Bob Dylan And The Return To Gothic Romanticism

By Larry Fyffe

In the song lyrics quoted below, a melancholic electric bluesman plays and sings about a lost lover:

I went out in Virginia, honey, where the green grass grows
I went out in Virginia, honey, where the green grass grows
I tried to tell myself that I didn't want you no more
My baby told me, stop doing me wrong
My baby told me, stop doing me wrong
Well, I telling you, honey, 'cause I'm tired of living alone

(Jimmy Reed: Down In Virginia ~ J&M Reed)

The passing of the blues singer from the face of this earth, though life thereon be no paradise, is lamented in the the verse below:

God be with you, brother dear
If you don't mind me asking, what brings you here?
Oh nothing much, I'm just looking for the man
Need to see where he's lying in this lost land
Goodbye Jimmy Reed, and everything within ya
Can't you hear me calling from down in Virginia?

(Bob Dylan: Goodbye Jimmy Reed)

The sentiment of loneliness expressed through Reed’s music and lyrics echo in the lines below:

I'm giving myself to you, I am
From Salt Lake City to Birmingham
From East L.A. to San Antone
I don't think I can bear to live my life alone

(Bob Dylan: I’ve Made Up My My Mind To Give Myself To You)

Singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan looks abroad to a Prussian author of pre-Freudian Gothic Romantic stories. Ernst Hoffman satirizes the mechanization of life wrought by contemporary industrialized socio-economic conditions that fragments, but fails to displace the organic imagination of creative artists.

Ernst is the Jungian kinsman of the American Gothic writer Edgar Allan Poe, both being accompanied by their alchemic transmutation symbols of earth, air, fire, and water.

A lover hyperbolically idealized in the Rococo-like verse below:

Thou wast that all to me, love
For which my soul did pine
A green isle in the sea, love
A fountain, and a shrine
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers
And all the flowers were mine

(Edgar Allan Poe: To One In Paradise)

“The Golden Flower Pot” by Ernst Hoffman features a student apprenticed to an alchemist who is hired to copy ancient Arabic and Egyptian manuscripts. The young man is beloved by a pretty maid named Veronica; he’s soon able to decipher the writings, and reads that the alchemist is the Spirit of Fire exiled from the spiritual underwater world of Atlantis. Turns out that his boss needs to find a suitable husband for his daughter if he is ever to get back home. Serpentina is her name, and she’s a loving green-gold skinned, tree-dwelling lamia with blue eyes. The Spirit of Earth gives the alchemist a golden flower pot to present to a husband noble enough for Serpentina; a wicked witch tries to steal the golden pot, but the alchemist transforms her into a beet. Veronica marries a practical man, and Serpentina and the student run off together to watery Atlantis; they marry. The sorcerer’s apprentice has found his Muse.

In the following song lyrics, we discover such an apprentice:

I study Sanskrit and Arabic to improve my world
I want to do things for the benefit of mankind
I say to the willow tree, "Don't weep for me"
I'm saying to hell to all things that I used to be

(Bob Dylan: My Own Version Of You)

In the song lyrics below, the narrator thereof is quite willing to go with a blue-eyed Serpentina archetype wherever she wants to go:

Take me out travelling, you're a travelling man
Show me something that I'll understand
I'm not what I was, things aren't what they were
I'll go far away from home with her

And the apprentice is more than happy to marry his new Muse:

I've travelled from the mountains to the sea
I hope the gods go easy on me
I knew 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)

The chief song source is:

Would you lay with me in a field of stone ....
Would you go away to another land
Walk a thousand miles through the burning sand
Wipe the blood from my dying hand
If I give myself to you?

(Johnny Cash: Would You Lay With Me ~ David Coe)

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  1. * away from my dying hand
    ** lyrics vary in Reed’s recordings of ‘Down In Virgina’

  2. I’m a travelling man
    I’ve made a lot of stops all over the world
    (Ricky Nelson: Travelling Man ~ Fuller)

  3. Oh bury me under the weeping willow
    Yes, under the weeping willow tree
    So he may know where I am sleeping
    And perhaps he will weep for me
    (Carter Family: Weeping Willow Tree ~ traditional)

  4. *My baby told me, honey, stop….
    **Well, I’m telling you, baby, ’cause …

  5. On the wings of a snow-white dove
    He sends his pure sweet love
    ( Ferlin Husky: The Wings Of A Dove ~ R. Ferguson)

    But she went to heaven, just one year ago
    The angels came for her, at the first fall of snow
    (Molly O’Day: At The First Fall Of Snow ~ Lorene Rose)

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