Bob Dylan And Thomas Hardy (Part VI)

by Larry Fyffe

The Miltonic poet of Scotland describes how he sees the Babylon of his day:

Deceits, and perjuries, and vanities
Rewarded worthlessness, rejected worth
Assassinations, robberies, thefts, and wars
Disasterous accidents, life thrown away
Divinity insulted, Heaven despised
Religion scorned ....

(Robert Pollok: The Course Of Time)

In sentiment quite like the song lyrics, by the modern-day American singer/songwriter/musician, presented below:

Big-time negotiators, false healers, and woman haters
Masters of the bluff, masters of the proposition
But the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency
All non-believers, and men-stealers, talking in the name of religion
(Bob Dylan: Slow Train)

In the romantic-realistic-naturalistic novel “A Pair Of Blue Eyes”, Thomas Hardy quotes from poetry penned by the Scottish  ‘Dissenter’:

And now her eyes grew bright, and brighter still
Too bright for ours to look upon, suffused
With many tears, and closed without a cloud
They set as sets the morning star, which goes
Not down behind the darkened west, nor hides
Obscured among the tempests of the sky
But melts away in the light of heaven
(Robert Pollok: The Course Of Time)

In his story, Hardy depicts beautiful Elfride as a young, and kitten-like; no man-eating belle without mercy is she, but her name brings to mind a dark romantic ballad:

She took me to her Elfin grot
And there she wept, and sighed full sore
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four
(John Keats: La Belle Dame Sans Merci)

Thomas quotes the following lines from the Gothic poem – ‘Knight’ is the last name of one of her four suitors:

I set her upon my pacing steed
And nothing else saw all day long
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery's song
(John Keats: La Belle Dame Sans Merci)

The novel focuses on Elfride’s love and affection when it’s torn between two suitors –  Stephen Smith, an ambitious country lad, son of a mason, who’s determined to improve his economic situation; and Henry Knight, a well-established man from London, a barrister, and an editor, with an avid interest in geology; he rejects the blue-eyed fairy- girl when he finds out that she’s been previously courted.

Aspects  of Charles Darwin’s science, which considers  the physical environment uncaring as to the fate of human beings, lurk in the background of the novel – it’s the female, chess-playing, Elfride who saves Knight by tearing up her undergarments when Henry falls over a cliff; independent-minded, she, in the end, rejects both suitors; marries, dies giving birth; leaving together her two frustrated male suitors to make their way back to ‘the grey still valley.’

In the song lyrics below, matters mixed-up are too – the same poetic Gothic belle-well drawn upon:

The tempest struggles in the air ....
You trampled on me as you passed
All of my doubts and fears have gone at last
I've nothing more to tell you now
(Bob Dylan: Tell Old Bill)

Bob Dylan and Thomas Hardy – two very creative artists, and both oft under-rated by art critics who know not of what they speak.


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
  • Beautiful Obscurity – the unexpected covers
  • All Directions at Once

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

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