Bob Dylan And Bliss Carman


By Larry Fyffe

Bliss Carman was a pre-Modernist Canadian poet who in his day  makes references the poetry of the ancient Greeks (like Sappho) with their visions of the Fields of Elysium. Carman does this in terms of the tenets of the Romantic poets and writers classified as Transcendentalists.

These literary artists believe in a unitary spiritual plane that lies beyond worldly existence though it pervades the fragmented beauty of Nature in the here-and-now; however, they prescribe to the hope of some kind of mystical restoration thereof after physical death.

Carman struggles with this idealistic perception due to the developments of modern science (like those of Charles Darwin) as to whether or not this eventual harmonization of mind, body, and soul be but wistful thinking:

Heart of mind, if all the altars
Of the ages stood before me
Not one pure enough or sacred
Could I find to lay this white, white
Rose of love upon

(Bliss Carman: Heart Of Mine)

The song lyrics below express similar frustration at the pursuit of pure love in an obviously flawed earthly existence:

Heart Of mine, go back home
You got no reason to wander, no reason to roam
Don't let her see, don't let her see that you want her
Don't push yourself over the line
Heart of mine
(Bob Dylan: Heart Of Mine)


The transcendental view concerning the possibility of a blissful afterlife, the narrator in the following song lyrics finds more dubious than does ‘feminine-feeling’ Bliss Carman:

As friends and other strangers
From their fates try to resign
Leaving them wholly, totally free
To do anything they wish to do but die
(Bob Dylan: Gates Of Eden)


In spite of the out-of-hand dismissal thereof by most ‘high brow’ literary critics, the graduate of the University of New Brunswick’s imagistic and symbolic poetry hangs on in non-academic circles:

The racy smell of the forest loam
When the stealthy sad-heart leaves go home ....
These are the joys of the open road
For him who travels without a load
(Bliss Carman: The Joys Of The Open Road)

The song lyrics beneath, in the basement, mix-up archetypes and mythologies – from a Canadian band, the members thereof long-time associates of the man in the long black coat:

Take a load of Fanny
And you put the load right on me
I picked up my bag, and went looking for a place to hide
When I saw old Carmen and the Devil walking side by side
I said, "Hey Carmen, let's go downtown"
She said, "I gotta go, but my friend can stick around"

(The Band: The Weight)

In ancient Greek/Roman mythology, Adonis is the handsome mortal loved by both Aphrodite, the sex goddess,  and Persephone,  the queen of the underworld (she hides him down there); on his death, the blood of Adonis transforms into spring flowers spread by the wind:

The night can bring no healing now
The calm of yesterday is gone
Surely the wind is but the wind
And I a broken waif thereon
(Bliss Carman: The Windflower)

A sorrow expressed in the following song lyrics:

Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows
Too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
The answer is blowing in the wind
(Bob Dylan: Blowing In The Wind)


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  1. Young Aphrodite/Venus is said to prick her finger on a white rose – her drops of blood turn the flower red

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