Bob Dylan And The Two Riders (Parts IX and X))

Bob Dylan And The Two Riders (Part IX)

By Larry Fyffe

All Along The Watchtower” unfolds itself to reveal an analogical-historical interpretation; the literary template is the Book of Isaiah which foretells of a changing of the guards, of a change of watchmen on the tower, symbolized by two riders that are approaching.

Either Bob Dylan travelled back in space and time and writes Isaiah himself; or perhaps a more plausible explanation is that he simply uses his creative imagination, and borrows from the Old Testament in the present:

Two riders were approaching
And the wind began to howl
(All Along The Watchtower)

Allan Ginsberg authors the anti-war poem “Howl” at this time in history:

I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem
Which shall never hold their peace day or night
Ye that make mention of the Lord
Keep not silence
(Isaiah 62: 6)

Easy construed that the two riders in the Tower song are Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg ~ they foresee the coming of a Shelleyan spring after a dark cold winter.

The members of the Washington Establishment that control the American military will be the ones who howl in pain while those against the Vietnam War will sing  exultations:

Behold my servants shall sing for joy of heart
But ye shall cry for sorrow of heart
And shall howl for vexation of spirit
(Isaiah 65: 14)

Specific historical events univeralized into a broader motif be Dylan’s hallmark:

The battle outside raging
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changing
(Bob Dylan: The Times They Are A-Changing)

“All Along the Watchtower” can even be taken down to a personal level, an autobiographical conflict with the music industry, for instance, as can be “Frankie Lee And Judas Priest”; however, though it can be done, such reductionism strains credulity.

“All Along The Watchtower” is a song of beauty that brings joy forever:

An endless fountain of immortal drink
Pouring into us from the heaven's brink
(John Keats: Endymion)

Bob Dylan And The Two Riders (Part X)

According to the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, the joke is on the Babylonians; the Persians are going to spoil their successful conquests ~ do unto them as the Babylonians did unto the Assyrians.

It’s a circle game envisioned by God’s watchman up in the Almighty’s prophetic tower:

A grievous vision is declared unto me
The treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously
And the spoiler spoileth
(Isaiah 21:2)

That grief updated to modern times in the  following song lyrics:

There  must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion
I can't get no relief
(Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)

The Hebrews who stick by their God are given some reprieve when the Zoroastrian Persians allow departures over time back to Judah and Jerusalem.

Yet matters are not well - Satan's winning all the battles:
The good man is perished out of the earth
And there is none upright among men
They all lie in wait for blood
They hunt every man his brother with a net
(Micah 7: 2)

Them be hyperbolic lines no writer with a dark sense of humour worth his salt could resist:

When I'm gone, I don't wonder where I be
Just say that I trusted in God
And that Christ was in me
Say He defeated the Devil
He was God's chosen son
And there is no man righteous
No not one
(Bob Dylan: Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One)

Meanwhile, back in the tower – on the macro-level – the United States survives the Civil war, but is near another one due to the war in Vietnam.

Speaking with a partially forked tongue as many of the writers of the Holy Bible do, modern-day Isaiah leaves lots of room to indicate to his listeners that it’s time they break the vicious cycle of war with non-violent civil action.

Since they have no well-armed troops of their own to back them up:

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: Along The Watchtower)

In short, the Bible is not to be taken as a literal historical document, but as a figurative book, bound with symbols of water, earth, wind, and fire ~ from which  important lessons can be learnt …

Then forgotten.


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