Bob Dylan And John Keats (Part III)

Bob Dylan And John Keats (Part III)

by Larry Fyffe

Earlier Parts of this series are available at

Ye who holds that Bob Dylan knows not his Keats, knows not Bob Dylan. The singer/songwriter shows regret at not being able to establish a permanent love relationship:

Yes, and only if my own true love was waitin’
And I could hear her heart a-softly poundin’
Yes, and only if she was lyin’ by me
Then I’d lie in my bed once again

(Bob Dylan: Tomorrow Is A Long Time)

In the lyrics above, the narrator accepts the reality of impermanence in relationships – he’s moving on:

Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away
Tomorrow will be
Another day
Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away

(Bob Dylan: Shooting Star)

Bob Dylan is sorry.

For Romantic poet John Keats, a permanent relationship is the be-all and end-all of desire:

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art ….
Pillowed upon my fair love’s ripening breast
To feel forever it’s soft fall and swell
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath
And live for ever – or else swoon to death

(John Keats: Bright Star)

John Keats is sad.

Both Dylan and Keats show Gnostic influence. There be alliterative snake-like ‘s’ sounds prominent in both their pieces, suggesting oxymoronic reticence mixed with danger. Bob Dylan keeps alert. Like Keats, he’s aware of the sleepless shape-shifting female of Greek mythology who seduces men and then consumes them. Her name is Lamia. In the poem above, Keats (or at least his persona) is willing to put up with the ‘sweet unrest’. If only she would lie beside him, Keats is ready to sacrifice everything.

Aware of Egyptian mythology, Bob Dylan envisions a war that is not only going on between the sexes, but within oneself; he mixes the mythological gods together as the ancient Egyptians did over time themselves:

His eyes were two slits that would make a snake proud
With a face that that any painter would paint as he walked
through the crowd
Worshipping a god with the body of a woman well-endowed
And the head of a hyena

(Bob Dylan: Angelina)

Some mythologists consider that Seth, the God of Disorder and a brother of Isis, be symbolized by a snake and a hyena.

Christianity, for Dylan, brings pieces of compassion to fit in the cosmological puzzle:

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes
And your silver cross and your voice like chimes
Oh, who do they think could bury you?

(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

From Dylan’s perspective, the Jesus-like Lady has a ‘mercury mouth’ – tasted, it could be poisonous.

In a John Keats poem, two lovers safely flee together:

Full on this casement shone the wintry moon
And threw warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast
And down she knelt for heaven’s grace and boon
Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest
And on her silver cross soft amethyst
And on her hair a glory, like a saint

(John Keats: The Eve Of St. Agnes)

In a Dylan song, dice are rolled, and you take your chances – bad luck should they come up ‘snake eyes’:

Hot chili peppers in the blistering sun
Dust on my face and my cape
Me and Magdalena on the run
I think this time we shall escape ……..
The way is long but the end is near
Already the fiesta has begun
The face of God will appear
With his serpent eyes of obsidian

(Bob Dylan: Romance In Durango/with J. Levy)

There’s a lot of Keats in Dylan – he takes his cake and eats it too.

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.  It contains links to reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

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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