Bob Dylan And Francisco Petrarch (Part II)

By Larry Fyffe

It’s all about the unrequited love for Laura:

It was on that day when the sun's rays
Was darkened in pity for its Maker
That I was captured, and did not defend myself
Because your lovely eyes had bound me, Lady
It did not seem to me to be a time to guard myself
Against Love's blows, so I went on
Confident and unsuspecting; from that my troubles
Started, amongst the public sorrows
Love discovered me all weaponless
And opened the way to the heart though the eyes
Which are made the passageways and doors of tears
So that it seemed to me it does him little honour
To wound me with his bow in that state
He not showing his bow at all to you who are armed

(Franciso Petrarch: It Was On That Day)

Disorder in form and content be the order of the day as far as the creators of Postmodern art are concerned, but innovation, the hallmark of a true artist, that is taken too far afield will catch the attention of only a few members of the public, if that. Traditional art, whether considered ‘high or ‘low’, that retains its appeal in the public domain is a sign of worthiness.

In literature, the fourteen-line Petrarchan sonnet (it usually comments on love), has endured. In the song by Bob Dylan, below, the prosodic structure of the Petrarchan sonnet can be detected even when somewhat concealed within the written lyrics of the song, and the traditional positioning of the octave and the sestet is inverted.

The sestet:

In death you face life 
With a child and a wife 
Who sleep-walks through your dreams into walls 
You're a soldier of mercy 
You're cold, and you curse, "He 
Who no cannot be trusted must fall"

The octave:

High society 
You fight for the throne 
And you travel alone 
Unknown as you slowly sink 
And there's no time to think

(Bob Dylan: No Time To Think)

In the following song, Dylan pays tribute to the traditional form of the sonnet – its name derived from Francisco Petrarch, a poet from the fourteenth century; the eight-line octave presents an event or a problem to the reader or the listener; the six-line sestet comments on the event or solves the problem.

The octave:

Early one mornin', the sun was shinin'
I was laying in bed
Wonderin' if she'd changed at all
If her head was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like mama's homemade dress
Papa's bankbook wasn't big enough

The sestet:

And I was standin' on the side of the road
Rain fallin' on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I've paid some dues
Gettin' through
Tangled up in blue

(Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue)

The Bard pokes a bit of fun at the use of Petrarchan love conceits:

My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun
Coral is far more red than her lips' red
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun
If hairs be wires, black wire grows on her head

(William Shakespeare: Sonnet CXXX)

And so does Bob Dylan:

Well the woman I love, she got a hook in her nose
Her eyebrows meet, she wears second-hand clothes
She speaks with a stutter, and walks with a hop
I don't know why I love her, but I just can't stop

(Bob Dylan: The Ugliest Girl In The World ~ Dylan/Hunter)

‘Tangled Up In Blue’ continues in a series of the sonnets:

She lit the burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
"I thought you'd never say 'hello', she said
"You look like the silent type"
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet 
From the thirteenth century
And every one of those words rang true
And glowed like burnin' coal
Pourin' off of every page
Like it was written on my soul
From me to you 
Tangled up in blue

(Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue)

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.

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