Bob Dylan And Mythology (Part VIII): The Goddess Of Oblivion And Forgetfulness By Larry Fyffe

Editor’s Error of the Day: After the last episode of this series (appropriately named part VII) I announced that the series was complete.  This was in fact not true.  The truth was I had lost three episodes.  These have now been found and will be published in the coming days.   A list of the previous articles in the series is published below.   Tony.


By Larry Fyffe

Lethe is the Goddess of Forgetfulness and Oblivion; she’s associated with the River Lethe that flows through the Underworld where Hades rules: he’s the brother of Zeus, the God of Thunder, and Neptune, the God of the Sea.

Referenced Lethe is in the following lyrics by a Gothic Romantic poet:

The rosemary nods upon the grave
The lily lolls upon the waves
Wrapping the fog about its breast
The ruin moulders in to rest
Looking like Lethe, see! the lake
A conscious slumber seems to take
And would not, for the world, awake
(Edgar Allen Poe: The Sleeper)

That singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan draws upon the same ancient mythology is evident in the song lyrics below (referenced are the wives of TS Eliot):

Say hello to Valerie
Say hello to Vivian
Send her all my salary
On the waters of oblivion
(Bob Dylan: Too Much Of Nothing)

Bob Dylan is influenced by another Gothic Romantic poet’s allusions to the earthy gods of ancient Greece and Rome:

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk
(John Keats: Ode To A Nightingale)

The song below thusly demonstrates:

There's not room enough to be anywhere
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there
Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing, there's some kind of pain
(Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet)

Pointed out by poet Cliff Fell – a Roman poet of yore is hoping he’s not been forgotten on the River of Oblivion:

I'd accuse you more strongly, except it's possible
A letter's been sent that's not reached me yet
The gods grant that my complaint's baseless
And I'm wrong in thinking you've forgotten me
(Ovid: Tristia, Book V, xiii ~ translated)

Ovid is paid tribute in the song lyrics below:

I can see for myself that the sun is sinking
How I wish you were here to see
Tell me now, am I wrong in thinking
That you have forgotten me?
(Bob Dylan: Workingman's Blues # 2)

The singer even takes on the persona of Ovid-in-exile:

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
About the time the doorknob broke
When you asked me how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

And again in the song already mentioned:

She wrote me a letter, and she wrote it so kind
She put it down in writing what was in her mind
I just don't see why I should even care
It's not dark yet, but it'still getting there
(Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet)

What else is on the site?

We have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 3600 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 

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site.  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 602 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

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, or indeed have an idea for a series of articles that the regular writers might want to have a go at, please do drop a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article to Tony@schools.co.uk

And please do note our friends at  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, plus links back to our reviews (which we do appreciate).

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