The Mythologies that inspire Bob Dylan: The Stabber Of Polyphemus and The Rococo Angel Glides


Previously: The Mythologies that Inspire Bob Dylan: The Rastas and The Stabber Of Polyphemus

By Larry Fyffe

The Stabber Of Polyphemus

In vain do some analysts of his song lyrics downplay the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to singer/songwriter/musician Bob Dylan.

For Dylan, mythological Polyphemus, the one-eyed Cyclopes, man-eater, son of earth-shaker Neptune (like the biblical Whore Of Babylon, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster – even Mattel’s plastic blonde Barbie doll) represents America.

Apparently, Polyphemus has a number of Jungian friends:

He looks so truthful, is this how he feels
When he tries to peel the moon and expose it
With his businesslike anger, and his bloodhounds that kneel
If he needs a third eye, he just grows it
(Bob Dylan: Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window)

According to the English Gothic Romantic poet beneath, dark dragons and demons inhabit what initially seems a sunny Eden:

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover
A savage place! as holly and enchanted
As ever beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover
(Samuel Coleridge: Kubla Khan)

So beware, beware, one needs to be of symbolic Satan ~ no server intends he to be though all Hell breaks loose beneath:

And in the lowest deep, a lower deep
Still threatening to devour me opens wide
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heaven
(John Milton: Paradise Lost, Part IV)

In the song lyrics beneath, the demon-narrator takes on the role of a cold-hearted lover:

The wind howls like a hammer
The night blows cold and raining
My love she's like some raven
At my window with a broken wing
(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

But the poetic lyrics below assert that it’s better to be like Trojan Aeneas ~ to show compassion, and avoid hubris:

Roman, remember by your strength to rule
Earth people's - for your arts to be these
To pacify, to impose the rule of law
To spare the conquered, battle down the proud
(Virgil: The Aeneid, Book VI ~ translated)

Expressed in the following song lyrics:

I'm going to spare the defeated
I'm going to speak to the crowd
I'm going to spare the defeated
'Cause I'm going to speak to the crowd
I'm going to teach peace to the conquered
I'm going to tame the proud
(Bob Dylan: Lonesome Day Blues)

Virtues learned from the blowing wind when down in the now-modernized Underworld of Ancient Greece:

Key West, under the sun, under the radar, under the gun
You stay to the left, and then you lean to the right
Feel the sun on your skin, and the healing virtues of the wind
(Bob Dylan: Key West)


The Rococo Angel Glides

Having riden across the dusty desert sands with the likes of religious rebels William Blake and John Milton, the Jewish cowboy Bob Dylan takes not long to release the reins of Christian fundamentalism, and gallop off on his pale horse into the crimson sunset.

Guns no longer a-blazing, but both uplifting and sorrowful tunes croon concerning the limited ability to change the world for the better through individual endeavour:

Then onward in my journey
I come to understand
That every hair is numbered
Like every grain of sand
(Bob Dylan: Every Grain Of Sand)

Damned the narrator above be with faint praise; he’s greater than a bunch of small birds!:

But even the very hairs of your head are numbered
Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows
(Luke 12: 7)

Could it be that an extra sparrow thrown in by Satan somewhere down the line just might tip the scales?

The Devil’s not gonna serve anyone – he’s gonna be bigger than Jehovah.

No more praise for Jah as so ordered beneath:

Sing unto God, sing praises to His name
Extolling Him that rideth upon the heavens by His name JAH
And rejoice before Him
(Psalm 68:4)

So it goes – lyrics below, self-parody perhaps, but still a masterpiece, with a quite a change of words by a latter day Trojan Aeneas, and also in the tone therein expressed:

Oh the streets of Rome are filled with rubble
Ancient footprints are everywhere
You can almost think that you're seeing double
On a cold dark night by the Spanish stairs
Got to hurry on back to my hotel room
Gonna wash my clothes, scrape off all the weed
I'm gonna lock my doors, turn my back on the world for a while
I'll stay right there til I paint my masterpiece

Not always Shondellian times, there’s not:

Sailing around the world
Full of crimson and clover
Sometime I feel just like my coffee's running over
I left Rome, and I pulled into Brussels
On a plane ride so bumpy that it made me ill
(Bob Dylan: When I Paint My Masterpiece ~ revised)

Nonetheless, Rococo’s little robin redbreast hangs around somewhere to chirp out all over:

The clouds are turning crimson
The leaves fall from the limbs, and
The branches cast their shadows over stone
Meet me in the moonlight alone
(Bob Dylan: Moonlight)


One comment

  1. Stay tuned …
    on a much lighter level, Al (Allen Ginsberg) the Alligator from Kelly’s
    “Pogo ‘Possum” newspaper cartoon strip could be construed to represent for Dylan the Babylonian beast in modern America

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