Bob Dylan And Oscar Wilde  (Part II)

by Larry Fyffe

In life and in art, Decadent writer Oscar Wilde rebels against the established norms imposed by Victorian society. He’s celebrated for a time, but in the end suffers the consequences for doing so though he’s pardoned after he dies:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let it be heard
Some do it with a bitter look
Some with a flattering word
The coward does it with a kiss
The brave man with a sword
(Oscar Wilde: The Ballad Of Reading Gaol)

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan picks up on the analogy – somewhat a gloomy if wistful look at human existence, gnostic-like . The darkness of life is compared to a prison with only a glimmer of light coming in through the barred window – whether literal or figurative, death be quick or it be slow, but awaits all:

I'll tell you something
Things you never had you'll never miss
A brave man will kill you with a sword
A coward with a kiss
(Bob Dylan: Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking)

God’s wrath be usurped by robed priests of the Establishment in the movie ‘The Trials Of Oscar Wilde’, starring Peter Finch. The film ends with Wilde’s words from his mighty pen spoken over the final scene:

The coward does it with a kiss
The brave man with a sword

A theme expressed in the following song lyrics:

There's a lone soldier on the cross
Smoke pouring out of a boxcar door
You didn't know it, you didn't think it could be done
In the final end, he won the war
After losing every battle ....
You hurt the ones I love best, and cover up the truth with lies
One day you'll be in the ditch, flies buzzing around your eyes
Blood on your saddle
(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)

Satire flows freely from the Gothic pen of the poet Wilde:

And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats
None knew as well as I
For he who lives more lives than one
More deaths than one must die
(Oscar Wilde: The Ballad Of Reading Gaol)

Burlesque double-dances as well from the lyrics of the singer/songwriter:

They say I shot a man named Gray
And took his wife to Italy
She inherited a million bucks
And when she died it came to me
I can't help it if I'm lucky
(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)

In the final end, decadent Oscar Wilde is figuratively saved from physical death by his exquisite art for art’s sake:

Behind every exquisite thing that has existed, there was something tragic
(Oscar Wilde: The Picture Of Dorian Gray)

And surely Bob Dylan by his song lyrics and music:

Behind every beautiful thing, there has been some kind of pain
(Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet)

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

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

  1. *Things you never had you’ll never miss …. ( elipses)
    A brave man will kill you with a sword

    (In this alternate version of the song, lyrics vary a bit therein when performed)

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