Bob Dylan And Giacomo Leopardi (Part II)

By Larry Fyffe

To what extent Bob Dylan has read the works of any particular poet or writer of literature we may not know, but we do know that his song lyrics reveal that he’s been swimming in the Jungian Sea of the collective unconsciousness of the purveyors of art. And swimming there enough times to get soaked by the themes from the days of yore to modern times.

Crouching in the thickets of many of Dylan’s songs is the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, himself an admirer of a poet of romance, and melancholic lyrics of love lost:

Why were the winds heard, blowing
Through the dark air, round and round
Till dawn with mournful sound
Were they perhaps the strife
Of your going love of my life?

(Torquato Tasso: What Weeping, Or What Dewfall)

Below, a poetic address to a girl taken away by Nature – literally killed by tuberculosis:

And must all mortals wear this weary yoke?
Ah, when the truth appeared
It better seemed to die!
Cold death, the barren tomb, didst thou prefer
To harsh reality

(Giacomo Leopardi: To Sylvia)

Writer Bob Dylan, in the song following, sings of figurative death-in-life:

Ophelia, she's 'neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness

(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

Not a preference by the author to undertake himself for sure, but Dylan’s characters in narrative songs sometimes take their own lives as happens in traditonal adventure tales of romance:

She touched his lips, and kissed his cheek
He tried to speak, but his breath was weak
"You died for me, now I'll die for you"
She put the knife to her heart, and she ran it through

(Bob Dylan: Tin Angel)

Spotted the poems of Leopardi be with dark humour that mocks the human fascination with fashion that cloaks the inevitabitiy of decay and death:

Fashion: "In short, I contrive to persuade the more ambitious of mortals daily
To endure countless inconveniences, sometimes torture and mutilation
Yes, and even death itself, for the love they have for me"

(Giacomo Leopardi: Dialogue Between Fashion And Death)

The singer/songwriter follows suit in a lighter-hearted fashion:

Well you look so pretty in it
Honey, can I jump on it sometime
Yes, I just wanna see
If it's really that expensive kind
You know it balances on your head
Just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine
Your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat

(Bob Dylan: Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat)

In the lyrics below, Dylan could well be making a pun on Eugene Delicroix, the French Romantic artist who paints ‘Tasso In The Madhouse’:

Workin' for a while on a fishin' boat
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind

(Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue)

Nature does not hear Giacomo’s plea that Spring regenerate his body, or, at least, the Spirit of the Times:

Ah, since the mansions of Olympus all
Are desolate, and without guide, the bolt
That, wandering over the cloud-capped mountains-tops
In horror cold dissolves alike
The guilty, and the innocent
Since this, our earthly home
A stranger to her children has become
And brings them up, to misery

(Giacomo Leopardi: To The Spring)

The singer/songwriter finds Leopardi’s outlook too dark, but takes his goodly advice:

Thunder on the mountain, rollin' like a drum
Gonna sleep over there where the music's comin' from
Don't need a guide, I already know the way
Remember this, "I'm your servant both night and day"

(Wanda Jackson: Thunder On The Mountain ~ Bob Dylan)

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.


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