Bob Dylan: Water As A Symbol For Power
By Larry Fyffe
The quest for knowledge that leads to wisdom through the artistic imaginative process puts Bob Dylan in the historical mixing bowl with the likes of Gnostic thinkers and the mystic poet William Blake; though there is no end to that search, no definitive answer, the purely scientific rational examination of the world is not going to get closer to the meaning of existence.
Everyone is bound by the chains of the the cultural milieu of his/her time, but the goal of a true artist is to break loose, to rid oneself of society’s straight jacket by hanging upside down and struggling to get out of its bindings, to go where no man has gone before, and find what is the meaning of Being.
Notwithstanding claims to the contrary, the true artist looks back to the works of daringly creative thinkers in earlier times for assistance in that quest. Artists expressing themselves through written language, by music, and other art forms, is a means of communicating over time.
Artist and poet William Blake breaks the congealed mould of dogmatic religion of his day by his imaginative transformation of the contra-religious scientific developments of earlier days: the ‘elements’ of earth, air, fire, and water turn into metaphors that delve into the make-up of each and every individual human being.
So too in the song lyrics of Bob Dylan we find these metaphors employed. For example: The desire to love, and be loved, dampened by what Frederich Nietzsche calls the ‘will to power,’ and what Blake and Dylan represent by water:
“Love that’s pure hopes all things
Believes all things, won’t pull no strings
Won’t sneak up in your room, tall dark and handsome
Capture your heart and hold it for ransom
You don’t want a love that’s pure
You wanna drown love
You want a watered-down love”
(Bob Dylan: Watered-Down Love)
Water also represents, for Dylan, a moderating self-empowerment that doesn’t allow matters to get out-of-control:
“People disagreeing everywhere you look
Makes you want to stop and read a book
Why only yesterday, I saw somebody on the street
That was really shook
But this ol’ river keeps on rollin’ though
No matter what gets in the way, and which way the wind does blow
And as long as it does, I’ll just sit here
And watch the river flow”
(Bob Dylan: Watching The River Flow)
Hopefully, involved is a mutually balanced self-empowerment when trouble outside heats up:
“Well, that high-tide’s risin’
Mama, don’t you let me down
Pack up your suitcase
Mama, don’t make a sound
Well, it’s sugar for sugar
And it’s salt for salt
If you go down in the flood
It’s gonna be your fault”
(Bob Dylan: “Crash On The Levee)
The control-hungry, grouping themselves together, Dylan compares to the destructive power of water:
“I heard the sound of thunder, it roared out a warning
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
…..Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who
cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard rain, it’s a hard rain, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall”
(Bob Dylan: A Hard Rain’s A-GonnaFall)
And water as symbol of power beyond Man’s control that punishes him for committing hubris, the prideful thinking that mankind can out-do Nature’s strength:
“Mothers and their daughters
Descending down the stairs
Jumped into the icy waters
Love and pity sent their prayers”
(Bob Dylan: Tempest)
What is on the site
1: Over 390 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home 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.
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.