Bob Dylan And Dante (Parts III & IV)

Previously published: Bob Dylan And Dante and Bill Heagney (Part I and II)

By Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan And Dante (Part III)

Bob Dylan, singer/songwriter/musician, awaits Virgil to guide him to Paradise,

Even if it’s just a little shack in the hills:

Through the sycamore, I see the home that I adore
Back in the hills of Kentucky
Every day they light that in the window there's a life
Back in the hills of Kentucky
Soon I will stray back there to the old grave that's there
Somebody's way back there to greet me
I'll be heaven blessed for I will find my peace and rest
Back in the hills of Kentucky
(Vaughn de Leath: Back In The Hills Of Kentucky)

The motif above is replicated in the song lyrics below:

God be with you, brother dear If you don't mind me asking, what brings you here
Oh, nothing much, I'm just looking for this man
Need to see where he's lying in this lost land
Goodbye Jimmy Reed, and everything within ya
Can't you hear me calling from down in Virginia
(Bob Dylan: Goodbye Jimmy Reed)

There be light humour in them thar hills as well:

I lay awake till three o' clock this morning
And I heard you when you sneaked into the shack
You told me you stayed up late, swinging on the garden gate
But you can't put that monkey on my back
Shelton Brothers: You Can't Put That Monkey On My Back

Though very funny, darker be the hyperbolic humour in the song lyrics beneath:

Well, I been praying for salvation
Laying around in a one-room country shack
Gonna walk down that dirt road
'Til my eyes begin to bleed
(Bob Dylan: Dirt Road Blues)

More serious are the next lines – finding himself standing at the gates to Dante’s Underworld, the narrator thereof fears he’ll at best be able to ascend the stairs to Third Heaven:

I wish I knew what it was that keeps me loving you so
I'm breathing hard, standing at the gate
Ah, but I don't know how much longer I can wait
(Bob Dylan: Can't Wait)

Then again, patience is a virtue:

Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands
Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums
Should I leave them by your gate
Or sad-eyed lady, should I wait
(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

(The song begins around 1 minute 10 seconds)

Bob Dylan And Dante ((Part IV)

Guided by Virgil, Dante Dylan mixes up the medicine, meets up with the Judge of Carnal Sinners in the Second Circle of Hell:

Here comes licentious Cleopartra
Here Helen for whom long turned the windmills of war
And see the great Achilles who fought in the end for the love of Polyxena
Observe Paris who took Helen for his wife
And he pointed out more than a thousand shadows with his fingers
Naming, for me, those whom love had severed from life
(Dante: The Infernal, Canto V ~ translated)

Men as victims of demon female lovers are depicted in later poems as well:

Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave
Till heart and body and life are in its hold
(Dante Rossetti: The Lady Lilith)

In the following song lyrics, as noted before, said it could be that Trojan Paris is Dylan’s persona; he’s observing Venus, the sex goddess, while conceited Achilles waits below; Achilles having betrayed the Greeks because of, among other things, his lust for a Trojan princess.

Paris turns the tables, and shoots Achilles with an arrow:

Standing at your window, honey
Yes, I've been here before
Feeling so harmless
I'm looking at your second door ....
Achilles is in your alleyway
He don't want me here, he does brag
(Bob Dylan: Temporary Like Achilles)

Not the first time, Dyan narrator’s been daunted by love betrayed:

I stepped up to my rival, dagger in my hand
And seized him by the collar, boldly made his stand
Being mad by desperation, I pierced him through his breas
All this for lovely Flora, the Lily of the West
(Bob Dylan: The Lily Of The West)

It’s tough getting to the temperate Seventh Circle of Heaven even though only a lonely shack in the hills, let alone waiting around for the opening of the Seventh Seal to find out where you are going to end up:

You broke the heart that loved you
Now you can seal up the book, and not write anymore
I've been walking that lonesome valley
Trying to get to Heaven before they close the door
(Bob Dylan: Trying To Get To Heaven)

Dante’s more assured, more transcendental:

Already my desire, and my will
Were being turned like a wheel
All at the same speed
By the love that shines the Sun
And the other stars
(Dante: Paradise, Canto XXXIII ~ translated)


  1. (Lily of the West ~ Davies/Peterson)
    (Monkey On My Back ~ Bernard et al)

  2. “You Can’t Put That Monkey On My Back”

    is the correct full title of the Bernard/Heagney song

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