By Larry Fyffe
From the deep well of esoteric mystical knowledge that attempts to uncover the source of ultimate reality lying behind the world of light and darkness, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan draws out buckets of allegorical narratives, and ornate images (of water, wind, fire, and earth) which he then pours into cups filled with his music.
There’s the vision experienced by the bibical prophet Ezekiel:
And I looked, and behold, a whirlwind came out of the North A great cloud, and a fire infolding itself .... Also out the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures ... As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man And the face of a lion on the right side And they four had the face of an ox on the left side They four also had the face of an eagle (Ezekiel 1: 4,5,10)
A very similar vision of birds and humans, of animals tamed and untamed, repeats in the New Testament:
And the first beast was like a lion And the second beast like a calf And the third beast had face as a man And the fourth beast was like a flying eagle (Revelation 4: 7)
Somewhat likewise in the Cabbalistic poem below:
Then from the light of Infinity a simple line Hung down from above, lowered into space And through that line, He emanated Crafted, formed, and made the worlds Prior to these four worlds, there was one light Of Infinity Whose name is One, in wondrous, hidden unity (Isaac Lauria: The Tree Of Life)
They be narratives and images that Dylan stirs together in the following song lyrics:
Just step into the arena Beat a path of retreat up the spiral staircases Pass the tree of smoke, pass the angel with four faces Begging God for mercy, and weepin' in unholy places (Bob Dylan: Angelina)
In the New Testament, Jesus (as his name comes to be pronounced in English) performs miracles, casts out evil demons:
Immediately there met Him out of the tombs A man with an unclean spirit Who had his dwellings among the tombs And no man could bind him, no, not with chains .... Neither could any man tame him (Mark 5: 2,3,4)
The quote from Mark is not unlike the short narrative song below that depicts an outlaw of the Old West as though transformed by sparks of goodness emanated from the One:
John Wesley Harding Was a friend unto the poor He travelled with a gun in every hand .... But no charge held against him Could they prove And there was no man around Could track or chain him down (Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding)
Galloping onward, the singer/songwriter has a bit of fun with Ezekiel, Lauria, and Mark’s image. The goodly “boss” turns into a serpent; goes after Adam and Eve:
He renounced his faith, he denied his Lord Crawled on his belly, put his ear to the wall One way or another, he'll put an end to it all He leaned down, cut the electric wire Stared into the flame, and he snorted the fire Peered through the darkness, caught a glimpse of the two It was hard to tell for certain who was who He lowered himself on a golden chain (Bob Dylan: Tin Angel)
Many writers have an affinity for the the imagery deployed by the Gnostics. The Bard
humourously depicts a lover who loses all sense of himself – indeed he’ll shed his serpent’s skin for the love of a lady – to him, she’s the Absolute One:
Your love and pity doth the impression fill Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow For what care I who calls me well or ill So you over-grow my bad, and good allow? .... In so profound abysm I throw all care Of other voices that my adder's sense To critic, and to flatter, stopped are (William Shakespeare: Sonnet CXII)
The words ‘care’ and ‘are’ don’t live in the rhyme-house no more.
Nor is ‘Will’ called ‘Bill’ at the time, but there’s:
The river whispers in my ear I've hardly a penny to my name The heavens never seemed so near All my body glows with flame .... 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)
Shakespeare rhymes ‘brow’ with ‘allow’; Dylan rhymes ‘brow’ with ‘now’.
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