Bob Dylan And Faith: William Blake (Part III)

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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  1. That is, Dylan ‘steals’ from Blake, but uses the poet’s symbols to suit his own view of a world-gone-wrong.

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