Bob Dylan And Charles Baudelaire

by Larry Fyffe

Poems of Charles Baudelaire shows the impact of Edgar Allan Poe; Bob Dylan’s song lyrics reveal the influence of Charles Baudelaire.

In one version thereof, Dylan sings:

Then she opened up a book of poems
And she started quotin’ it to me
It was written by Charles Baudelaire
Or some Italian poet from the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal

(Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue)

Dylan makes reference to a poem by Baudelaire (translated):

The evening lighted by the glow of the coals
The evening on the balcony, veiled in rose mist
How soft your breast was to me, how kind your heart
We often said imperishable things
The evenings lighted by the glow of the coals

(Baudelaire: The Balcony)

Symbolist poet Beaudelaire admires the colourful Romantic paintings of Eugene Delacroix that deal with mankind’s pain and suffering. Bob Dylan studies the art of painting, and brings ‘Lady Liberty Leading The People’ by Delacroix to mind with a sly pun in the lyrics below:

So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happen to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishing boat
Right outside Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind

(Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue)

Eugene Delacroix paints ‘Tasso In The Madhouse’ – Torquato Tasso, an Italian poet from the sixteenth century, writes ‘Rinaldo’, a knightly romance that contains sexual imagery based on Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Birth Of Venus’:

The poet in his cell, unkempt and sick
Who crushes underfoot a manuscript
Measure, with a gaze that horror has inflamed
The stair of madness where his soul was maimed

(Baudelaire: On Eugene Delacroix’s Tasso In The Madhouse)

The singer/songwriter seeks out sexy Venus, his Muse:

Got to hurry back to my hotel room
Where I got me a date with Botticelli’s niece
She promised to be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece

(Bob Dylan: When I Paint My Masterpiece)

In the poem below, a cracked bell symbolizes a broken soul:

Happy’s the bell whose vigorous throat on high
In spite of time, is sound and still unspent
To hurl his faithful and religious cry
Like an old soldier watching in his tent
My soul is cracked, and when amidst it’s care
It tries with song to fill the frosty air

(Baudelaire: The Cracked Bell)

Not quite so dark are the song lyrics below:

The guilty undertaker sighs
The lonesome organ grinder cries
The silver saxophones say I should refuse you
The cracked bells and washed-out horns
Blow into my face with scorn
But it’s not that way
I wasn’t born to lose you

(Bob Dylan: I Want You)

Other song lyrics draw a comparison with two French Symbolist poets influenced by Baudelaire:

Situations have ended sad
Relationships have all been bad
Miner’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud
But there’s no way I can compare
All those scenes to this affair
You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go

(Bob Dylan: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go)

Rimbaud writes of Venus:

I believe, I believe in you, divine mother
Sea-born Aphrodite – oh, the path is bitter
Since the other God harnessed us to His cross
Flesh, marble, flower, Venus, in you I believe
Yes, Man is sad and ugly, and under the vast sky

(Arthur Rimbaud: Sun And Flesh)

Likewise for the singer/songwriter – Venus’ water balances Mars’ fire, makes love pure. Black-robed priests over-water it:

Love that’s pure ain’t no accident
Always on time, is always content
An eternal flame, quietly burning
You don’t want love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love

(Bob Dylan: Watered-Down Love)

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