By Larry Fyffe
Bob Dylan in a number of his song considers that he’s trapped in a physical world that’s an imperfect reflection of an external ideal One – as the philosopher Plato claimed it to be. That is, the eternal, supposedly good, Absolute Monad or God (if you like) is too far off to be knowable to mere mortals while the relatively observable “Demiurge”, creator of the physical world in Time, is a flawed emanation therefrom.
In a number of other songs, Bob Dylan appears to agree with the more recent NeoPlationists’ claim that the Creator and the Absolute God are not fragmented even though they get in trouble deep when trying to explain the existence of ‘evil’, or at least ‘ignorance’, in the world inhabited by human beings.
Dylan ponders William Shakespeare’s NeoPlationist outlook; according to old Bill, the physical world is composed of a clear order. It’s all there in the code of the ‘great chain of being’, set down by the Absolute God Himself, and this God makes sure that it is known to Mankind – ie, king, queen; husband, wife; son, daughter, etc.
Furthermore, according to this code, the disruption of this divine order leads to trouble. In the play below, a king demands that his daughter express loyalty to him above and beyond her obligations to others in the chain:
Lear: Nothing shall come of nothing; speak again
Cordillia: Unhappy that I am, I can not heave my heart into my mouth
I love your majesty according to my bond, nor more nor less
Lear: How, how, Cordillia!, mend your speech a little lest you mar your fortunes ….
Cordillia: Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters to love my father all
(William Shakespeare: King Lear, Act I, sc. i)
A theme that’s repeated in the following song lyrics. Tension is created in the social fabric by the possibility of straying off the narrow brick road by ignoring the sign that has its arrow pointed in the direction of the ‘great chain of being’:
We carried you in our arms On Independence Day And now you cast us all aside And put us on our way Oh what dear daughter beneath the sun Would treat her father so To always wait upon him hand and foot And always tell him 'no' ? Bob Dylan: Tears Of Rage ~ Dylan/Manuel)
The NeoPlatonists also run into the problem of how time and change is created by a supposedly timeless, eternal God:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow Creeps in this petty place from day to day (William Shakespeare: Macbeth, Act V, sc. v)
An issue that does not go unnoticed in the following song lyrics:
Today, tomorrow, and yesterday too The flowers are dying like all things do (Bob Dylan: I Contain Multitudes)
Things get rotten in the state of Denmark for sure – apparently ‘unnatural” events happen, but somehow the ‘natural’ order manages to restore itself:
Ghost Of King Hamlet: Murder most foul, as in the best it is But this most foul, strange and unnatural (William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act I, sc. v)
It’s all enough to make a skeptic out of anyone who’d like to believe in the regenerative outlook of the NeoPlatonists:
What is the truth, and where did it go Ask Oswald and Ruby, they ought a know (Bob Dylan: Murder Most Foul)
Seems that all one can do is dream, or imagine that there is a better place than the real world of existence where death abounds:
Mercutio: Her chariot is an empty hazel nut Made by the joiner squirrel, or old grub Time out of mind the fairies' coach-makers (William Shakespeare: Romeo And Juliet, Act I, sc. iv)
Not so claims a latter-day Romantic Transcendentalist. Walt Whitman in his poems’, or at least in those written in his pre-Civil War days, welds the soul to the flesh of the body; this techno-romantic outlook epitomizes the philosophy known as NeoPlatonism; the goodly Spirit of the Absolute God pervades the natural world:
Served those, who time out of mind Made on granite walls rough Sketches of the sun, moon, ships, ocean waves (Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass; 'Song Of The Broad Axe')
Poet Robert Frost solves the problem for himself by taking a middle-of-the of the road approach. As far as songster Bob Dylan goes, it’s difficult to tell whose side he is on.
Untold Dylan: who we are what we do
Untold Dylan is written by people who want to write for Untold Dylan. It is simply a forum for those interested in the work of the most famous, influential and recognised popular musician and poet of our era, to read about, listen to and express their thoughts on, his lyrics and music.
We welcome articles, contributions and ideas from all our readers. Sadly no one gets paid, but if you are published here, your work will be read by a fairly large number of people across the world, ranging from fans to academics who teach English literature. If you have an idea, or a finished piece send it as a Word file to Tony@schools.co.uk with a note saying that it is for publication on Untold Dylan.
We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with around 5500 active members. 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. Not every index is complete but I do my best.
But what is complete is our index to all the 604 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found, on the A to Z page. I’m proud of that; no one else has found that many songs with that much information. Elsewhere the songs are indexed by theme and by the date of composition. See for example Bob Dylan year by year.