Previously: Bob Dylan And The Two Riders (Parts 1 & 2)
By Larry Fyffe
Bob Dylan And The Two Riders (Part III)
Before the Babylonians, God sends the Assyrians to punish the north and south parts of the Promised Land because the Hebrew inhabitants thereof are being led astray – they worship graven images.
Prophet Micah warns them in his manuscripts of what God plans to do about it ~ ‘all the idols will I lay desolate”.
Biblical Micah feels bad that God is going to do more that just smash idols; He’s going to smash heads, subject the wayward inhabitants to the cruel rule of the Assyrians as a just punishment; with a piling-on to come ~ the Babylonians will take over the task.
Therefore I will wail and howl I will go strippped and naked I will make a wailing like the dragons And mourning as the owls (Micah 1: 8)
The modern Beat poet below borrows from Micah.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness .... Who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving their genitals and manuscripts (Allen Ginsberg: Howl)
Prophet Micah tells the Hebrews not to worry ~ even though the hour is getting late:
(A)nd thou shalt go even unto Babylon There shalt thou be delivered There the Lord shall redeem thee From the hand of thine enemies (Micah 4: 10)
Moving on, with the Vietnam War raging, two riders approach the Watchtower overlooking America, and they sing out a warning to the leaders of New Babylon, and to their obedient servants, that they’d better change their wicked ways.
Or else modern Babylon is also going to fall ~ just like the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires of yore:
No reason to get excited now The thief, he kindly spoke There are many here among us Who feel that life is but a joke But you and I, we've been through that And this is not our fate So let us not talk falsely now The hour is getting late (Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)
Later we are informed who the joker is:
But that's not how it used to be When the jester sang for the king and queen In a coat he borrowed from James Dean In a voice that came from you and me (Don McLain: Miss American Pie)
Bob Dylan rhymes ~ ‘growl’/’howl’:
A wildcat did growl Two riders were approaching The wind began to howl (Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)
In translation, Micah rhymes ~ ‘howl’/’owls’:
Therefore I will wail and howl ... I will make a wailing like the dragons And mourning as the owls (Micah: 1:8)
Bob Dylan And The Two Riders (Part IV)
God’s upset at the wayward behaviour of the Hebrews in Judah and Northern Israel; He sends the Assyrians down on them like the wolf on the fold.
It’s always a good time to be humble when faced with the wrath of the Almighty.
The prophet Micah shows himself to be a bit of a thief though:
Therefore I will wail and howl I will go stripped and naked (Micah 1: 8)
Lifting the image from Isaiah, another servant of the Lord:
At the same time spake the Lord by Isaiah The son of Amoz, saying "Go and lose the sackcloth from off thy loins And put off thy shoe from thy foot" And he did so, walking naked and barefoot (Isaiah 20: 2)
The narrator in the song lyrics below also borrows from Isaiah, and TS Eliot too:
While all the women came and went Barefoot servants too (Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)
In the song above, it’s contemporary America, with its economic and military complex, that’s under God’s judgement.
One “Dylanologist” who analyses the song, either misses or dismisses the universalized analogy.
Turns to Kafka instead:
Clear language, short, uncomplicated sentences, but the lack of context makes the narrative inaccessible, unrealistic .... (Jochen Markhorst: All Along The Wathchtower ~ Untold Dylan)
An Euro-centric analysis that underestimates the political trauma and turmoil in America caused by the Vietnam War and the Tet Offensive at the time.
The song gives an ironic warning to America that it’s trapped in the turning spokes of the wagon wheels of history:
But you and I we've been through that And this is not our fate (Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)
Tony Attwood, another European analyst, freezes the song in time as if it were an “abstract painting” with no solid socio-political meaning or message at all.
The two approaching riders – singer Bob Dylan and poet Allen Ginsberg – albeit in the figurative language of artists, assert otherwise.