Bob Dylan: Paradise Regained

By Larry Fyffe

A consistent theme expressed by singer/songwriter Bob Dylan through his lyrics is the loss of a Paradise that might have been – lost because of greed.

Humorously expressed in the following song:

"I think I'll call it America", I said as we hit land
I took a deep breath, I fell down, I could not stand
Captain Arab he started writing up some deeds
He said, "Let's set up a fort, and start buying the place with beads"
(Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan's 115th Dream)

More darkly in the ‘Romantic’ lyrics below – native American Chief Shenandoah converts to Christianity, supports the American colonialists first against French-Canadian ‘voyageurs’, and then against the British in the War of Independence- only to have ‘Indian Territory’ more and more occupied:

Well, the white man loved an Indian maiden
Look away, you rolling river
With notions his canoe was laden
Look away, we're bound away
Across the wide MissourI
Shenandoah, I love your daughter
(Bob Dylan: Shenandoah ~ Vandall/traditional)

Later the song becomes a lament for the southern belle left behind, personified by the Shenandoah River of Virginia:

Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter
Away, I'm bound away 
'Cross the wide Missouri
Oh, who will tie your shoe
Oh, ,who will glove your hand
And who will kiss your ruby lips 
When I am gone?
(Harve Persnell: Shenandoah ~ Persnell/traditional)

The ‘Paradise’ of the Southern Confederacy is lost due to the American Civil War, but, in this case, four million black slaves are freed:

"Virgil, quick come see, there goes the Robert E. Lee"
Now I don't mind chopping wood
And I don't mind if the money's no good
You take what you need, and you leave the rest
But they should never have taken the very best
(The Band: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down ~ Robbie Robinson)

A theme picked up in the song lyrics quoted below:

I'm going to spare the defeated, I'm going to speak to the crowd
I am going to teach peace to the conquered
Well, I'm gonna tame the proud
(Bob Dylan: Lonesome Day Blues)


Roman, remember by your strength
to rule the Earth's peoples
For your arts are to be these:
To pacify, to impose the rule of law
To spare the conquered
Battle down the proud
(Virgil: Aeneid,  Book VI)

A theme akin to that expressed in the following lyrics:

I went out in Virginia, honey, where the green grass grow
I went out in Virginia, honey, where the green grass grow
I tried to tell myself I didn't want you no more
My baby told me, honey, stop doing me wrong 
My baby told me, honey, stop doing me wrong
Well, I'm telling you, baby, 'cause I'm tired of living alone
(Jimmy Reed: Down In Virginia)

Now, with a little dirty humour thrown in:

Transparent woman in a transparent dress
Suits you well, I must confess
I'll break open your grapes, I'll suck out that juice
I need you like my head needs a noose
Goodbye, Jimmy Reed, goodbye and so long
I thought I could resist her, but I was so wrong ....
Can't you hear me calling from down in Virginia?
(Bob Dylan: Goodbye Jimmy Reed)

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  1. “Who’s gonna shoe your pretty little feet
    And who’s gonna glove your little hands
    Who’s gonna kiss your ruby lips”

    Is an insert from another traditional song, covered by Woody Guthrie among others.

  2. Who’s gonna bring you chickens when I’m gone?
    Six months in jail ain’t so long
    (Dick Justice: Who’s Gonna Bring You Chickens)

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