Bob Dylan and Arthur Rimbaud (Part III)


By Larry Fyffe

As previously mentioned, surrealistic poet Arthur Rimbaud refers to nursery rhymes of yore, more often than not twisting their themes.  In days of old such rhymes be a coded way to convey political or religious messages in order to avoid being burned at the stake. Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan makes modern use of this literary device, adding traditional songs to the list.

Post Modern irony be a characteristic feature of a number of Bob Dylan’s songs. For example, the fragmented lyrics of ‘Scarlet Town’, based on the old ballad ‘Barbara Allan’, can be interrupted as a narrative about Little Boy Blue who refrains from blowing his trumpet in case it wakes up Jesus who is hiding under a haystack; it’d be all over for Baby Blue if the Christ-to-be, not really that inclined to have His sensual physical body crucified, manages to escape from His predestined fate – for the Christ Child to become the Messiah, there must  be no way for Him to get out of the crucifixion; Mankind won’t get saved (see: Bob Dylan And Arthur Rimbaud – Part II):

Set’em up Joe, play ‘Walkin’ The Floor’
Play it for my flat-chested junkie whore
I’m staying up late, I’m making amends
While we smile, our heaven descends

(Bob Dylan: Scarlet Town)

As the song referenced in the black-humoured lyrics above indicates, it would be severely messing with destiny if Jesus gets away, and never comes back ever again to tend His sheep, most having gone astray:

You left me and you went away
You said you’d be back, and just that day
You’ve broken your promise, and you left
me here alone

(Ernest Tubb: Walking The Floor Over You)

In the manner of Arthur Rimbaud, Bob Dylan plays around with other nursery rhymes in his song lyrics:

One’s about the possibility of an apocalyptic nuclear war:

Let the wind blow low, let the wind
blow high
One day the little boy and the little girl
were both baked in a pie

(Bob Dylan: Under The Red Sky)

The source is an old rhyme – the intent of which is to scare the wits out of children:

Sing a song of sixpence
A pocket full of rye
Four and twenty naughty boys
Baked in a pie

(Sing A Song Of Six Pence: Nursery Rhyme)

Below is another bit from the Dylan song about The Bomb:

There was a little boy and there was a little girl
And they lived in an alley under the red sky

(Bob Dylan: Under The Red Sky)

The source be a rhyme about childhood sexual curiosity:

There was a little boy and there was a little girl
Lived in an alley
Says the little boy to the little girl
‘What shall I do?’

(There Was A Little Boy: Nursery Rhyme)

But there’s more to the lyrics than that when Rimbaud’s poetic symbolism is taken into account. He, like poet William Blake, ridicules the Christian Church for celebrating with Christmas suppers the suppression of  human sexuality (symbolized Rimbaud does by the colour ‘red’ – Freud’s ‘Id’, ‘the other’, as it were). This fosters  psychological problems, according to the French poet.

With Existentialist humour, Dylan out-rimbauds Rimbard:

Raspberry, strawberry, lemon, and lime
What do I care
Blueberry, apple, cherry, pumpkin, and plum
Call me for dinner, honey, and I’ll be there …..
Shake me up that old peach tree
Little Jack Horner’s got nothin’ on me
Oh me, oh my
Love that country pie

(Bob Dylan: Country Pie)

The source, of course:

Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner
Eating his Christmas pie
He put in his thumb
And pulled out a plum
And said, ‘What a good boy am I’

(Little Jack Horner: Nursery Rhyme)

What else is on the site?

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ songs reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.

We also now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

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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