Bob Dylan And The Oak Tree

By Larry Fyffe

The oak tree is a symbol of durability and wisdom – in ancient mythology, oaks are believed to whisper the will of Zeus, the God of Thunder.

In the Bible, the Hebrew God speaks through one of his prophets about destroying a personified people who transgress:

Whose height was like the height of the cedars
And he was strong as the oaks
(Amos 2:9)

The dark-humoured singer/songwriter in the song beneath speaks of a woman who is initially strong  just like any “Oak Lea”:

When I met you, baby
You didn't show no visible scars
You could ride like Annie Oakley
You could shoot like Belle Stars
(Bob Dylan: The Real You At Last)

The following song is heard in Bob Dylan’s film “Renaldo And Clara” – it’s played during his “Rolling Thunder” tour as well. The wisdom expressed through metaphor is that even mighty oaks do not last forever:

I leaned my back against an oak
Thinkin' it was a trusty tree
But first it bent, then it broke
Just like my own false love to me ....
But loves grows old, and waxes cold
And fades away like some mornin' dew
(Bob Dylan: The Water Is Wide ~ Cabrieres/traditional)

Alluding back to:

For ye shall be like an oak whose leaf fadeth
And as a garden that hath no water
(Isaiah 1: 30)

The endurance of an oak tree is objectively correlated to emotion (tough not tender)in the
song below:

I've been meek, and hard like oak
I've seen pretty people disappear like smoke
(Bob Dylan: Buckets Of Rain)

Relevent to the song below, and its title,  ‘du chene’ is French for ‘oak’ (“do shane” v.s. “do cane”):

The lights on my native land are glowin'
I wonder if they'll know me next time 'round.
I wonder if that old oak tree's still standin'
That old oak tree, the one we used to climb
(Bob Dylan: Duquesne Whistle)

A lesson there be in the following song, and the same rhyme as there’s in ‘Buckets Of Rain’:

Build me a fire with hickory, ash, and oak
Don't use no green or rotten wood, they'll get you by the smoke
(Bob Dylan: Copper Kettle ~ A F Beddoe)

There’s wisdom spread around allegorically below in the form of a burlesque song. According to the Holy Bible, a tax collector for the Romans invites Jesus home for a feast:

And as Jesus passed forth from thence
He saw a man, named Matthew
Sitting at the receipt of customers
(Matthew 9: 9)

In the song lyrics, seems Mary, the mother of Jesus, ends up delivering her son to a gowned priest.

In any event, things don’t turn out that well for Him:

Matthew met Mary on a clear cool market day
Said Mary to Matthew
"I'd like to give my child away"
Said Matthew to Mary
"I got a pheasant farm, and I'll take good care of him
There's a diamond spring, and a big oak tree
And he can climb on every limb
A thousand doors couldn't hold me back from you"
Said Mary to Matthew
"You know this may never be
I'm not goin' to give my child away for nothin' but an old oak tree"
Just then a man wearin' women's clothes began to hop around
(Elvis Costello: Matthew Met Mary~ Dylan/Costello)

Reminding of:

Maggie and Milly, and Molly and May
Went down to the beach to play one day
(EE Cummings: Maggie And Milly And Molly And May)

The biblical prophet Samuel relates the story of the rebellious son of David fleeing from the King’s servants:

And Absalom met the servants of David
And Absolom rode upon a mule
And the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak
And his head caught hold of the oak
And he was taken up between the heaven, and the earth
And the mule that was under him went away
(II Samuel: 18:9)

The singer/songwriter is not that eager to make the same mistake that Absolam makes:

The devil's in the alley, mule's in the stall
Say anythin you want to, I've heard it all
I was thinkin' about the things that Rosie said
I was dreamin' I was sleepin' in Rosie's bed
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

The Rose of Sharon’s bed be in the Promised Land.

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