Bob Dylan and Edward Cummings: The Romantic Revival

Bob Dylan And Edward Cummings: The Romantic Revival

by Larry Fyffe

The poet Edward Cummings, inspired by the preRomantic poetry of William Blake and the subsequent Romantic Transcendental Movement, looks back to the innocence of childhood in search of natural love, a journey that takes the poet away from the structured world of mass conformity that’s been shattered in the wake of the madness of war.

With poetry Postmodernist-in-form, EE Cummings reacts by shattering the rules of conventional language in an effort to uncover and rediscover beneath its structure the essence of the mysterious force -natural love – symbolized  by the word ‘God’. The poet removes the institutionalized dogmatic trappings of religion in his quest for the ultimate spirit that infuses material reality.

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, like Edward Cummings, presents a world to his listeners and readers in shattered, fragmented, and broken images:

Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hounddog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken

(Bob Dylan: Everything Is Broken)

Unbound by time, the inherent drive of the individual artist compels him/her to use all creative energy to demonstrate that Ol’ Humpty Dumpy – i.e., a loving society – can indeed, at least in the artistic imagination, be put back together again:

Night after night, day after day
They strip your useless hopes away
The more I take, the more I give
The more I die, the more I live
(Bob Dylan: Pay In Blood)

Below, again in tangled syntax, a similar message delivered by the aforementioned Romantic poet, EE Cummings:

Blow soon to never and never to twice
(Blow life to isn’t, blow death to was)
– All nothing’s only our hugest home
The most who die, the more we live
(EE Cummings: What If Much Of A Which Of A Wind)

Both writers oxymoronically express that time and existence be an unfathomable mystery, tempered by regeneration and love:

Time’s a strange fellow
More he gives than takes
(And he takes all) nor any marvel finds
Quite disappearance but some keener makes
Losing, gaining
– Love! If a world ends
More than all worlds begin to (see?) begin

(EE Cummings: All Nearness Pauses)

In particular, there is a central anthem associated with running the flag up the pole of the Romantic spiritual reawakening. To wit, the transcendental unification of the One with the Other, is transmitted by God through the playful experiencing of physical sex. As depicted in the following poem:

May I feel, said he
(I’ll squeal, said she
Just once, said he)
It’s fun, said she ….
(Cccome?, said he
Ummm, said she)
You’re divine, said he
(You are Mine, said she)

(EE Cummings: May I Feel Said He)

So it is Cummingsly expressed in the song below:

….It hang, can’t you see? I groan
She says, oh, what … it’s alright
I said, Jesus, don’t take it all ….
She’s a past-cold beauty, but she
can’t light a cannonball
Now, down by the river, she’s a-hop
on her knees
And I holler to my baby, yelling
Please, please, please

(Bob Dylan: Dress It Up)

Rap-like poetry, Cummings’ be:

The beat is witches brew
But beware this shit is potent
EE cummin’ on her face
Now, that’s poetry in motion
Yeah, Gambino make it work

(Childish Gambino: Freaks And Geeks)

Albeit seemingly fragmented, the Absolute Oneness of the Blakean Universe, alliterative Edward Cummings presents in poems suitable for children:

And Molly was chased by a horrible thing
Which raced sideways while blowing bubbles; and
May came home with a smooth round stone
As small as a world, and as large as alone
For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
It’s always ourselves we find in the sea

(EE Cummings: Maggie And Milly And Molly And May)

Likewise so expresses the Nobel-winning songwriter:

Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like satin and silk
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a pail of milk
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, rattle and shake
Wiggle like a big fat snake
(Bob Dylan: Wiggle, Wiggle)

In the face of the all the broken conventional values of contemporary society, the singer/songwriter invokes the broken syntax of Edward Cummings poetry to convey the impression of an alien and fragmented world:

Yeah, she’s gone like the rain
Below the shining yesterday
But now she’s home beside me
And I’d like her here to stay
She’s a lone, forsaken beauty
And it don’t trust anyone
And I wish I was beside her
But I’m not there, I’m gone

(Bob Dylan: I’m Not There)

Nevertheless, all is reconciled, according to the hyperbolic poet EE Cummings (and seemingly Bob Dylan too) –  the deepest secret of the Universe is that it be the enigma of Love that’ll prevent the Apocalypse by its keeping the stars apart:

Women and men (both doing and ding)
Summer, autumn, winter, spring
Reaped their sowing and went their came
Sun, moon, stars, rain

(EE Cummings: Anyone Lived In A Pretty How Town)

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



  1. On the wikipedia page of Van Dyke Parks there is an anecdote about Bob Dylan and ee cummings.

    Who knew.

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