Bob Dylan And Torquato Tasso: Renaldo And Clara


By Larry Fyffe

A number of songs by Bob Dylan are inspired by not-so-happy stories featuring ‘chivalrous’ romance, and ancient mythology:

Gypsy Davey with a blow torch, he burns out their camps
With his faithful slave Pedo, behind him he tramps
(Bob Dylan: Tombstone Blues)

The ballad below tells the story of Lady Brown, the bride-to-be of Lord Thomas. She kills his girlfriend, fair Eleanor; the Lord is not amused, and kills Miss Brown …. and then himself:

The Brown girl had a little penknife
Which was both keen and sharp
And betwixt the short ribs and long
She pricked fair Eleanor to the heart
(Lord Thomas And Fair Eleanor ~traditional)

In the black-humoured Post Modern song below, the wife of the Boss runs off with Henry Lee, head of the clan; the Boss confronts them, and Henry it would seem shoots him down; his wife’s aghast at what Lee has done, and stabs the leader of the clan to death; then kills herself:

"You died for me, now I'll die for you"
She put the blade to her heart, and she ran it through
(Bob Dylan: Tin Angel)

In an Italian epic romance, Rinaldo, a Christian crusader, is distracted from his duty by Armida, an evil enchantress; she falls in love with him. He’s re-awakened to his  duty, and spurns Armida. In a battle, he unknowingly wounds Clorinda, a pagan women whom he loves; she turns Christian, and with her last breath, forgives him; afterwards, Rinaldo reconciles with Armida:

By far over every knight that drew the sword
Or couched the lance, the boy Rinaldo towered
How fierce, how far, he rears his head on high
While fixed on him alone is every eye
(Torquato Tasso: Jerusalem Delivered, Canto I ~ translated)

Bob Dylan and Sam Shepherd paste together a mythological-based Post Modern movie entitled “Renaldo And Clara”. Unnoticed by all Dylan analysts, (except those at ‘Untold’), is that the movie’s roots lie in Tasso’s epic about Rinaldo and Clorinda, a romance story that takes place in an earth-centred Universe:

In the movie, the knight – in not-so-shining armour – sings:

Patty gone to Loredo ...
The door is locked, and the keys are inside
(Bob Dylan: Patty's Gone To Laredo)

One key ~ the Lady-in-White of the movie, like Clorinda, is a remodelled archetype from Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ – Camilla, a baby, tied to an arrow and slung for her protection across a river to serve Diana, the virgin goddess of the hunt and moon:

Too proud her hands the needle to assume
To ply the household labours of the loom
Recluse abodes, soft garments, she disdains
Yet keeps her virgin honour unprofaned ....
Over hills and forest to their bloody lair
She tracks the lion and the shaggy bear
(Torquato Tasso: Jerusalem Delivered, Canto II)

In the lyrics below, the handmaiden to the white-faced tracker of Ptolemaic constellations is mentioned by the ‘song and dance’ man:

Loyalty, unity, epitome, rigidity
You turn around for one real last glimpse of Camille
'Neath the moon shinin' bloody and pink
And there's no time to think
(Bob Dylan: No Time To Think)

In another fragmented song, Lily’s never met anyone quite like the Jack Of Hearts; to protect him, it appears that she stabs her boyfriend Big Jim to death; Big Jim’s wife takes the blame for it:

The next day was hangin' day, the sky was overcast and black
Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back
And Rosemary on the gallows, she didn't even blink
The hangin' judge was sober, he hadn't had a drink
(Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

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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  1. Many thanks for pointing out the needed correction.

    The article should read:

    “In a battle, Trancredi unknowingly wounds Clorinda….”

  2. * the door is locked ….. ( with ellipses)

    (As I’m not sure how the line continues in “Patty’s Gone To Laredo”

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