Bob Dylan As Endymion Parts I and II

By Larry Fyffe

“I wish I didn’t love you so much” ~ Casablanca

As Will Shakespeare reigns in the First Elizabethan Era, Bob Dylan reigns in the Second.

To the point ~

The Jungian template for a number of masterful songs by Bob Dylan is “Endymion” by John Keats; the poem based on ancient Greek/Roman mythology.

The three-folded Moon Goddess – represented, for instance, by virgin Diana, by mother Isis, and by crone Kali – falls in love with the beautiful mortal shepherd named Endymion.

He, in turn, desires to become immortal like she.

As expressed by the Bogart-like narrator in the following song lyrics:

Go over to London
Maybe gay Paree
Follow the river, you get to the sea
I was hoping we could drink from life's clear stream
I was hoping we could dream life's pleasant dream
(Bob Dylan: Marching To The City)

The mortal shepherd tries to change; endeavours to cease chasing after his concept of the ideal woman, represented by the great white moon. But he cannot resist doing so.

To escape one of the predicaments in which Endymion finds himself (while down in Pluto’s watery Underworld), the shepherd is required to help re-unite lovers who are floating around all alone:

The visions of the earth were gone and fled
He saw the giant sea above his head
(John Keats: Endymion, book ii)

Initially, singer/songwriter/musician Dylan (as narrator in the song below) doesn’t envision that problem difficult to solve; the sea is but a stream; the stream is but a dream:

The light in this place is really bad
Like being at the bottom of a stream
Any minute now
I'm expecting to wake up from a dream
(Bob Dylan: Dreaming Of You)

Easy does not turn out to be the case – instead, all Hell breaks loose:

The ghost of our old love has not gone away
Don't look like it, like it will anytime soon
You left me standing in the doorway crying
Under the midnight moon
(Bob Dylan: Standing In The Doorway)

Bringing to mind the Gothic poet of gloom standing by the moonlit doorway of doom:

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee
And the stars never rise, but I see the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee
(Edgar Allan Poe: Annabel Lee)

A thing of beauty gone can bring sorrow forever; leave a person stranded on the night’s dark Plutonian shore:

Last night I danced with a stranger
But she just reminded me you were the one
You left me standing in the doorway crying
In the dark land of the sun
(Bob Dylan: Standing In The Doorway)

And so it goes, the Gnostic-like poems of Keats and Poe cast their ghostly shadows over a number of songs by Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan As Endymion (Part II)

John Keats reworks the mythology of Endymion; has the shepherd decide to settle down to an earthly existence after having tasted hellish death beyond the River Acheron, and heavenly immortality up on Mount Olympus.

In the Gothic-tinged poem “Endymion”, the three-spirited Moon Goddess, who accompanies the shepherd for a while as an Indian Maiden, transfigures herself into a caring Crone.

As such, Diana bears him painful news; despaired, he sees her body fading gaunt and spare; she tells mortal Endymion she’s sorry, but being immortal and divine, she can never be like he is – return youthful yet again she always will.

The White Goddess, coined so by Robert Graves, nevertheless says she will eternally adore the earth-bound shepherd, he being the creative artist that he is.

Come then, Sorrow
Sweet Sorrow ....
There is not one
No, no, not one
But thee to comfort a poor lonely maid
(John Keats: Endymion, book iv)

To endure sorrow in order to appreciate bliss is supposedly a wise message garnered from Nature, and expressed through the mercury-coloured lips of the poet of Autumn.

An Existentialist melancholic message that irks mightily the tough-minded narrator of the song lyrics below:

Sorrow and pity
Rule the earth and the skies
Looking for nothing
In anyone's eyes

(Bob Dylan: Marching To The City)

Accordingly, the moody Moon can  keep right on rolling along:

I would be crazy to take you back
It would go up against every rule
You left me standing in the doorway crying
Suffering like a fool
(Bob Dylan: Standing In The Doorway)

For Bob Dylan, or at least for the writer as narrator, John Keats is just too unhappy in his unhappiness while the sunshine Romantic Transcendentalist boys (like Ralph Emerson) tends be a bit too optimisitc given some of the harsher aspects of human existence.

Oh, oh, oh, lo and behold; the story does not end here. You see, Endymion has a sister, and her name is Poena.

She’s the Goddess of Divine Retribution and does not tolerate mistreatment without it being returned in kind.

So don’t go blaming the Moon in June:

The peaches they were sweet, and the milk and honey flowed
I was only following instructions when the judge 
                                      sent me down the road
With your subpoena
(Bob Dylan: Angelina)

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3 Responses to Bob Dylan As Endymion Parts I and II

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    *tend to be

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    Even as we speak, an Indian artist is being threatened with death by right wingers for depicting the many-armed Kali smoking a cigarette.

  3. Larry Fyffe says:

    In God’s truth, tell me what you want, and you’ll have it of course
    (Bob Dylan: Angelina)

    Zeus grants the wish that shepherd Endymion be given immortality:
    The catch – he becomes ageless but sleeps forever.

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