim to care for others:

Oh, what a genuine and noble change of heart
That divine spark within us which so rarely appears
is revealed too late
How the heart longs to console the innocent
one we have harmed
(Ducasse: The Song’s Of Maldoror)

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan takes notice of the hypocrisy that Ducasse points out in ‘Songs Of Maldoro’:

Scarlet Town, in the hot noon hours
There’s palm-leaf shadows and scattered flowers
Beggar’s crouching at the gate
Help comes, but it comes too late
(Dylan: Scarlet Town)

The promise of an afterlife in heaven, says Ducasse, is but a bluff claiming
there’s an escape from hell-on-earth:

It’s unnecessary for you to think of heaven
There’s already enough to consider about earth
Are you tired of living, you who have barely been born?
You may count on encountering up there
The very same evils as down here
(Ducasse: The Songs Of Maldoror)

The Bob Dylan song below carries Ducasse’s message:

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proves to warn that he not busy being born
Is busy dying
(Dylan: It’s Alright Ma)

Though elsewhere he counterbalances with Christian gospel songs, Dylan takes on the dark persona of Maldoror with the diamond sword:

Preacher was a-talking, there’s a sermon he gave
He said every man’s conscience is vile and depraved
You cannot depend on it to be your guide
When it’s you who must keep it satisfied
It ain’t easy to swallow, it sticks in your throat
She gave her heart to the man
In the long black coat
(Dylan: Man In The Long Black Coat)

Dark and mysterious be the sea which represents the female force that fiery Maldorer faces:

While you utter from the depth of your breast
As if weighted down by an intense remorse
I would give you all my love if only because you
Make me think with sorrow on my fellows
Who form the most ironic contrast with you
Why then do I return for the thousandth time to
Your welcoming arms which caress my flaming brow
Your touch dispelling it’s feverish heat?
(Ducasse: Songs Of Maldoror)

In song, Bob Dylan asks himself a similar question:

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
Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands?
(Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

Dylan follows more closely Ducasse’s surrealistic assonance-consonance-alliteration style in the song below:

Now when I’ll teach the lady I was born to love her
But she knew that the kingdom waits high above her
And I run but I race, but it’s not fast or still
But I don’t perceive her, I’m gone
(Dylan: I’m Not There)

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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