The Mythology Of Bob Dylan (Part IV): Arthur Rimbaud

Previously in this series:

by Larry Fyffe

The mythology constructed in the lyrics of songs by Bob Dylan is influenced by Arthur Rimbaud, who, in his reaction to established religious canon, takes on a Gnostic point of view in his poetry. In the poem below, symbolized by the latrine, the corrupted, crapped-up material world is shut off from the far away, goodly Absolute Monad; the light from which, that figuratively represents the Absolute One’s Spirit, now just sparks in bits and pieces when it reaches Earth:

In summer especially
Stupid, he persisted
In locking himself in latrines
Where he reflected in peace
Inhaling deeply
(Arthur Rimbaud: The Seven Year Old Poet ~ translated)

The Holy Bible contains remnants of Gnostic thought. Lucifer (oft depicted as a snake) is the Great Deceiver, capable of taking the form of either male or female humans; down on Earth, Lucifer reigns.  The Demiurge, the flawed Lion King, is no match for Satan’s darkness:

How art thou fallen from Heaven
O Lucifer, son of the morning
How art thou cut down to the ground
Which did weaken the nations
 (Isaiah 14:12)

Bob Dylan, Gnostic-like, mixes up the mythological medicine. The Moon, in Greek/Roman mythology, is  the sister of the Sun-God, Apollo; he’s usually quite rational though thought of in later alchemic terms, he’s composed mostly of the elements fire and air. She has an unseen dark side as well as a bright side; in alchemic terms, she’s composed mostly of earth and water:

The cold-blooded moon
The captain's waiting for the celebration
Sending his thoughts to a beloved maid
Whose ebony face is beyond communication
(Bob Dylan: Changing Of The Guards)

 

The narrator in the above song takes on the persona of Apollo who also happens to be the God of Music:

The captain is down, but still believing
That his love will be repaid
(Bob Dylan: Changing Of The Guards)

Whether depicted as a Sun or as a Lion, as a God is wont to do, the narrator, who’s previously associated sharing a bottle of wine and a mattress, seduces the maiden:

Near broken chains, mountain laurel, and rolling rocks
She's begging to know what measures he now will be taking
He's pulling her down, and she's clutching on to his long golden locks
(Bob Dylan: Changing Of The Guards)

Mythological allusions abound in the above Dylan song.

Titan Prometheus is chained to a rock for all eternity; he’s stolen fire from the gods, and given it to humans. Zeus, Apollo’s father, eventually takes pity on him; Hercules kills the eagle, linked with Zeus, that is eating Prometheus’ liver, and unbounds the Titan.

Lusty Apollo gets not lucky with Daphne, the independent-minded daughter of a river-god; she’s transformed into a laurel tree just as the fiery Olympian catches up to her. He’s quite reasonable about his failure to have sex with the maiden. Says Apollo: “But at least you shall be my tree. With your leaves my victors shall wreathe their brows. You shall be part of all my triumphs” (Edith Hamilton: Mythology)

King Sisyphus be a trickster who manages to cheat Death more than once; Zeus has enough of him, and condemns him to push a rock up a hill in Hades forever – the rock rolls back down every time the top is reached.

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 Tony@schools.co.uk 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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