Bob Dylan and Dante Part VIII and IX

Richard Thomas points out that Bob Dylan sources the poem below in his song “Crossing The Rubicon”.

Caesar marches on Rome:

The bright red river flows from a modest spring
Through the bottom of a valley
Valleys dividing Gaul from Italian lands
(Lucan: On The Civil War, Book I)

Dante crosses the River Styx, and enters Hades; to the right there is a path that leads to the blissful Elysium Fields:

Here comes the place where cleaves our way
The road to the right to Pluto's dwelling place goes
And leads to Elysium
But the one to the left leads to Tartarus
And speeds the souls of the cursed to doom
(Virgil: The Aeneid, Book I)

In the following song lyrics, Hades is placed above ground; the narrator therein takes on the role of the Trojan Aeneas:

Key West is under the sun, under the radar, under the gun
You stay to the left, and then you lean to the right
Feel the sun on your skin, and the healing virtues of the wind
Key West, Key West is the land of light
(Bob Dylan: Key West)

In Seventh Heaven, Dante meets up with Beatrice in the Elysium Fields; he’s not yet been guided through the Sphere of the Fixed Stars, and onward to where they begin to rotate:

For in the smile that glowed in her eyes
I thought that I, with mine, had touched the height
Of both my blessedness and Paradise
(Dante: Paradise, Canto XV)

In the song lyrics quoted beneath, like Dante on tour when he still throws a shadow, the narrator’s quite content to have gotten thus far.

Coulld be said that Dante Dylan decides to give himself to his beloved Beatrice once he passes from this Earth:

Well, my heart's like a river, a river that sings
Just takes me a while to realize things
I'll see you are sunrise, I'll see you at dawn
I'll lay down beside you when everyone's gone
(Bob Dylan: I've Made up My Mind To Give Myself to You)

Part IX

“Can’t Escape From You”, inspired by the Bing Crosby song, is one by Bob Dylan with a fragmented narrative that deliberately leaves the meaning of the piece open to more than one interpretation on both the micro- and macro-level in regards to the existential position of human beings in the whole wide Universe.

Applying the template of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” – the 13th century Italian poet figuratively climbs from the basement of Hell to the rooftop of Heaven while he’s still alive.

Using the template helps to uncover a unity in the lyrics of Dylan’s otherwise rather amorphous song.

Trains are waiting at the station; one heading for Hell; one for Purgatory; and one for Heaven.

Dante boards the one going to Hell:

Oh, the train is rolling
All along the homeward way
All my hopes are over the horizon
All my dreams are gone astray

Its passenger dreams of his beloved Beatrice, whom he has left behind – tells her that he has abandoned all hope:

The hills darkly shaded
Stars fall from above
All the joys of earth have faded
The night's untouched, my love

Another train’s leaving for Purgatory, but for now Dante’s in Hell, and he might as well make the best of it:

I'll be here 'til tomorrow
Beneath a shroud of gray
I'll pretend I'm free of sorrow
My heart is miles away

Dante worries that he’s agonna get stuck in Hell:

The dead bells are ringing
My train is overdue
To your memories I'm clinging
I can't escape from you

At last the train arrives. In Purgatory, Dante knows another one will take him on to Heaven.

But it won’t leave until he’s cleansed of all sins:

Well, there's the sound of thunder
Roaring loud and long
Sometimes you got to wonder
God knows I've done nothing wrong

And not before Beatrice gives him a good scolding:

Ah, you've wasted all your power
You've thrown out the Christmas pie
Now you're withered like a flower
You'll play the fool and die

The poet snaps back at Beatrice for saying he’s not worthy for the Christian afterlife:

I'm neither sad nor sorry
I'm all dressed up in black
I fought for fame and glory
And you tried to break my back

The Gnostic-like story goes on; in short, Dante Dylan reaches Seventh Heaven, but not the sublimely lit place where Beatrice waits for him beyond the Fixed Stars.

Before that happens, her smile would surely blind him:

The path is never ending
The stars they never age
The morning light is blinding
All the world's a stage
(Bob Dylan: Can't Escape From You)

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