Bob Dylan Takes On The Persona Of Moses (Part II)

 

By Larry Fyffe

Construed as a religious allegory, the narrator is Moses in the song ‘Red River Shore’ who’s stuck inside of Egypt with the Israel blues again. He’s a ‘stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:2).

The allegory continues in another song entitled ‘Mississipi’. Moses is with an Etheopian girl named Zipporah, but he dreams of a future when he’ll be as faithful as the Rose of Sharon is to God’s first-born son, the country of Israel (Exodus 4:2):

I was thinkin' 'bout the  the things that Rosie said
I was thinkin' I was sleepin' in Rosie's bed
Walkin' through the leaves falling from the trees
Feeling like a stranger nobody sees

(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

Unlike Rosie of Sharon who’s delighted to serve the Lord, Moses shirks his responsibility to lead God’s chosen people to the Promised Land of Israel:

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys
As the lily among the thorns
So is my love among my daughters
As the apple tree among the trees of the wood
So is the my beloved among the sons
I sat down under his shadow with great delight
And his fruit was we sweet to my taste

(The Song Of Solomon 2: 1,2,3)

God has to ‘encourage’ the Egyptian Pharaoh to let His people go by having Moses call upon a plague of locusts:

And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt ....
And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt
And rested in all the coasts of Egypt; very grievous were they
Before them there were no such locusts, neither after them shall be such

(Exodus 10: 13,14)

In the song ‘The Day Of The Locusts’, the narrator analogously represents Moses; the state of South Dakota with its “badlands” and outlaw town of “Deadwood”, ‘aces and eights’ and all, stands in for the Sinai Desert:

I put down my robe, picked up my diploma
Took hold of my sweetheart, and away we did drive
Straight for the black hills of Dakota
Sure was glad to get out of their alive ....
Yeah, the locusts sang, and they were singing for me

(Bob Dylan: The Day Of The Locusts)

Moses finally screws up his courage, turns outaw, and gathers the Hebrew slaves together. They head out for the Sinai Desert with an Egyptian posse a-ridin’ hard on their tail; they escape across the Sea of Reeds.

Some forty years it takes wandering in the desert, but God fulfils His promise:

And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand
Of the Egyptians
And to bring them up out of that land
Unto a good land, and a large
Unto a land flowing with milk and honey

(Exodus 3:8)

Moses dies; he does not get to cross the River Jordon; he does not get to rest in Rosie’s bed. He’s allowed to come back, but not all the way –  because he stayed in Egypt a day too long:

The foreign sun, it's squints upon
A bed that is never mine
As friends and other strangers
From their fates try to resign
Leaving men wholly, totally free
To do anything they wish to do, but die
And there are no trials inside the Gates of Eden

(Bob Dylan: Gates Of Eden)

The man of constant sorrow in the following song is not at all pleased that’s he’s been treated like a fish on a baited hook (he’s Moses, if you like,  and the United States with it’s ‘America Dream’ is the Promised Land):

It's undeniable what they'd have you think
It's indescribable, it can drive you to drink
They said it was the land of milk and honey
Now they say it's the land of money

(Bob Dylan: Unbelievable)

Moses pleads with God to change him into a bird so that he can fly across the  River Jordon, and be with the one that he loves:

I pray thee, let me go over and see the good land
That is beyond Jordon, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon
But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes
And would not hear me, and the Lord said unto me
'Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter'

(Deuteronomy 3: 25,26)

What’s a poor boy to do:

Wish I was back in the city
Instead of this old bank of sand
With the sun beating down over the chimney tops
And the one I love so close at hand
If I had wings, and I could fly
I know where I would go
But right now I'll just sit here so contentedly
And watch the river flow

(Bob Dylan: Watching The River Flow)

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