Bob Dylan And Faith (Part IV): Swedenborg

by Larry Fyffe

Both the followers of the Christian religion and of the Judaic are sure they can find in the song lyrics of Bob Dylan solid proof that he is one of their own.

Paul Thomas, for example, dismisses quite easily the influence of poet William Blake on Dylan’s lyrics in order not to mess up the assertion that the singer/songwriter has returned to his Jewish roots as an unwavering adherent thereof. What Dylan’s beliefs are as far as any religion is concerned, I do not pretend to know, but in the following song lyrics he says as a an artist:

I go where all things lost are made good again
I sing the songs of experience like William Blake
I have no apologies to make

(Bob Dylan: I Contain Multitudes)

And if one is aware of Blake’s poetry, you don’t need weatherman Dylan telling you of the pre-Romantic’s influence on both style and content in his song lyrics.

Emanuel Swedenborg, a self-proclaimed prophet of Christianity, reloads the faith with a ‘scientific’ analogical twist to take down the rationalist philosophy of Enlightenment thinkers, and re-affirm that the material world is nothing more than a flawed manifestation of some spiritual plane that lies beyond the comprehension of most mortal human beings; figuratively speaking, the Gates of Eden are sealed to them.

Thusly, as above, Swedenborg interprets the words of the otherwise despised St. Paul that the Apostle directs at earthy pagans:

So also is the resurrection of the dead
It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption
It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory
It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power
It is sown in a natural body; it is raised in a spiritual body
There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body

(I Corinthians 15: 42-45)

William Blake, on the other hand, turns on what John Keats would call his “negative capability” by which the the poet upends the material/spiritual split; he turns it on its head. Blake finds the source of knowledge to be in the physical plane of the senses, and that source tells him that there is no absolute truth to be found; instead therein exists an entanglement of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ forces that the individual human being has to grapple with, and hopefully be capable of weighting the balance in favour of the good ‘light’ side.

According to  the Blake, the female biological force is a Tiger that any artistic male has to content with as so he interprets the following words supposedly written by a wise king:

Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem
Terrible as an army with banners
(Song Of Solomon 6: 4)

In Blake’s poem below, Tizah symbolizes the dark material world; Jerusalem, the light spiritual realm:

Thou, mother of my mortal part
With cruelty didst mould my heart
With false self-deceiving tears
Didst bid my nostils, eyes and ears
Didst close my tongue in senseless clay
And me to mortal life betray
The death of Jesus set me free
Then what have I to do with thee?
(William Blake: To Tizah~Songs Of Experience)

Those who insist that many songs by Dylan reference specific autobiographical or political events in his life are in trouble deep as far as the following song lyrics are concerned – the female princess with her sexual desire be a demon lover, she flees from the confines of spiritual Eden to which artists like Dylan and Blake aspire:

At dawn my lover comes to me
And tells me of her dreams
With no attempts to shovel the glimpse
Into the ditch of what each one means
At times I think there are no words
But these to tell what's true
And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden
(Bob Dylan: Gates Of Eden)

Taking his cue from the words of Jesus below, Blake combines Heaven and Hell – instead of separating them:

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven
And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shalt be bound in heaven
And whatsoever shalt be loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven

St. Matthew 16:19)

Taking his cue from William Blake, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, akin to the Bard’s Prince Hamlet upon the stage, “at times” agrees:

The kingdoms of experience
In the precious wind they rot
While paupers change possessions
Each one wishing for what the other has got
And the princess and the prince
Discuss what is real and what's not
It doesn't matter inside the Gatess of Eden

(Bob Dylan: Gates Of Eden)


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