Bob Dylan And Arthur Rimbaud (Part IV)

By Larry Fyffe

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From the poetry of Symbolist Arthur Rimbaud, the singer/songwriter Bob Dylan draws to express his cynical view concerning human nature, and with it the corrupt values of organized religion upon which hypocrisy feasts:

A while back, if I remember right
My life was one long party
Where all hearts were open wide
When all wines kept flowing
When one night, I sat Beauty down on my lap
And I found her galling
And I roughed her up

(Arthur Rimbaud: A Season In Hell)

With his music and lyrics, Dylan lightens up, just a bit, the dark outlook of Rimbaud:

A worried man with a worried mind
No one in front of me, and nothing behind
There’s a woman on my lap
And she’s drinking champagne
Got white skin, got assassin’s eyes

(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

Rimbaud roughs up the optimistic outlook of Percy Shelley, the Romantic poet of Spring:

Bad luck was my god, I stretched out in the muck
I dried myself out in the air of crime
And I played tricks on insanity
And Spring bought me the frightening laugh of the idiot

(Rimbaud: A Season In Hell)

Dylan, too, turns Shelley’s regenerative spring into a death-like winter:

I’m looking into sapphire-tinted skies
I’ m well-dressed, waiting on the last train
Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose
Any minute now, I’m expecting all hell to break loose

(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

Painted black is much of Rimbaud’s poetry:

I called for executioners so, while dying
I could bite the butts of their rifles
I called for the plagues to choke me
With sand and with blood

(Rimbaud: A Season In Hell)

Bob Dylan sprinkles some hope on his cornflakes:

You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe ….
I kissed goodbye to the howling beast
On the border line that separated you from me

(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)

Rimbaud’s art is filled with double-edged irony that rages at religion for its suppression of natural behaviour:

‘You’ll always be a hyena’, yells the devil
Who had crowned me with such pretty poppies
‘Deserving of death with all your appetites, your selfishness
And all your capital sins’

(Rimbaud: A Season In Hell)

The symbolic irony is not lost on Dylan:

His eyes were two slits that would make a snake proud
With a face 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)

Rimbaud, as also does Dylan, gets some of this ‘end of an age’ outlook from Charles Baudelaire, who finds it in the poems of the American Gothic Romantic Edgar Allan Poe:

The happiest day, the happiest hour
My seared and blighted heart hath known
The highest hope of pride and power
I feel hath flown

(Edgar Allan Poe: The Happiest Day, The Happiest Hour)

Dylan retains his pride, and snaps at the hypocrisy of evangelical religious leaders who tried to take advantage of him:

Well they’ll choose a man for you to meet tonight
You’ll play the fool, and learn how to walk through doors
How to enter into the Gates Of Parsdise
No, how to carry a burden too heavy to be yours
Yeah, from the stage they’ll be tryin’ to get water out of rocks
A whore will pass the hat, collect a hundred grand and say ‘thanks’
They like to take all this money from sin, build universities to study in
Sing ‘Amazing Grace’ all the way to the Swiss banks

(Bob Dylan: Foot Of Pride)

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