The Objective Correlative

By Larry Fyffe

John Keats be a neo-RemanticTranscendentalist poet in that he’s melancholic rather than optimistic when it comes to an intuitive sensing of a vitalistic force pervading the natural environment.

Rather, images he draws from Nature, as well as from mythology, serve as ‘objective correlatives’ to give concreteness to sad and happy emotions as well as feelings such as pain that are all recorded in the human body and brain. The sounds of words chosen, and, if used, of accompanying music be part of this artistic technique.

Not Nature herself, but the poetic images wrought by the artist’s imagination, and communicated to the reader or listener through figurative language, supplies the association that appears to exist between the external world and humankind – as far as Keats is concerned.

Art be a thing of beauty because it never dies; it can be renewed forever..

The use of hyperbolic metaphor by Keats may even be mocking the contention, of writers such as William Wordsworth, that mankind, using his reasoning ability, can find permanent solace. That is, he could learn to work happily together with others by observing the regenerative and seasonal processes of Nature. (Note however, it can be argued that Wordsworth, using less elaborate diction than Keats, is likewise manifesting emotion).

Keats below uses personification to depict the season that follows summer:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run ....
Who has not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind

(John Keats: To Autumn)

Below, singer/songwriter and musician Bob Dylan makes use of the hyperbolic conceit like Keats does, but the reference is to a supposedly real person. The symbolic robin be also an objective correlative therein:

If not for you
Babe, I couldn't find the door
Couldn't even see the floor
I'd be sad and blue ....
If not for you
The winter would have no spring
Couldn't hear a robin sing
I just wouldn't have a clue
If not for you

(Bob Dylan: If Not For You)

Seems the narrator in the above song is able to a Romantic Transcendentalist some of the time, not all the time. It depends – he’s not melancholic when the immediate surrounding circumstances are correct.

Keatian-like is the following song – Autumn’s personified:

Bringing in the harvest
We are gathering the grain
Weathered by the sun
And gently swollen by the rain ....
Bringing in the harvest
All the gifts of nature's grace
Hand me down my brushes
I'll paint her smiling face

(The Strawbs: Bringing In The Harvest ~ Cousins)

With a reference to mythology, there be scary as well as comforting forces out there in the natural world:

Twisting currents test the stranger
Gathering storms bring hidden danger
A shift of wind can snap the teeth
Of any mermaid's comb

(The Strawbs: Bringing In The Harvest ~ Cousins)

So says the Canadian folksong of the real world outside -a personification of Death there be:

There's danger on the ocean where the waves roll mountains high
And there's danger on the battlefield when the angry bullets fly
There's danger in the old north wood for death lurks silent there
And it's I have fallen victim unto its monstrous snare
(Bonnie Dobson: My Name Is Peter Amberley ~ Calhoun/traditional)

An allusion is an objective correlative. Indeed, Bob Dylan references melancholic John Keats:

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter, and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writing what was in her mind
(Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet)

The objective correlatives in the song below paint a dark Christian picture of fallen Nature, and humans who have nothing left inside of them; they be the metaphorically walking dead:

We are hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass

(TS Eliot: The Hollow Men)

Nevertheless, the poem itself is a thing of beauty.

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.


One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *