Bob Dylan And Arthur Rimbaud

Bob  Dylan And Arthur Rimbaud

By Larry Fyffe

In the sunlight, able to roam the organic countryside in his youth, Bob Dylan’s naturally drawn to the poetry of the Romantic nature poets, i.e., Robert Burns:

“Well my heart’s in the Highlands, gentle and fair
Honeysuckle blooming in the wildwood air
Bluebells blazing where the Aberdeen waters flow
Well my heart’s in the Highlands
I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go”

The world of youthful innocence loses out to the world of adult experience in the concrete city, and the songwriter’s perspective darkens all round:

“Woke up this morning and I looked at the same old page
Same old rat race, life in the same old cage”
(Dylan: Highlands)

The melancholic poetry of John Keats, with sight of beechen-green bowers lost, is more attuned to the somber situation:

“The walls of pride are high and wide
Can’t see over to the other side
It’s such a sad thing to see beauty decay
And sadder still to feel your heart torn away”
(Dylan: Cold Iron Bounds)

Bob Dylan turns to the surrealistic, often vulgar, visions of poet Arthur Rimbaud, especially to the Symbolist’s upside-down, right-side up transformation of children’s fairy tales (like “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and “The Ugly Duckling) that deal with Christian-backed black-and-white morality, a morality that promises paradise for good little boys and girls:

“One fine morning, in the country of a very gentle people
A magnificent man and woman were shouting in the public square
‘My friends, I want her to be queen’
‘I want to be queen’
She was laughing and trembling
He spoke to their friends of revelations, of trials completed
They swooned against each other
In fact, they were regents for the whole morning as crimson hangings were raised against the houses
And for the whole afternoon as they moved toward groves of palm trees”
(Arthur Rimbaud: Royalty)

And likewise, as the poet personifies:

“I kissed the summer dawn
Before the palaces; nothing moved
The water lay dead
Battalions of shadows
Still kept the forest road
I walked, waking warm and vital breath
White stones watched
And wings rose soundlessly”
(Arthur Rimbaud: To The Dawn)

Now the singer/songwriter with a fairy tale of his own:

“Saddle me up my big white goose
Tie me on’er and let her loose
Oh me, oh my
Love that country pie”
(Bob Dylan: Country Pie)

And another, with a less happy ending:

“Cinderella, she seems so easy
‘It takes one to know one’, she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style…..
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row”
(Dylan: Desolation Row)

And from a glass-slipperless Cinderella to the Ugly Duckling-in-reverse:

“Well, I took me a womam late last night
I’s three-fourths drunk, she looked all right
Till she started peelin’ off her onion gook
She took off her wig, said: ‘How do I Iook?’ “
(Dylan: I Shall Be Free)

The singer also puts a Dylanesque twist on children’s rhymes:

“Handy Dandy, sitting with a girl named Nancy, in a garden feeling kind of lazy
He says ‘Ya want a a gun? I’ll give you one’; she says, ‘Boy, you talking crazy’
Handy Dandy, just like sugar and candy
Handy Dandy, pour him another brandy”
(Dylan: Handy Dandy)

The nursery rhyme version of  ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’:

“Let the wind blow low, let the wind blow high
One day the little boy and the little girl
were both baked in a pie”
(Bob Dylan: Under the Red Sky)

Footnote:  You might also be interested to read further on Rimbaud in the article “You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go: the line most commentators miss.

What is on the site

1: Over 390 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order 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


  1. I think Bob Dylan is just the exact opposite of Rimbaud and Baudelaire.
    Rimbaud and Baudelaire were trying to reach the stars – Bob Dylan is pulling the stars down to earth.

    “Well my heart’s in the Highlands
    I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go”

    Can it be more realistic.

    or this:
    “Till she started peelin’ off her onion gook
    She took off her wig, said: ‘How do I Iook”

    or this:
    Handy Dandy, pour him another brandy

    and of cause somebody will have to clean up in the real world:
    “After the ambulances go
    Is Cinderella sweeping up
    On Desolation Row”

  2. Take out the ‘exact’ in your statement, Babbette, and you’ll get not get much of an argument from me; I’m saying that the Rimbaud and Dylan both question the unrealism of fairy tales.

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