Bob Dylan and Dante Parts X, XI, XII: the conclusion

By Larry Fyffe

Bob  Dylan And Dante (Part X)

“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 – just because he dressed in black vinyl:

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 will 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)

Bob Dylan And Dante (Part XI)

“Can’t Get Away From You” can be considered an allegorical song,
a mini-rendition of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’.  The narrator in the song reaches Seventh Heaven where an individual tries to rationally balance the four fluids in the body (made up of fire, earth, air, and water)  by restraining impulses that lead to excess – for example, too much sexual activity, or the accumulation of too many material objects.

Apollo, who’s the mythological Sun god, is both rational as well as wise; he plays Music.

The ideal balance, at least on earth, Dante Dylan fails to reach:

In the far off sweet forever
The sunshine peeking through
We should've walked together
I can't escape from you

His beloved (and living Beatrice, indicated by her shadow) composed more of water; he more of fire.

Sadly, things don’t work out in the end:

I cannot grasp the shadows
That gather near my door
The rainfall round my window
I wished I'd seen you more

Dante comes to terms with the situation he’s now in, but he’s sorrowful about how he handled matters:

Should be the time of gladness
Happy faces everywhere
The mystery of madness
Is propagating in the air

Expresses the Romantic vision of an idyllic country life that’s closer to the
far-away stars:

I don't like the city
Not like some folks do
Isn't it a pity
I can't escape from you:

Elysium lost

We ploughed the fields of Heaven
Right down to the end
I hope I can be forgiven
If any of my words offend

In those Elysian Fields on Earth:

All our days were splendid
They were simple, and they were plain
It never should have ended
I should have kissed you in the rain

Where grow flowers representing the innocence of youth, and, in Christianity, the Holy Trinity:

I've been thinking things over
All the moments full of grace
The primrose and the clover
Your ever-changing face

Where Beatice makes love to the unknowable and mysterious Godhead:

Can't help looking at you
You made love with God-knows-who
Never found a gal to match you
I can't escape from you
(Bob Dylan: Can't Escape From You)

The song lyrics, an epic narrative; with accompanying music to match the sombre mood… a Wonder to behold!

Bob Dylan And Dante (Part XII)

By Larry Fyffe

Singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan, in the following lyrics, makes it clear he’s aware of Dante Alighieri.

Dante with a Christian background, Dylan, a Jewish one:

Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
(Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue)

Like Dante, the former Robert Zimmerman, in his writings, references biblical characters, as well as historical and literary ones.

For example, biblical farmer Cain slays his shepherd brother Abel; Cain’s forced to wander off, and later he establishes a sinful city.

In the Ditches of Hell where sinners are punished, Dante and Virgil meet up with fortune tellers and false prophets who claim they’re able to see the future; Cain, a giver of inferior gifts, is there too; his great trespass against his blood brother marked on his face like blood spots on the Moon:

For now doth Cain with fork of thorns confine
Both hemispheres, touching the waves
Beneath the towers of Seville
(Dante: The Infernal, Canto XX)

Fraudsters of a modern “Divine Comedy” are referred to in the song lyrics below:

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all of her things inside

Dante’s narrator here seemingly speaks out the window of Limbo, not from  Hell:

All except for Cain and Abel
And the Hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or expecting rain
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

According to the New Testament verse below, claimed it be, by some theologians anyway, that the crucified Jesus descends to the Underworld to rescue from Limbo the souls (shades) of particularly worthy people who are stuck there; they aren’t Christians, but it’s not any fault of their own:

He that descended is the same also
That ascended up far above the heavens
That He might fill all things
(Ephesians 4:10)

Pagan poet Virgil tells Dante he saw this happen:

He drew forth the shade of our first parent
His child Abel, and Noah, a righteous man
And Moses, lawgiver for faith approved ...
(Dante: The Inferno, Canto IV)

Eve, the mother of Cain and Abel, who likes to eat apples, and the murderer Cain, get no mention above; Eve, akin to Persephone, is seduced or raped by Pluto, the mythological ruler of Hades.

The Eve and Cain story be one to consider. Dante’s claim that some souls of Jews are saved by organized superhuman crews surrounding Jesus quite another.

So it can be construed in the double-edged song lyrics quoted beneath – in reference to the Christian concept of “original sin”:

Preacher was talking, there's a sermon he gave
He said every man's conscience is vile and depraved ...
It ain't easy to swallow, it sticks in your throat
She gave her heart to the man in the long black coat
(Bob Dylan: The Man In The Long Black Coat)

Christian Dante makes no mention of the possibility of Adam’s first wife; that the couple splits up, and Eve, cleaved from Adam, replaces her:

So God created man in his own image
In the image of God created He him
Male and female created He them
(Genesis 1: 27)

Could be she’s acknowledged in the song lyrics below:

Please, see for me if her hair is hanging long
For that's  the way I remember her best
(Bob Dylan: Girl From The North Country)

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