The Browning Of The Green Mountain: Bob Dylan Visits Swedenborg

By Larry Fyffe

A reason for Bob Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, not recognized by most ‘pure poets’, is his masterful transforming of the literary technique, known as the ‘dramatic monologue’, popularized by the Victorian poet Robert Browning, to song lyrics (with accompanying music): a narrative sung by a persona that indirectly reveals the character of the persons involved therein.

“In one year they sent a million fighters forth
South and North
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
As the sky
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force –
Gold of course
O heart! oh, blood that freezes, blood thar burns”
(Robert Browning: Love Among The Ruins)

Transformed to song:

“Altars are burning with flames far and wide
The foe has crossed over from the other side
They tip their caps from the top of the hill
You can feel them come, more brave blood to spill
Stars fell over Alabama, I saw each star
You’re walking in dreams, whoever you are
Chilled are the skies, keen as the frost
The ground’s froze hard, and the morning is lost”
(Bob Dylan: ‘Cross The Green Mountain)

Floating behind the theatre of war in Browning’s poem is the spectre of poet William Blake.

And also behind Dylan’s song; including it’s title:

“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen”
(William Blake: Jerusalem)

Blake’s poems, flavoured by Emanuel Swedenborg’s mystic visions, depict
earth-bound humans as half-demon, half-god, composed of basic elements: air (spirit), water (power), and fire (emotion). When out of balance  these elements result in historical eras of icy reason, and inflamed emotion.

A view presented in earlier Elizabethan poetry regarding the personal level:

“My love is like ice, and I to fire
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dussolved through my
So hot desire”
(Edmund Spenser: Ice And Fire)

Still used as trope in songs of these modern times:

“Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire”
(Johnny Cash: Ring Of Fire)

“You know all the rules by now
And the fire from the ice”
(Grateful Dead: Uncle John’s Band)

“You will never quench the fire
You’ll give into your desire”
(Billy Joel: The Stranger)

“It burned like fire
This burning desire”
(U2: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For)

“I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought
would never end”
(James Taylor: Fire And Rain)

What is on the site

1: Over 360 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order below on this page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.


  1. Lest there be any misunderstanding, Browning’s poem is not about the American Civil War as it was written before it happened.

  2. * correction:

    Alters are burning
    The flames falling wide

    The poem is about the American Civil War:

    For the foe had crossed from the other side
    That day, in the face of murderous fire
    That swept them down in its terrible ire
    And their life-blood went to colour the tide
    (Nathaniel Shepherd: The Roll Call)

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