Bob Dylan And The Sonnets (Part II)

By Larry Fyffe

A number of  song lyrics by Bob Dylan are criticized for their misogynistic content, but in many cases the singer/songwriter is just messin’ around with the secluar sonnets of William Shakespeare.

One should give pity to others as one may wish it returned some day, asserts the Bard:
Be it lawful I love thee, as thou lovest those
Whom thine eyes woo as mine importune thee
Root pity in thy heart, that when it grows
Thy pity may deserve to pitied be

(William Shakespeare: Sonnet CXLII)

Sings Bob Dylan:

Everything passes, everything changes
Just do what you think you should do
And someday maybe
Who knows, baby
I'll come, and be cryin' to you

(Bob Dylan: To Ramona)

The Bard laments make-up women wear hides raw reality – he’s happy that the times they are a-changin’:

Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack
Slanders creation with a false esteem
Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe
That every tongue says beauty should look so

(William Shakespeare: Sonnet CXXVII)

So writes the musician/songster:

They tell me to be discreet
For all intended purposes
They tell me revenge is sweet
And from where they stand, I'm sure it is
But I feel nothing for their game
Where beauty goes unrecognized
All I feel is the heat and flame
And all I see are dark eyes

(Bob Dylan: Dark Eyes)

Another imaginistic poet and singer deplores this cultural game of


And I've seen your flag on the marble arch
But listen love, love is not some kind of victory march
(Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah)

Concise, and black humorous be:

Tie your banner on you well
'Cause I want you
(Bob Dylan: Hallelujah)

Without the presence of a beloved, the beauty of the surrounding natural environment  be not appreciated – according to the Bard:

Yet nor the lay of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue
Could make me any summer's story tell
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew ....
Yet seemed it winter still and you away
(William Shakespeare: Sonnet XCVIII)

A sentiment expressed in the song lyrics below:

Winter would have no spring
Couldn't hear the robin sing
I just wouldn't have a clue
Anyway, it wouldn't ring true
If not for you

(Bob Dylan: If Not For You)

There’s even a Dylanesque ‘”rhyme twist” included: ~ ‘hue’/’grew’; ~ ‘clue’/’true’/’you’.



  1. Also, in a funny and punny sonnet the Bard’s persona is neglected – he’s a crying baby; his rival, a fowl escaped; the object of the babe’s desire, a frustrated housewife:

    Lo, as a careful housewife runs to catch
    One of her feathered creatures broke away
    Set down her babe, and makes a swift dispatch
    In pursuit of the thing she would have stay ….so I pray that thou mayst have thy ‘Will’
    If you turn back, and my loud crying still
    (Wiliam Shakespeare: Sonnet CXLIII)

    The singer/songwriter wishes to give ‘Brother Bill’ (‘Will’) a “great thrill”:

    The Cammander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
    Saying, ‘Death to all those who would whimper and cry’
    And, dropping a barbell, he points at the sky
    Saying, ‘The sun’s not yellow, it’s a chicken’
    Mama’s in the factory, she ain’t got no shoes
    Daddy’s in the alley, he’s lookin’ for food
    I’m in the kitchen with the tombstone blues
    (Bob Dylan: Tombstone Blues)

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