Bob Dylan And Lilith As His Muse

by Larry Fyffe

The Lilith of Hebrew lore serves Bob Dylan as an archetype. In this case, an independent female spirit who serves as a muse to inspire an artist to create art anew. But she can be dangerous for should you stay with her too long, she’ll drain your artistic blood. However, Dylan greatly modifies Lilith’s  traditionally dark side – more Artemis than Hecate, she be:

As we lay around on a worn-out rug
The room it was cold
And we talked for hours by the inside fire
'Bout the outside world so old
(Bob Dylan: Liverpool Gal)

In the above song lyrics, Dylan looks back to works of the Pre-Raphaelite nineteenth-century poet and painter Dante Rossetti – who in turn draws upon the medieval romance and classical mythology for inspiration.

In the following poem, Rossetti’s persona speaks particularly of Lilith, the silver-tongued lady with a golden loom; she’s narcissistic rather than ‘evil’:

Of Adam's first wife, Lilith, it is told
(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve)
That, ere the snake's, her sweet tongue could deceive
And her enchanted hair was the first gold
And still she sits, young while the earth is old
And subtly of herself contemplative
Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave
Till heart and body and life are in its hold
(Dante Rossetti: The Lady Lilith)

Note the Dylanesque “rhyme twist”: ~ ‘cold’/’old’; ~’told’/’gold’/’old’/’hold’.

And there’s the muse with the metaphorically ‘poisonous’ lips in the song lyrics below:

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes
And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes
Oh, who among them do they think could bury you?
(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

Lyrics that show the influence of the decadent alliterative poet Charles Swinburne of the nineteenth century:

Cold eyes that hide like a jewel
Hard eyes that grow soft for an hour
The heavy white limbs and the cruel
Red mouth like a venomous flower
(Charles Swinburne: Delores)

And then there be this muse from the cold country:

If you're travelling in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the border line
Remember me to the one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine ....
Please see for me if her hair hangs long
For that's the way I remember her best
(Bob Dylan: Girl From The North Country)

Inspired by a folk song from the nineteenth century:

O, where are you going? To Scarborough fair
Savoury, Sage, Rosemary, And Thyme
Remember me to a lass who lives there
For once she was a true love of mine
(Scarborough Fair ~ traditional)

The Dylanesque “rhyme twist” being rather obvious: ~ ‘fair’/’there; ~ ‘fair’/’there’.

In the song below, it could be said that the story of an independent-minded Lilith as Adam’s first wife is updated – turned upside down:

Well, I sat by her side, and for a while I tried
To make that girl my wife
She gave me her best advice, and she said
'Go home and lead a quiet life'
Well, I've been to the east, and I've been to the west
And I've been out where the black winds roar
Somehow, I never did get that far
With the girl from the Red River Shore
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

Sourced it be from another folk song from the nineteenth century, a version of which goes:

Come sit by my side if you love me
Do not hasten to bid me 'adieu'
But remember the Red River Valley
And the girl that has loved you so true
For this long, long time I have waited
For the words that you never would say
But now my last hope has vanished
When you tell me you're going away
(Red River Valley ~ traditional)

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