Can Bob Dylan Be Saved (Part IX): Emily Dickinson

by Larry Fyffe

In his words below, a Puritan poet takes a poke at the established Church of England – apparently suggesting its corrupt clergy are wolves in sheep’s clothing, and they will be sent directly to Hell; they’ll get no second chance to redeem themselves:

But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more
(John Milton: Lycidas)

In the biblical verse below, Jesus informs apostle Peter:

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven
And whatever thou shalt bind on earth
Shall be bound in heaven
And whatever thou shalt loose on earth
Shall be loosed in heaven
(Matthew 16:19)

Taken, at least by religious literalists, to mean humans head off somewhere beyond the clouds to God’s Heaven, or down to Satan’s subterranean Hell after they die – depending on whether they are judged by Saint Peter (who holds a golden key and an iron one) to have been naughty or nice.

That verse (from the New Testament) revises the rather earthly one below (taken from the Old Testament) in which ‘the prophet’ predicts that, in order to rid Judea of corruption, God will install the son of Hilkiah as controller of its coffers; the “Promised Land” will be reformed, its false idols smashed:

And the key of the house of David
Will I lay upon his shoulder
So he shall open it, and none shall shut
And he shall shut, and none shall open
(Isaiah 22: 22)

In many of his song lyrics, Bob Dylan presents a metaphorical middle path that leads to ‘a golden mean”. For instance,  the singer/songwriter mixes the Puritan view – that worldly success achieved by the sweat of one’s own brow be a sign of God’s approval – in with the view of Persian Dervish poets like Rumi and Saadi ~ that one  needs to empathize with all the Almighty’s s creatures.

Below, some words of an American Romantic Transcendentalist writer:

Barefooted Dervish is not poor
If fate unlock his bosom's door
So that what his eye hath seen
His tongue can paint as bright as keen
And what his tender heart hath felt
With equal fire thy heart shalt melt
(Ralph Emerson: Saadi)

Though written by a Puritan poet in America, the images in the following alliterative lines paint a rather pantheistic picture of the Cosmos:

I kenning through astronomy divine
The world's bright battlements,  wherein I spy
A golden path my pencil cannot line
From the bright throne unto my threshold lie
And while my puzzled thoughts about it pore
I find the bread of life in it at my door
(Edward Taylor: I Kenning Through Astronomy Divine)

Likewise, by extented metaphor, the accumulation of material things for their own sake, and having lustful thoughts are seen to detract mankind from seeking his spiritual soul; Blakean be the following lines:

You want clear spectacles, your eyes are dim
Turn inside out, and turn your eyes within
Your sins like motes in the sun do swim; nay, see
Your mites are mole hills, molehills mountains be
(Edward Taylor: The Accusation Of The Inward Man)

Taylor-like, in form and content, with the inclusion of dark sunglasses, be the song lyrics below:

With your silhouette where the sunlight dims
Into your eyes where the moonlight swims ...
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I put them by your gate
Or sad-eyed lady, should I wait
(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

Below, a New England Puritan poet confronts the  Gothic-like memory of her shut-in past; she’s estranged from it now:

I years had been from home
And now before the door
I dared not enter, lest a face
I never saw before
Stared stolid into mine
(Emilk Dickinson: I Laughed A Crumbling Laugh)

The great influence of Emily Dickinson on the writings of Bob Dylan largely ignored:

Now I'll cry tonight
Like I cried the night before
And I'm 'leased on the highway
But I dream about the door
(Bob Dylan: I'm Not There)

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