Bob Dylan’s Messiah: Songs Of Light And Darkness


By Larry Fyffe

Though an orthodox Christian awaiting the future return of the Messiah, Romantic poet Samuel Coleridge finds temporary relief from worldly pain – a saviour and messianic fervour in opium:

Weave a circle round him thrice
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise
(Samuel Coleridge: Kubla Khan)

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan finds a much-needed repose in organized Christianity:

There’s a kingdom called Heaven
A place where there is no pain or birth
Well the Lord created it mister
About the same time he created Earth
(Bob Dylan: I’m Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking)

Nevertheless, high water rises. While organization and its leaders require conformity, many artists appreciate the prophet Jesus because He is a rebel –
‘it is written, but I say unto you’:

I say that someday you’ll begin to trust us
And that your conscience not been slain by conformity
That you stand up unafraid to believe in in justice
But you’re making a liar out of me
(Bob Dylan: Making A Liar Out Of Me)

Once again, Romantic brightness slips beneath the waves of Gothic darkness:

In the dark illumination
He remembered bygone years
He read the Book of Revelation
And he filled his cup with tears
When the Reaper’s task had ended
Sixteen hundred had gone to rest
The good, the bad, the rich, the poor
The loviest and the best
(Bob Dylan: Tempest)

In the above lyrics, the singer/songwriter calls upon the Prince of Gothic:

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West
Where the good and the bad and the worst
and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest
(Edgar Allan Poe: The City In The Sea)

In paying his tribute to the Anti-Transcendentalist poet, Bob Dylan retains the end-rhyme ‘rest/best’.

Dylan makes reference to the another dark poem of his:

For, alas! alas! with me
The light of life is o’er!
No more – no more – no more –
(Such language holds the solumn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree
Or the stricken eagle soar!
(Edgar Allan Poe: To One In Paradise)

Hope for a Promised Land on Earth fades:

Beneath the thunder-blasted trees
The words are ringin’ off your tongue
The ground is hard in times like these
Stars are cold, the night is young
(Bob Dylan: Tell Ol’ Bill)

End-rhyme are: ‘trees/these’ instead of ‘tree/sea’.

That man is doomed to wait for a peaceful life after death be of little solace – ‘a slave morality’ – to those to whom is promised a Paradise here on Earth:

I love you pretty baby
You’re the only love I’ve ever known
Just as long as you stay with me
The whole world is my throne
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ we can call our own
(Bob Dylan: Beyond Here Lies Nothing)

The love of a beautiful Muse and the love of Art is the individual artist’s true Messiah – the imagination’s saviour in a world gone wrong.

What else 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.

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

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews

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