Bob Dylan And The Tombstone Blues (Part IV)

by Larry Fyffe

This article continues from

Buried be they in a Nova Scotian graveyard – a number of passengers (including Luigi Gotti of the ‘Ala Carte’ restaurant) who die when the White Star ocean liner ‘Titanic’ sinks into the icy waters of the North Atlantic.

By an American poet – a pacifist who turns antifascist:

Down, down, down, into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, and the kind
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned
(Edna Malley: Dirge Without Music)

More specific be the reference to the sinking of the ‘Titanic’ in the following song:

When the Reaper's task had ended
Sixteen hundred had gone to rest
The good, the bad, the rich, the poor
The lovliest, and the best
(Bob Dylan: Tempest)

The liner ‘Olympic’ suffers not such a tragic fate. By way of analogy, according to Greek/Roman mythology, the Olympians overthrow the Titans. Zeus becomes the chief of the Olympian gods and goddesses. As the God of Thunder and Lightning, he overpowers the Giants, but not the Judeo-Christian God – not even Jesus Christ comes to rescue the travellers aboard the ‘Titanic’:

When they were building the Titanic
They said what they could do
They were going to build a ship
That the water could not go through
But God with mighty hand
Showed the world that it could not stand
It was sad when that great ship went down
(Ernest Stoneman: The Titanic ~ traditional)

In the song ‘Tempest’, for instance, had imaginary time-traveller Bob Dylan, or at least his persona, instead of turning quite leisurely away from the disaster, persuaded, or perhaps tricked, Zeus into smashing  the iceberg to pieces before it strikes the ‘Titanic’, how might history have  turned out?

For one thing, the American singer/songwriter would have no actual historical event to inspire the following lyrics:

The ship was going under
The universe had opened wide
The role was called up yonder
The angels turned aside
(Bob Dylan: Tempest)

Nor to inspire the lines below addressed to the Olympian ruler of the water world:

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
Everyone's shouting
"Which side are you on?"
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

And the hyperbolic poet from Nova Scotia would not have penned the lines below in which the mighty iceberg becomes an objective correlative for the marble-hearted God of modern times:

We'd rather have the iceberg than the ship
Although it meant the end to travel
Although it stood stock-still like cloudy rock
And all the sea were moving marble
(Elizabeth Bishop: The Imaginary Iceberg)

And Jack Dawson would not have had to sacrifice himself in to order to save lovely Rose in the previously-referenced film by Canadian James Cameron:

In the movie, Jack says:

“I don’t know about you, but I intend to write a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about this”.

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