By Larry Fyffe
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)
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)
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)
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
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.
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.
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:
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)
"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)