Dylan And The Devil

By Larry Fyffe


As previously noted, Bob Dylan’s song lyrics reveal that the singer/songwriter tends to relate to the Gnostic and Gothic aspects of the poetry of Samuel Coleridge and Johnn Keats; the singer/songwriter flees from  the English Transcendentalist Romantics who, in reaction to orthodox religion, envision the light of some goodly Oneness floating out there in the world of Nature:

Upon the honeyed middle of the night
If ceremonies due they did aright
As supperless to bed they must retire
And couch supine their beauties, lily white …..
The wakeful bloodhound rose, and shook his hide
But his sagacious eye an inmate owns …..
The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans
And they are gone; ay, ages ago
These lovers fled into the storm
That night the Baron dreamt of many a woe

(John Keats: The Eve of St. Agnes)

The influence of mystical Keats – his individualistic search for release from an overly rational and ordered  world – is clearly shown in the song lyrics below:

Hey, come crawl out your window
Use your hands and legs, it won’t ruin you
How can you say he will haunt you?
You can go back to him any time you want to
He looks so truthful, is this how he feels?
Trying to peel the moon and expose it
With his business-like anger, and bloodhounds that kneel

(Bob Dylan: Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window)

An influence on Keats is an earlier English Romantic poet, rather Gnostical and paradoxical, who ponders the darkness:

‘Tis the middle of the night by
the castle clock …..
Sir Leoline,  the Baron rich
Hath a toothless mastiff bitch
From her kennel beneath the rock

She maketh answer to the clock

The Baron’s daughter enters the dark woods:

There she sees a damsel bright
Drest in a silken robe of white
That shadowy in the moonlight shone
(Samuel Coleridge: Christabel)

That poem by Coleridge influences an American poet:

Oh, lady bright! can it be right
This window open to the night
The wanton airs from the tree-top
Laughingly through the lattice drop ….
Above the closed and fringed lid
‘Neath which thy slumbering soul lies hid
(Edgar Allan Poe: The Sleeper)

Bringing it all back home to the singer/songwriter:

The bridge at midnight trembles
The country doctor rambles
Bankers’ nieces seek perfection
Expecting all the gifts that wiseman bring
The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold ‘n’ rainy
My love, she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing

(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

Edgar Allan Poe is introduced to the French Symbolist poets by Charles Baudelaire:

At midnight in the month of June
I stand beneath the mystic moon ….
The rosemary nods upon the grave
The lily lolls upon the wave
Wrapping the fog about its breast
The ruin moulders into rest

(Edgar Allan Poe: The Sleeper)

A Symbolist poet takes another shot at the one-sidedly bright-themed Transcendentalists:

In short, is a flower, Rosemary
Or Lily, dead or alive
Worth the excrement of one sea- bird?

(Arthur Rimbaud: On The Subject Of Flowers)

The singer/songwriter picks the flowers:

Lily had already taken all the dye out of her hair
She was thinkin’ ’bout her father, who she very rarely saw
Thinkin’ ’bout Rosemary, and thinkin’ ’bout the law
But, most of all, she was thinkin’ ’bout the Jack of Hearts

(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

Bob Dylan’s cosmological view is neither black nor white; if there is an answer, it’s blowing in the wind; you’re gonna have to service somebody – it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord:

Preacher was talkin’, there’s a sermon he gave
He said every man’s conscious is vile and depraved
You cannot depend on it to be your guide
When it is you who must keep it satisfied
It ain’t easy to swallow, it sticks in you throat
She gave her heart to the man in the long black coat

(Bob Dylan: The Man In The Long Black Coat)

Dylan, surrounded by the sounds of music, is a silver-tongued devil who sings two-edged words.

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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