Bob Dylan And Delmore Schwartz: The Wind And The Rain

by Larry Fyffe

Much of the time the song lyrics of Bob Dylan reflect the influence of the modernist poet, and short story writer, Delmore Schwartz. That is, caught as one is in the interconnected processes of a whirling universe, the triumphs and woes of an individual, be he or she an artist, a child , or a dog, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans:

Dogs are Shakespearean, children are strangers
Let Freud and Wordsworth discuss the child
Angels and Platonists shall judge the dog
The running dog, who paused, distending his nostrils
Then barked and wailed, the boy who pinched his sister
The little girl who sang the song from 'Twelfth Night'
(Delmore Schwartz: Dogs Are Shakespearean)

The fear and foreboding expressed in Existentialist thought is not lost on singer/songwriter Bob Dylan:

If dogs run free, then why not me
Across the swooping plain?
My ears hear a symphony
Of two mules, trains, and rain
The best is always yet to come
That's what they explain to me
Just do your thing, you'll be king
(Bob Dylan: If Dogs Run Free)

In his poem, Delmore Schwartz refers to a song sung by a clown:

A great while ago the world begun
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain
But that's all one, our play is done
And we'll try to please every day
(William Shakespeare: Twelfth Night, Act V, sc.i)

As far as Delmore is concerned – hope notwithstanding – the only thing known for certain about the future is that life doesn’t have a happy ending.

A theme expressed in the song lyrics below:

Let the wind blow high
Let the wind blow low
One day the little boy, and the little girl
Were both baked in a pie
(Bob Dylan: Under The Red Sky)

Even then, when the Ace or Queen of Spades gets drawn by someone from the deck of life it’s just a matter of good or bad luck:

Some of whom are uncertain compel me
They fear the Ace of Spades ....
And they distrust
The fireworks by the lakeside, first the spurt
Then the coloured lights, rising
(Schwartz: At This Moment Of Time)

Both Schwartz and Dylan are haunted by the Gothic poetry of Edgar Allen Poe; in the song lyrics below, Bob Dylan, like Schwartz above, dons the brave face of an ironical black humourist:

Well, I return to the Queen of Spades
And talk with my chambermaid
She knows that I'm not afraid to look at her
She is good to me
And there's nothin' she doesn't see
(Bob Dylan: I Want You)

There are actually some Dylan analysts who claim that his song above has a Christian theme.

To Romantic Transcendentalist poets like William Wordsworth, Nature is basically (though admittedly not always) beautiful and benevolent – especially so when seen through the eyes of a child, and in some of the poems of neo-Transcendentalist Robert Frost.

Schwartz mocks Frost’s poem ‘Stopping By  Woods On A Snowy Evening’ – ‘My horse must think it queer/To stop without a farmhous near’:

That famous horse must feel great fear
Now that his noble rider's no longer here
He gives his harness bells a rhyme
- Perhaps he will be back in time?
(Schwartz: Now He Knows All There Is To Know)

Bob Dylan sides with playwrite Bill Shakespeare far more than he does with
Robert Frost:

The woods are dark, the town is too
Tell ol' Bill when he comes home
Anything is worth a try
(Dylan: Tell Ol' Bill)'

The song lyrics of Bob Dylan usually stay clear of the optimistic outlook of the Romantic Transcendentalist writers ; instead, in them the Schwartz roulette wheel keeps on a-whirling with no regard for truth and justice:

And I played my guitar through the night to the day
Turn, turn, turn again
And the only tune my guitar could play
Was, 'Oh the cruel rain and the wind'
(Dylan: Percy's Song)

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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