Netting More Synesthesia In Dylan’s Song Lyrics (Part II)

by Larry Fyffe

This article continues on from Bob Dylan and the Synaesthesia of Nettie Moore.

The depiction of the traditional senses of touch, taste, smell, sound, sight, and other sensations (in similes and metaphors) as intricately entangled is a literary device detected in a number of Bob Dylan’s song lyrics.

Such literary synaesthesia is found in the Holy Bible – the sense of touch, of kissing a beloved, described in terms of the senses of taste and smell:

His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers
His lips like lilies, dropping smelling myrrh

(Song Of Soloman 5:13)

Not to be confused with the medically recognized neurological condition, below is a lyric by the singer/songwriter that employs the synesthetic technique – ‘black’ being a ‘colour’ oft associated with depression:

Winter's gone, the river's on the rise
I loved you then, and ever shall
But there's no one left here to tell
The world has gone black before my eyes

(Bob Dylan: Nettie Moore ~ Dylan, Pike, et al )

In another song, the senses of sight and of sound, without an inspirational Muse, are hyperbolically depicted as being damaged:

If not for you
Winter would have no spring
Couldn't hear the robin sing
I wouldn't have a clue
Anyway, it wouldn't ring true
If not for you

(Bob Dylan: If Not For You)

Writers of the Gothic ilk claim they sense a dark otherworld inhabited by spirits and ghosts:

By a route obscure and lonely
Haunted by ill angels only
Where an eidolon, named Night
On a black throne reigns upright
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule 
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime
Out of space - out of time

(Edgar Allan Poe: Dreamland)

A world not unknown to the singer/songwriter – from his ‘Time Out Of Mind’ album:

Last night I danced with a stranger
But she just reminded me you were the one
You left me standin' in the doorway
In the dark land of the sun

(Bob Dylan: Standing In The Doorway)

Many an artist sees the external world of reality as downright black and sorrowful –  it’s  bound  to tangle up your tongue:

I end up then
In the early evenin'
Blindly punchin' at the blind
Breathin' heavy
And blowin' up where t' go
What is it that's exactly wrong?

(Bob Dylan: Untitled Poem)

That is Bob Dylan, or at least his persona, says the Romantic nature poets be too happy in their happiness:

I wandered lonely as  cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of golden daffodils
Beside the lake, beneath the trees
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze

(William Wordsworth: I Wandered Lonely As A Crowd)

The Universe itself may be personified – sensed as synesthetic – by the Transcendentalist poets, but, especially to the Modernist writers, Nature is simply unsympathetic to the human condition. Death awaits us all:

I stood unwound beneath the skies
And clouds unbound by laws
The crying rain like a trumpet sang
And asked for no applause

(Bob Dylan: Lay Down Your Weary Tune)

Though not an apocalyptic writer because he glimpses signs of hope that this is not the end, Bob Dylan, nevertheless, senses something ominous passing through Walt Whitman’s leaves of grass:

He saw an animal as smooth as glass
Slithering his way through the grass
Saw him disappear by a tree near the lake
["Ah, think I'll call it a snake"]

(Bob Dylan: Man Gave Names To All The Animals)

Humans, like cats, have an inherent sense of fear when it comes to snakes:

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides
You may have met him - did you not?
His notice sudden is ....
But never met this fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And zero at the bone

(Emily Dickinson: A Narrow Fellow In The Grass)

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+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains 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 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.


One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *