Bob Dylan And The Symbol Of The Flower (Part III): Hart Crane

By Larry Fyffe

Romantic Transcendentalist poets intuit the presence of the mysterious driving force behind the Cosmos pervading all Nature; the flower reaching upwards towards the sky with its roots in the ground serving as a symbol for that vitalistic spirit.

Rococo and Pre-Raphaelite poets, on the other hand, depict the beauty of the flower as a distraction from the separate ‘other world’ in which God the Creator of the Universe resides; not all that unlike Gnostic notions that envision the ‘real’ world as a dark place, in this case a place full of ‘sins’ of the flesh, in which the light from the transcendental spiritual plane is not detected by most inhabitants of the physical realm.

Hart Crane, as previously noted, employs the elaborate ornamental alliterative/assonate-strewn Rococo-like writing style of such artists, but he is more of a ‘down-to-earth’ poet in the manner of poet Walt Whitman with his ‘techno-romantic’ themes – notwithstanding that Whitman uses simpler diction:

O, early following thee, I searched the hill
Blue-writ and odour-firm with violets, till
With June the mountain broke through green
And filled the forest with what clustrous sheen!
(Hart Crane: Cape Hatteras)

Romantic, but not Rococo, the following song lyrics be; you can take the poet out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the poet:

Well, I'm a stranger in a strange land
But I know this is where I belong
I'm a rambler and a gambler for the one I love
And the hills will give me a song
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

Crane lifts up the language – purples it, embellishes it – in order to to make poetics anew, but the basic flowery Transcendentalist Romantic message remains:

Mark how her turning shoulders wind the hours
And hasten while her penniless rich palms
Pass superscription of bent foam and wave
Hasten, while they are true, - sleep, death, desire
Close round one instant in one floating flower
(Hart Crane: Voyages)

For the most part, singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan turns away from such embellishments in his song lyrics though not from Crane’s angst-ridden examination of the human condition including aspects like sleep, desire, and death:

Everybody got all the money
Everybody got all the beautiful clothes
Everybody got all the flowers
I don't have one single rose
I feel a change coming on
And the fourth part of the day's already gone

(Bob Dylan: I Feel A Change Coming On)

In many modern works of art, images of the ever faster-moving, hustling and bustling cityscape of concrete, stone, and steel replaces the organic images of a  rural landscape.

Mechanical symbols like the 'iron horse' come to the fore:
And the breakfasters glide glistening steel
From tunnel into field - iron strides the dew
Straddles the hill, a dance of wheel on wheel
You have a half hour's wait at Siskiyou
Or stay the night and take the next train through
(Hart Crane: The River)

As well it’s said that any yearning for a return to the supposed good old days of yesterday, whether in the ‘here’ or in the ‘hereafter’, is going be a long time coming to fruition should you believe that such a dream will indeed come true:

Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted
Can't help but wonder what's happening to my companions
Are they lost or are they found
Have they counted the cost it'll take to bring down
All the earthly principles they're gonna have to abandon?
There's a slow, slow train coming up around the bend

(Bob Dylan: Slow Train)

Unlike his poetic persona, Hart Crane is too impatient to wait for Love, and chooses an early death:

Migrations that must needs void memory
Inventions that cobblestone the heart
Unspeakable Thou Bridge to Thee, O Love
Thy pardon for this history, whitest Flower
O Answerer of all - Anemone
Now while thy petals spend the sunshine about us, hold
(O Thou whose radiance does inherit me)
Atlantis,  - hold thy floating singer late!

(Hart Crane: Atlantis)

With the approach of a rain storm, the flowers of the anemone close up.

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 595 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.

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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, links back to our reviews



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