Bob Dylan: The Symbolism Of The Pine Tree

Bob Dylan: The Symbolism Of The Pine Tree
by Larry Fyffe

In Roman/Greek mythology, the One Great God is hermaphroditic; the Olympians, out of fear, castrate her/him, and she becomes the Great Mother Goddess, Earth. The detached male organ becomes a deciduous almond tree that falls on the lap of a river goddess, and she gives birth to Attis; so beautiful is Attis that the Mother Goddess falls in love with him; he goes mad, and cuts off his genitals; out of remorse, the Mother Goddess turns Attis into the long-needled, and sweet-smelling pine tree, forever green.

As previously noted, Dionysus is sired by the chief Olympian god Zeus; the mother of Dionysus is the human princess Semele who is tricked by Hera, the wife of Zeus, into getting herself  killed by Zeus’ thunder bolts; the vine-generating son of Zeus is condemned by Hera to spend half of his life in the Underworld; he returns to the ground above for the spring and the summer; frenzied and dancing female Maenads, befriended by Dionysus, carry pine-cone-tipped wands, and keep him company.

As a literary symbol, pine trees represent regeneration, longevity, peace, and security.
According to the Holy Bible, such trees will stand in Jerusalem:

The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee
The fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together
To beautify the place of my sanctuary
And I will make the place of my feet glorious
(Isaiah 60: 13)

The symbolism of conifer trees is not lost on the singer/songwriter in the following lyrics, whether they be considered addressed to a former girlfriend or, as others like the Transcendentalist Romantics or Orthodox Christians might suggest, to the crucified Jesus – a Dionysian archetype:

I'll remember you
When the wind blows through the piney wood
It was you who cut right through
It was you who understood
Though I'd never say
That I did it the way
That you'd have liked me to
(Bob Dylan: I'll Remember You)

The leaves of the ‘Semi-God” Dionysus tree be not permanently present:

The rocks are bleak, the trees are bare
Iron clouds go floating by
Snowflakes are falling in my hair
Beneath the gray and stormy sky
(Bob Dylan: Tell Old Bill)

Unlike the always-evergreen Mother Goddess tree that provides refuge though not necessarily warmth:

Little girl, little girl, where you been so long
Not even your mama know
In the pine, in the pine
Where the sun never shine
I shivered the whole night long
(Bob Dylan: In The Pines ~ traditional/various)

Indeed, the coniferous cypress tree symbolizes sadness:

The boulevards of cypress trees
The masquerades of birds and bees
The petals, pink and white, the winds have blown
Won't you meet me in the moonlight all alone?
(Bob Dylan: Moonlight)

And this:

I waited for you on the running boards
Near the cypress trees, while the springtime turned
Slowly into autumn
(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)

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  1. and then there is this from Matthew Met Mary

    Matthew met Mary
    In a garden on a clear cool market day
    Said Mary to Matthew
    “I’d like to give my child away”
    Said Matthew,
    “I got a pheasant farm and I’ll take good care of him
    There’s a diamond spring and a big oak tree
    And he can climb on every limb
    A thousand doors couldn’t hold me back from you”


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