Bob Dylan And Subtle Irony

Bob Dylan And Subtle Irony

by Larry Fyffe

Contend a number of Christian theologians – The religion of Christianity holds that the bodies of the dead in the ‘afterlife’ get resurrected back to life, but without carnal desires; it’s a commune of brotherly love – just like Adam and Eve, supposedly, in the Garden of Eden before they get kicked out.

In songs concerning Christianity, singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan sometimes follows in the footsteps of author Mark Twain:

Well, I spied me a girl, and before she could leave
I said, “Let’s go play Adam and Eve”
I took her by the hand, and my heart was thumping
When she said, “Hey man, you crazy or something
You seen what happened last time they started
(Bob Dylan: Talking World Three Blues)

More often Dylan offers lyrics that contain seeds of skepticism; treads he softly. In the following song lyrics, the narrator thereof references the Lord Jesus while mixing in a bit of subtle irony – he’s not at all sure that he’ll be assigned to Paradise, but hopes that the Lord will forgive him:

The death of life, then comes the resurrection
Wherever I am welcome is where I'll be
I'll put all my confidence in Him, my sole protection
Is the saving grace over me
(Bob Dylan: Saving Grace)

In the biblical verse below, not all the disciples believe that Jesus survives the crucifixon:

And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him
But some doubted 
And Jesus came, and spake unto them, saying
"All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth"
(Matthew 28: 17,18)

A doubt echoed by the narrator in the following song lyrics – easily construed as an ironic comment, a subtle one for sure:

When He rose from the dead did they believe
He said, "All power is given to Me in heaven and earth"
Did they know right then and there what that power was worth
(Bob Dylan: In The Garden)

The narrator in the song lyrics beneath clings onto the solid rock known as Earth; an undoubting, unambiguous speaker on religious matters, the narrator thereof is not; he ain’t no dyed-in-the-wool true believer that the Christian Messiah will triumph in the end:

It's the ways of the flesh to war against the spirit
Twenty-four hours a day you can feel it, you can hear it
Using every angle under the sun
He never give up, until the battles lost or won
(Bob Dylan: Solid Rock)

If Christ is coming back again to save all humankind, He’s sure taking His good time about it –  if He’s travelling by train, it’s a slow, slow one:

They talk about a life of brotherly love
Show me someone who knows how to live  it
There's a slow, slow train coming up around the bend
(Bob Dylan: Slow Train Coming)

It’s religious dogma that irks the singer/songer, or at least the narrator, in the lyrics below – in this case, the doctrine of ‘original sin’:

Shake the dust off of your feet, don't look back
Nothing can hold you down, nothing that you lack
Temptation's not an easy thing, Adam given the devil reign
Because he sinned, I got no choice, it run in my vein
(Bob Dylan: Pressing On)


And there’s the ritual of sipping of wine that supposedly represents the drinking of Christ’s blood:

Never could learn to drink that blood
And call it wine
Never could learn to hold you love
And call you mine
(Bob Dylan: Close Connection To My Heart)

A ‘selfie rhyme’ above~ ‘wine’/ ‘mine’;  with that below ~ ‘line’/’wine’:

Mona tried to tell me
To stay away from the train line
She said that all the railroad men
Just drink up your blood like wine
(Bob Dylan: Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again)

What else?

You can read about the writers who kindly contribute to Untold Dylan in our About the Authors page.   And you can keep an eye on our current series by checking the listings on the home page

You’ll also find, at the top of this page, and index to some of our series established over the years.  Series we are currently running include

  • The art work of Bob Dylan’s albums
  • The Never Ending Tour year by year with recordings
  • Bob Dylan and Stephen Crane
  • Beautiful Obscurity – the unexpected covers
  • All Directions at Once

You’ll find links to all of them on the home page of this site

If you have an article or an idea for an article which could be published on Untold Dylan, please do write to with the details – or indeed the article itself.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with getting on for 10,000 members. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link    And because we don’t do political debates on our Facebook group there is a separate group for debating Bob Dylan’s politics – Icicles Hanging Down


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