Bob Dylan and the Fighting Irish (parts 1 and 2)

By Larry Fyffe

Part I

From the get-go, the lyrics and music of Bob Dylan have been influenced by Irish songs and poems – his songs do not come out of thin air.

The following song lyrics reference a particularly cold winter in Britain:

So now I'm leaving London, boys
Well, the town I'll soon forget
Likewise its winds and weather
Likewise some people I met
But there's one thing that's for certain
Sure as the sun shines down
I'll never forget that Liverpool gal
Who lived in London town
(Bob Dylan: Liverpool Gal)

“Liverpool Gal” the lost early recording of Dylan’s song 

Referenced in the song below are the days of the ’49 gold rush in America, but “united we will be” has Irish political overtones:

So fare thee well, my own true love
When I return united we will be
It's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me
But my darling when I think of thee
(The Dubliners: The Leaving Of Liverpool ~ traditional)

Opened up to the general search for individual independence in the reformated song lyrics below:

So well thee well, my own true love
We'll meet another day, another time
It ain't the leaving that's a-grieving me
But my true love who's bound to stay behind
(Bob Dylan: Farewell)

At Ballynalee, the British occupiers are defeated by Irish fighters:

A table with glasses and drink was set
Then says the lassie turning to me
"You are welcome, Raftery, so drink a wet
To love's demands in Ballynalee"
(Anthony Raftery: The Lass From Ballynalee ~ translated)

The search for freedom in modern authoritarian society be the motif in the lyrics beneath:

Today and tomorrow, and yesterday, too
The flowers are dying like all things do
Follow me close, I'm going to Ballinalee
I'll lose my mind if you don't come with me
(Bob Dylan: I Contain Multitudes)

The following poem refers to Charles Parnell who, though an Anglican, be an Irish nationalist:

Come gather round me Parnellites
And praise our chosen man
Stand upright on you legs awhile
Stand upright while you can
(WB Yeats: Come Gather Round Me Parnelites)

Below, broadened into a non-time-bound song of protest against the
status quo:

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
(Bob Dylan: The Times They Are A-Changing)

Then there’s the long poem by the Irish bishop of yore who conversed with angels:

From the east, the smiling purple 
From the south, the pure white wondrous
From the north, the black blustering moaning wind
From the west, the bubbling dun breeze
(Oengus The Culdee: The Creation Of The Universe ~ translated)

Referred in the song lyrics beneath:

Well, I been to the east, and I been to the west
And I been out where the black winds roar
Somehow, though, I never did get that far
With the girl from the Red River Shore
(Bob Dylan: Red River Shore)

Bob Dylan And The Fighting Irish (Part II)

Early poets in isolated Ireland combine the real external world around them
with that of the inner world of the creative imagination; later they’re influenced by literary movements “from away” such as Gothic Romanticism and Romantic Transcendentalism.

Below, in an Irish poem of the seventeenth century, contented the narrator be with his wife; he dismisses the “miss”. However, he does not dismiss the possibility of finding a path that leads to someone he likes better:

Keep your kiss to yourself
Young miss with the white teeth
I can get no taste from it
Keep your mouth away from me
(Take Those Lips Away ~ translated)

The narrator in the song lyrics beneath turns the ‘mouth’ above into Post-Modern metonymy; here he addresses the woman he dismisses as “madame”; no ‘supernatural’ eternal love object is she:

Get lost, madame, get off my knee
Keep your mouth away from me
I'll keep the path open, the path in my mind
(Bob Dylan: I Contain Multitudes)

A Victorian decadent Irish poet rebels against overt physical sex not being the subject found in the  early poetry of Ireland; frowned upon then as it is in the Victorian era.

Preceded by the poetry of frustrated sexual union by Dante Rossetti, the Decadents proclaim that the Romantic Transcendentalist movement is dead; that dark Nature reveals nothing to its human inhabitants, and peace comes only with death:

And all men kill the thing they love
By all let this be heard
Some do it with a bitter look
Some do it with a flattering word
The coward does it with a kiss
The brave man with a sword
(Oscar Wilde: The Ballad Of The Reading Gaol)

Below, an alternate version of a song, the orginal too based on narratives from the New Testament:

I'll tell you something
Things you never had you'll never miss
Tell you somethng else
A brave man will kill you with a sword
A coward with a kiss
(Bob Dylan: Gonna Change My Of Thinking)

The modernist Irish poet below combines the realisic, albeit imaginitive, view of the natural world presented in earlier Irish poetry – a diverse material world absent of the concept of transcendental love – mixed with the belief that ideal of love, truth and beauty reveals itself through the flowerly world of Nature:

And when the white moths were on the wing
And the moth-like stars were flickering out
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout
(WB Yeats: The Song Of The Wandering Aengus)

The Romanic elements above half-heartedly toned down by the narrator in the following song lyrics:

Build my a cabin in Utah
Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout
Have a bunch of kids who call me 'pa'
That must be what it's all about
(Bob Dylan: Sign On The Window)


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