Bob Dylan And Thomas Hardy (Part I)

By Larry Fyffe

A number of poets consider that the Judeo-Christian God be rather vengeful in that He casts Adam and Eve out of eternal Eden, and punishes them with the prospect of unavoidable death simply because Eve takes a bite out of an apple.

Writer Thomas Hardy goes further. His bodily age advancing, Hardy addresses God, and criticizes the Almighty for allowing the human body to go that way while the longing for love, and the desire for sex still remain:

I look into my glass
And view my wasting skin
And say, "Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!"

(Thomas Hardy: Look Into My Glass)

Below, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan picks up this theme and runs with it (words vary a bit in other versions):

I'm driving in the flats in a Cadillac car
The girls all say, "You're a worn out star"
My pockets are loaded
But I'm spending every dime
How can you say you love somebody else
You know it's me all the time

(Bob Dylan: Summer Days)

Aside from Hardy’s rather sorrowful theme, Dylan comments above on his own determination to continue on performing live music before an audience of his fans who love him for doing just that.

Even at a young age, Bob Dylan’s aware of Thomas Hardy’s universal observation that relates to the human existential condition.

Expressed in symbolic terms (Hardy influences poet Robert Frost), the singer/songwriter endeavours to send out a warning of what’s to come:

Now the wintertime is coming
The windows are filled with frost
I went to tell everybody
But I could not get it across
Well I wanna be your lover, baby
I don't wanna be your boss
Don't say I never warned you
When your train gets lost

(Bob Dylan: It’s Takes A Lot To Laugh, It’s Takes A Train To Cry)

That the young songwriter has read the poetry of the aging Thomas Hardy, there is no doubt:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When frost was spectre-grey
And winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day .....
That I could think trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware

(Thomas Hardy: The Darkling Thrush)

In the following song (words vary slightly in different versions thereof), Dylan refers to similar correlatives employed by Thomas Hardy (as well as by the French poet Paul Verlaine):

As I walked out tonight in the mystic garden
On a hot summer day, a hot summer lawn
"Excuse me, ma'am, I beg your pardon
There's no one here, the gardener's gone"

(Bob Dylan: Ain’t Talking)

Brings to mind the poem below:

I thought her behind my back
Yea, her long I had learned to lack
And I said, "I am sure you are standing behind me
Though how do you get into this old track?"
And there was no sound, but a fall of a leaf
As a sad response; and to keep down grief
I would not turn my head to discover
That there was nothing in my belief

(Thomas Hardy: The Shadow On The Stone)

The Victorian poet seeks to reconcile Charles Darwin’s biological Theory of Evolution with the dreams and desires of humankind – an idea that’s somewhat problematic, and it brings a smile to the face of the singer/songwriter as well as to those who have a more orthodox religious bent:

They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five
Judge says to the High Sheriff, "I want him dead or alive
Either one, I don't care"
High water everywhere

(Bob Dylan: High Water)

What else is on the site

You’ll find some notes about 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.

The index to all the 590 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 2000 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, please do drop me a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article.  Email Tony@schools.co.uk

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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