Bob Dylan Builds A Fire On Main Street And Shoots It Full Of Holes

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’.

What else is here?

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.

There is an alphabetic index to the 550+ Dylan compositions reviewed on the site which you will find it here.  There are also 500+ other articles on different issues relating to Dylan.  The other subject areas are also shown at the top under the picture.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook which mostly relates to Bob Dylan today.  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.

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