Bob Dylan And The Ace Of Spades: Ernest Hemingway (Part II)

By Larry Fyffe

This article continues from “The Ace of Spades”

Call it ‘black baroque’ or call it ‘gothic gnosticism’, the theme that haunts many of the songs by Bob Dylan is the certainity of death, often figuratively associated in his song lyrics with a woman – likewise, in western literary formats as well:

His lady has taken another mate
So we will make our dinner sweet
You will sit on his white neck-bone
And I'll peck out his pretty blue eyes

(The Twa Corbies: traditional ballad)

A theme continued in later poetry:
I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too

(John Keats: La Belle Sans Merci)

In the Dylan song lyrics below:
You trampled on me as you passed
Left the coldest kiss upon my brow
All my doubts and fears have gone at last
I've nothing to tell you now

(Bob Dylan: Tell Ol’ Bill)

In the lyrics directly above, the narrator takes on the masculine ‘he-man’ attitude that’s often expressed in the Existentialist novels of Ernest Hemingway – ie, ‘guts’ is the showing of grace and dignity under pressure:
I went down to where the vultures feed
I would've gone deeper, but there wasn't any need
Heard the tongues of angels, and the tongues of men
Wasn't any difference to me
(Bob Dylan: Dignity)

The narrator notes that death comes soon enough without any need of letting the emotional effects of a lost love move things along in the direction of a supposed better afterlife.

A theme expressed by a Romantic poet with a Modernistic bent:
Two roads diverged in the yellow wood
And since I could not travel both ....
Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was gassy, and wanted wear
Though as for that passing there
Had worn them really about the same

(Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken)

Frost darkens Romantic Transcendentalist Walt Whitman’s sunny poems “Leaves of Grass’ by treading upon them in the path on which he decides to travel.

It’s worth repeating that the singer/songwriter, alluding to Victorian poet Lord Tennyson, and to Frost again, does much same thing to the “Wiseman lookin’ in a blade of grass” (‘Dignity’):
The evenin' sun is sinkin' low
The woods are dark, the town is too
Tell ol' Bill when he comes home
That anything is worth a try
Tell him that I'm not alone
That the hour has come to do or die

(Bob Dylan: Tell ol’ Bill)

How much the songwriter’s personal outlook may or may not match that of the narrator in the song lyrics is a moot point.  If not directly, Bob Dylan comes in contact with poet Ezra Pound’s open-to-interpretation style of writing (that is, it’s understated, objective, omissive, and imagistic) through the stories of Ernest Hemingway:

It’s awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the day time,
but at night it is another thing
(Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises)

The singer/songwriter, as it’s been pointed out, alludes to Hemingway in the song lyrics below:

Wedding bells are ringing, and the choir is beginning to sing
What looks good in the day, at night is another thing

(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

In the movie ‘To Have And Have Not’, based on Hemingway’s novel of the  same name, Lauren Bacall (Slim) says to Humphrey Bogart:
"You know, Steve, you're not very hard to figure.Only at times. Sometimes I know exactly what you're going to say. Most of the time."

Sings the songwriter:

Most of the time
I can survive
And I can endure
And I don't even think about her

(Bob Dylan: Most Of The Time)


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