- I contain multitudes 1: Two Irish countries at odds
- I contain multitudes 2: To the buried that repose around us
- I contain multitudes part 3: The thrill of rhyming something that’s never been rhymed before
- I contain Multitudes part 4: Boogaloo dudes carry the news
- I contain Multitudes 5: All the people on earth… all you
by Jochen Markhorst
VI All things lost on earth are treasured there
I’m just like Anne Frank - like Indiana Jones And them British bad boys the Rolling Stones I go right to the edge - I go right to the end I go right where all things lost - are made good again
The closing lines of this first bridge completely drown in the surge of that surprising, bizarre triplet before it, in the absurd-appearing “flurry of pan-cultural references” of Anne Frank, Indiana Jones and the Rolling Stones – which is, after all, quite a bomb carpet.
A bit of a shame, though. The closing lines have a dramatic power of their own, communicating a rather unexpected switch to quiet, intimate suffering, and do so elegantly poetically with a pinch of melancholy;
I go right to the edge - I go right to the end I go where all things lost are – made good again
(the studio version I go right where all things lost – are made good again is soon replaced on stage by the rhythmically stronger variant without the third “right”)
Opening with the rarely used, graceful four-footed anapest, the anapestic tetrameter as the professor would say (da da dum, da da dum, da da dum, da da dum), which Dylan has previously employed in “Where Are You Tonight?” (1978) and in “Cold Irons Bound” (1997). So, roughly once every 20 years, Dylan embellishes a lyric fragment with it – making him, incidentally, one of the very rare songwriters to use this classic metre with any regularity.
Equally tried and tested and classic is the anaphora I go right, though the third I go right soon falls by the wayside. In rhetoric (Churchill, Martin Luther King) as popular as in songwriting, the rhythmic repetition of phrases, and Dylan too has embellished dozens of songs with the stylistic device of repetition, but it is striking that Dylan does not sing that third I go right on stage, at the performance of the song: the following where is rhythmically impossible to fit in, and thus the third leg of the anaphora falls. Remarkable for a songwriter who repeatedly claims that sound trumps everything else – but here the holy trinity of rhyme, rhythm & reason apparently wins out over sound after all.
The reason, the content of this text fragment is equally remarkable. In context, it is alienating. In a middle eight with those three incompatible characters, and as a bridge from the preceding All the young dudes to William Blake’s Songs Of Experience hereafter, reason seems far off, or so it seems. Taken by itself, however, it is a truly beautiful, haunting and at the same time comforting quatrain:
I go right to the edge - I go right to the end I go right where all things lost - are made good again
… an almost classical ballad stanza with a “Not Dark Yet” couleur and the noblesse of the Rubáiyát, Omar Khayyám’s quatrains; the words of a narrator at the end of his life, suicidal perhaps, expecting relief on “the other side”. At least, that’s what loaded, metaphorical locations like “the edge” and “the end” suggest. The cryptic geo-information “where all things lost” is more ambiguous. In Alexander Pope’s vile, masterful The Rape Of The Lock (1712), it is not an afterlife, in any case:
Some thought it mounted to the lunar sphere, Since all things lost on earth are treasured there
… here is “all things lost” worthless rubbish, ridiculous, nonsensical banalities. “There Heroes’ Wits are kept in ponderous Vases / And Beaus’ in Snuff-boxes and Tweezer-Cases,” as Pope clarifies. And the tears of greedy children whose rich parents die, broken vows, the smile of the harlot and cages for mosquitoes and thick books on Casuistry – good-for-nothing junk, in short. And apparently, the Lost and Found Bureau is in the “lunar sphere”.
The similar word combination “all things lost” is a coincidence, of course, but still: echoes of and borrowings from Alexander Pope’s output can be heard throughout Dylan’s oeuvre. The love of the specific playfulness catachresis, “wrong-use” like your sheets like metal and your belt like lace or Mack the Finger we owe to Alexander Pope anyway; in “Jokerman”, Dylan integrates Pope’s aphorism Fools rush in where angels fear to tread unchanged; Basement songs like “Tiny Montgomery”, with all those short, nonsensical imperatives (Scratch your dad, Do that bird) follow Pope’s template, and like that, there are more – mostly unaware, we may assume – Pope borrowings, appropriations even, to be found.
Then again, these two closing lines of Dylan’s first bridge are, in fact, simply not isolated. They are integrated in a lyric introducing a narrator who communicates that he contains multitudes, illustrating this with a long list of very different identities, behaviours, preferences and opinions. And therein, such an intimate, farewell-insinuating quatrain with the tone and colour of a eulogy is actually rather alienating. Not to say misplaced. “They kind of write themselves and count on me to sing them,” Dylan says of “I Contain Multitudes” in that famous New York Times interview, in an understandable but not too successful attempt to deflect further grilling. But surely the perfection of this quatrain and its profundity strongly suggest that this excerpt did not “just fall down from space”, did not originate in a “trance state”, but that it fell out of that mythical box, the box of hotel stationary, little scraps like from Norway, and from Belgium and from Brazil, the box with all those scraps of paper on which Dylan has been jotting down his ideas, brain waves and findings for years. “He makes his poetry out of that,” Larry Charles reveals, and “lets them synthesize into a coherent thing.”
But whether Dylan always succeeds equally well in synthesising all those snippets into a coherent thing… that’s debatable. He may not always reach that place where all things lost are made good again.
To be continued. Next up I Contain Multitudes part 7: Allen’s outer ear
Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978
- Bringing It All Back Home: Bob Dylan’s 2nd Big Bang
- Time Out Of Mind: The Rising of an Old Master
- Crossing The Rubicon: Dylan’s latter-day classic
- Nashville Skyline: Bob Dylan’s other type of music
- Nick Drake’s River Man: A very British Masterpiece