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
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.
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.