By Larry Fyffe
The downplay of the influence of Blake on Bob Dylan is just too much to take; both in technique and in theme, the nuanced poetry of Blake reveals itself – seen here, there, and everywhere in the song lyrics of Bob Dylan. As TS Eliot underestimates Blake’s knowledge of classical literature so does Paul Thomas underestimate Dylan’s knowledge of literary giants like the poet William Blake who lives in a world of darkness and light, brightness and night.
Let us go you and I, let us go and make a visit:
O the cunning wiles that creep In the little heart asleep! When the little heart doth wake Then the dreadful night shall break (William Blake: Cradle Song)
According to the preRomantic poet, the innocence of the Lamb of chilhood soon encounters the dire Tiger of adult experience smiling in the window:
Tiger, Tiger, burning bright In the forests of the night What immortal hand or eye Could frame thy fearful symmetry? (Blake: The Tiger)
The following song lyrics depict a society filled with darkness; a Lamb, even with the inner strength of a Tiger, has no protection from the sleep of death. John Lennon is gunned down and killed by an overly zealous fundamentalist follower of a ferocious Tiger God, the Beatle crucified like Jesus – the Lamb of God – on the cross:
Tiger, Tiger burning bright I pray the Lord my soul to keep In the forest of the night Cover him up and let him sleep Roll on John Shine your light Move it on You burned so bright (Dylan: Roll On John)
Observes Blake, the Church of the Tiger God binds the natural urges of the adult human with iron chains of dogma:
And I saw it was filled with graves And tombstones where flowers should be And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds And binding with briars, my joys and desires (Blake: The Garden Of Love)
In the song lyrics below, the sexual desire of human beings, decried by Blake’s black-robed priests, is symbolized by the “Hotel Tiger” :
They walked down by the old canal A little confused, I remember well And stopped by a strange hotel With neon burning bright He felt the heat of the night (Bob Dylan: Simple Twist Of Fate)
No Swedenborgan is Blake – as it be on earth so it be in heaven; matters go awry right from the start when the authoritarian God demands that His shiny followers behave as though they were a flock of clawless, tearful, and spearless sheep. Like the Hebrews who flee into the wilderness from Egypt, the established Church ends up with a breakaway pride of Tigers who’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven:
When the stars threw down their spears And watered heaven with their tears Did he smile His work to see Did He who made the Lamb make thee? (Blake: The Tiger)
Contrary to what Paul Thomas says in his ‘Untold’ article, Bob Dylan as an artist is Blakean to the core:
Far away where the soft winds blow Far away from it all There's a place to go Where teardrops fall Far away in the stormy night Far way and over the wall You are there in the flickering light Where teardrops fall (Bob Dylan: Where Teardrops Fall)
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