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)
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