Bob And Faith: Religion (Part Vl)

Bob Dylan and Faith

By Larry Fyffe

Mythology-inclined William Blake is influenced by religious leaders other than Abrahamic ones. Zoroaster founds a monastic Persian religion in which the light forces of order emanating from the benevolent One struggles with the dark forces of chaos; individuals have the choice of either practising good or evil social behaviour.

Mani, also a Persian, differs from Zoroaster in that he holds that all cultures possess a dualistic belief in an individual’s struggle between the spiritually good forces of light and dark physical forces of evil – the Neo-Christian religion that Swedenborg advocates would be an example,

British poet William Blake, in an attempt untangle such messed-up religious outpourings, is closer to the thoughts of Zoroaster in his poems; Blake depicts dark forces holding sway over individuals and societies-at-large because of the lack of a mutual balance in the way people treat one another.

Notwithstanding comments by the intellectual snob TS Eliot, Blake has lots of knowledge  pertaining to Greek/Roman mythologies. Blake has visions of himself travelling back in time and conversing with the likes of Homer and Virgil, and with the Nine Muses of ancient mythology:

Whether on the crystal rocks ye rove
Beneath the bosom of the sea
Wandering in many a coral cove
Fair Nine, forsaking poetry!
How have you left the ancient love
That bards of old enjoyed in you
The languid strings do scarcely move
The sound is forced, the notes are few
(Blake: To The Muses)

Blake criticizes the viewpoint found in a lot of the poetry of Robert Southey – his advancing of generalized ‘truths’ held by the established British society of the the day (for instance, African slaves ought to be physically set free, but then spiritually bound to the dogmas of orthodox Christianity).

A sentiment expressed in the song lyrics below juxtaposed with an objective correlative:

Ah, my friends from the prison, they ask unto me
"How good, how good does it feel to be free?"
And I answer them most mysteriously
"Are birds free from the the chains of the skyway?"
(Bodpb Dylan: Ballad In Plain D)

According to Southey, Satan’s punishment awaits all who disobey God’s commandants:

Sir Ralph the Rover tore his hair
He cursed himself in his despair
The waves rush in on every side
The ship is sinking beneath the tide
But even in his dying fear
One dreadful sound could the Rover hear
A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell
The Devil was ringing his knell

(Robert Southey:The Inchcape Bell)

In the following song lyrics, the Almighty is not perceived as all that discriminating – God does not chose to save either a creative artist like William Blake, or a devout religious leader like John Calvin, from dire circumstances:

The watchman, he lay dreaming
As the ballroom dances twirled
He dreamed the Titanic was sinking
Into the underworld
Calvin, Blake, and Wilson
Gambled in the dark
Not one of them would ever live to
Tell the tale of the disembark
(Bob Dylan: Tempest)

A view held apparently by a mentor of the above-mentioned songwriter:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness....
Mohammedan angels struggling on tenement roofs illuminated
Who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
Hallucinating Arkansas, and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war ....
(Allen Ginsberg: Howl))

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