Bob Dylan: Giants In The Land Of Milk And Honey


By Larry Fyffe

Figurative language flies from the bow bent by singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. No end of trouble his flaming arrows bring to the literalist passengers clinging to the listing side of the Holy Titanic as it rides out the Great Flood.

Seth, one of the rebellious sons of the Egyptian mythological Earth and Sky Gods, and the brother of Isis and Osiris, makes a surprise appearance on the ship’s Judeo-Christian minstrel show.

Seth plays a giant with a heart of evil, a dark angel sent forth by the Demiurge to sing ‘Nearer My God To Thee’:

There were giants in the earth in these days, and also after that
When the sons of God came unto the daughters of men
And they bare children to them, the same became mighty men
Which were of old, men of renown
And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth
And every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually
(Genesis 6: 4,5)

Presented in the figurative and allegorical language that becomes known as ‘Gnostic’ style, with content that emphasizes everlasting evil trapped within the material world, flesh-eating giants appear in a book called the Holy Bible where the giants inhabit the land of Canaan:

And they told him, and said
We come into the land whither thou sentest us
And surly it floweth with milk and honey …..
And there we saw giants, the sons of Anak
Which come of the giants
And we were in our own sight as grasshoppers
And so we were in their sight
(Numbers 13: 27, 33)

As well, poet Dante Alighieri, the Italian poet from the 14th century, uses the mythological and biblical imagery of characters like Seth and Lucifer to serve as allegorical symbols for disorder:

The emperor of the realm of sorrow
At mid-breast from the ice issued forth
And better with a giant I compare
Than do giants with those arms of his
(Dante: The Divine Comedy, Canto 34)

Poet Wallace Stevens uses the imagery and symbolism from the medieval poetry above to express a Modernistic Existentialist point of view – that, through language, a spiritual meaning upon melting existence can be imposed though none there be:

Call the roller of big cigars
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds ….
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream
(Wallace Stevens: The Emperor Of Ice Cream)

A Birmingham British rocknroll metal band uses Satanic imagery from Dante’s poetry:

Evil souls fall to Hell
Ever trapped in burning cell
(Black Sabbath: Electric Funeral)

As pictured below in dark-framed Gnostic imagery:

But first declare what fellows of the tomb
In burning cells await the final doom
(Dante: The Divine Comedy, Canto 10)

Bob Dylan drops his bucket, like the Romantic Gothic poet Samuel Coleridge does, into the deep well that holds fragments of Biblical/Dantesque imagery.

To Dylan, for the most part, the United States of America represents a newly discovered land of disenchantment:

Oh, Angelina, oh, Angelina
In the valley of the giants where the stars
and stripes explode
The peaches were sweet and the milk
and honey flowed …..
Beat a path of retreat up them spiral staircases
Pass the tree of smoke, pass the angel
with four faces
Begging God for mercy and weeping in unholy places
(Bob Dylan: Angelina)

Bringing it all back home to the Old Testament where surrealistic images like a wheel-of-fortune with four faces turn: one of them with a face of a man, one of an ox, one of a lion, and one of an eagle.

In modern times, an eagle is on the presidential flag of the United States, and on the flag of Mexico; a lion, with a flaming mane, is seen on the flag of Ethiopia, and on the flag of Argentina with its head in the form of the sun:

Behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures
With his four faces
Ezekiel 1:15)

That the Old Testament God -Yahweh – was right on. That’s one way of looking at all these creative imaginings. The Tree of Knowledge grows in a universe that is composed of smoke and mirrors. Specifically, it grows in a gambling house down in New Orleans called the ‘Rising Sun’.

Best to retreat than mistake the house of ill-repute for a home:

It’s undeniable what they’d have you to think
It’s indescribable it can drive you to drink
They said it was the land of milk and honey
Now they say it’s the land of money
(Bob Dylan: Unbelievable)

Ask the Jack of Hearts- he knows all about it.


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6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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3 Responses to Bob Dylan: Giants In The Land Of Milk And Honey

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    * those days, not these days
    ** came in unto the daughters…
    ***was right on is one way …

  2. kiwipoet says:

    Thoughtful post, as always. This ‘valley of the giants’ reminds me of the ‘valley below’ in One More Cup of Coffee. The context of the ‘valley’ in that song might suggest the vagina, although the ominous shift in the music at that point also suggests the ‘valley of the shadow of death.’
    There is a also of course those lines from Where Are You Tonight:
    ‘And a lonesome bell tone
    in that valley of stone…’
    and we’re back with Dante again.

  3. Larry Fyffe says:

    Yes, indeed..,thanks for making those additions.

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