Bob Dylan And Faith (Part VII): Calliope

Bob Dylan and Faith

by Larry Fyffe

William Blake laments the state of decline in the standard of poetry in his day; he draws upon Greek and Roman mythology. Apollo, son of Olympian Zeus, be the God of Music; Zeus fathers the female Muses referred to in the aforementioned  William Blake’ poem “To The Muses”.

They are:

  • Calliope, The Muse of Epic Poetry
  • Clio, The Muse of History
  • Erato, The Muse of Love Poetry
  • Euterpe, The Muse of Lyric Poetry
  • Melpomen, The Muse of Tragedy
  • Polyhymnia, The Muse of Hymns
  • Terpsichore, Muse Of Dance
  • Thalia, The Muse of Comedy
  • Urania, The Muse of Astronomy

Blake takes the theme of the decline of contemporary artistic creativity from the following epic poem:

Here, O ye hallowed Nine! For in your train
I follow, here the deadened strain revive
Nor let Calliope refuse to sound
A somewhat higher song, of the loud tone
Which when the wretched birds of chattering note
Had heard, they of forgiveness lost all hope
(Dante: Purgatory, Canto I)

In the postmodernist movie ‘Deadman’, a native American “Indian”, an admirer of poet William Blake, pokes fun at the sorrowful state that the producers  of American gun-shooting movies have fallen into – ‘Nobody’ parodies Dante’s plea: “He who talks loud, says nothing”.

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan banishes loud rocknroll music from the following song:

I'm falling in love with Calliope
She don't belong to anybody, why not give her to me?
She's speaking to me, speaking with her eyes
I've grown so tired of chasing lies
Mother of Muses, wherever you are
I've already outlived my life by far
(Bob Dylan: Mother Of Muses)

Epic poetry involves time out of mind in which extraordinary individuals struggle with seemingly supernatural forces; a narrative poetry that endeavours to give a sense of transcendental meaning to particular events in human history – personified as Calliope who is considered the wisest of the Nine Muses; Titan Mnemosyne (Memory) is the mother of them all. Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ and Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ are famous long epics. The Gods therein possess human traits, and interact with mortals

Whereas Emanuel Swedenborg places the struggles faced by humans in realms beyond the physical world in which they bodily exist, the epics of Roman and Greek mythologies bring them back home to earth. In ‘Mother Of Muses’, Dylan mentions the leading British, American, and Russian heroes of World War II; dark days they were.

Robert Frost, who’s mother be a Swedenborg Christian, nonetheless himself stays halfway between heaven and earth; he’s middle-of-the-line in so as far as his poems are concerned, a part-time Romantic Transcendentalist at best.

In the following song, Bob Dylan (he’s older than that now) steps over the line a bit in the direction of a wistful wind from spiritual heaven:

Well, my heart's like a river, a river that sings
Just takes me a while to realize things
I see you at sunrise, I see you at dawn
I'll lay down beside you when everyone's gone
I've travelled from the mountains to the sea
I hope that the gods go easy with me
I know you'd say 'yes', I'm saying it too
I've made up my mind to give myself to you
(Bob Dylan: I've Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You)

Yet still, one can not pin Dylan to a creed:

The wind tapped like a tired man
And like a host, "Come In"
I boldly answered. Entered then
My residence within
A rapid footless guest
To offer whom a chair
Were as impossible as hand
A sofa to the air
(Emily Dickinson: The Wind Tapped Like a Tired Man)

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