Bob Dylan and Synesthesia: To Be Where The Angels Fly (Part III)

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By Larry Fyffe

The Romantic poets turn to mental perceptions in their examination of the human condition because the senses directly link the environment outside to the brain inside. Those writers who focus on the intellect and reason, rather than on the artistic imagination, tend to distance their feelings from the world in which they exist.

The Romantic poets employ synesthetic images that refer to sensations like movement, touch, taste, smell, sound, sight; and to the way they intermingle within the human mind, and how they can be recalled therefrom.

Poet John Keats be the master of the technique of employing figurative language to create a sensual world, a place that is both beautiful and frightful:

O for a drop of vintage! that hath been
Cooled a long age in deep-delved earth
Tasting of Flora and the country green
Dance, Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker of the warm South
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene
With beaded bubbles winking at the brime
And purple-stained mouth
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen
And with thee fly away into the forest dim

(John Keats: Ode To A Nightingale)

Many of the poems of John Keats, and a number of song lyrics by Bob Dylan, both figuratively alliterative, feature a cauldron of mixed-up senses, i.e., of purple and mercury mouths:

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?
With your pockets well protected at last
And your streetcar visions which you place on the grass
And your flesh like silk, and your face like glass
Who could they get to carry you?

(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of Lowlands)

Keats mourns the loss of the joyful taste of flowers, of a song bird’s music now ‘buried deep’ in the forest, while Dylan finds the loss of a girl that he loves leaves a sad taste in his mouth:

Now I'm wearing the cloak of misery
And I've tasted jilted love
And the frozen smile upon my face
Fits me like a glove
But I can't escape from the memory
Of the one that I'll always adore
All those nights when I lay in the arms
Of the girl from the Red River Shore

(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

In the song lyric below, the imagery serves as a correlative to objectify the sensation of sorrowful emotion:

The sun is sinking low
I guess it's time to go
I feel a chilly breeze
In place of memories
My dreams are locked and barred
Admitting life is hard
Without you

(Bob Dylan: Life Is Hard)

Edgar Allen Poe’s writing style is influenced by the synesthetic imagery of John Keats:

The mystery which binds me still
From the torrent, or the fountain
From the red cliff of the mountain
From the sun that 'round me rolled
In the autumn tint of gold
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by
From the thunder, and the storm

(Edgar Allen Poe: Alone)

Passed from Keats to Poe; from Poe to Dylan – note the Dylanesque ‘rhyme twist’ from the poem above in the song lyrics below:

~ ‘sky’/’by’; ‘by’/’fly’:

Some of us turn off the lights, and we live
In the moonlight shooting by
Some of us scare ourselves in the dark
To be where the angels fly

(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

The fear of losing the spirit of the imagination required to create worthy works of art haunts many of the lyrics of John Keats, Edgar Allen Poe, and Bob Dylan.

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