Bob Dylan And Literary Allusions – part 2


By Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan opens up the gates of the music industry, allowing for mature subjects, rooted in traditional folk and blues music, and in the classics of literature, to be presented; teenage love themes no longer considered as the only product that will sell. Throughout the entertainment culture, the times are a-changing. Changing, with serious themes found in literary works transported to popular music and rocknroll:
And did those feet in modern times
Walk on soles made in China
Through the bright prosaic malls?
(Verve: Love Is Noise)

A comment on the inherent exploitative nature of the capitalist economy, as in the following song as well:

We walk through ancient forest lands
And light a thousand cities with our hands
Your dark Satanic Mills
(Sting: We Work The Black Seam)

In the following, a comment on the lack of spiritual responsibility:

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand
(Bob Dylan: Every Grain Of Sand)

The source:

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 ….
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
(William Blake: Jerusalem, from the Preface to “Milton: A Poem in Two Books“)

A theme of many modern-day Romantics:

It’ a buck dancer’s choice, my friend; better take my advice
You know all the rules by now, and the fire from the ice
Will you come with me? Won’t you come with me?
(Grateful Dead: Uncle John’s Band)

The choice – the heat of pure love; the cold of selfishness:

Love is a burnin’ thing
And it makes a fiery ring
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire
(Johnny Cash : Ring Of Fire)

Expressed too in the following:

My love she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful
Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire
(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

The source:

My love is like to ice, and I to fire
How comes it then that this her cold so great
Is not dissolved through my so hot desire
But the harder grows the more I her entreat?
(Edmund Spenser: My Love Is Like To Ice And I To Fire)

Essentially a theme that the power of love may not be enough to overcome the politics of greed:

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all of us
If we can just bear the cross
(Prince: The Cross)

Nor the senselessness of war:

The bugle sounds as the charge begins
But on this battlefield no one wins
The smell of acrid smoke and horses’ breath
As I plunge on into certain death
(Iron Maiden: The Trooper)

Indeed, it just might be too late:

Tell ol’ Bill when he comes home
Anything is worth a try
Tell him that I’m not alone
That the hour has come to do or die
(Bob Dylan: Tell Ol’ Bill)

The source:

Their’s not to reason why
Their’s but to do and die
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred
Cannon to the the right of them
Cannon to the left of them
Lord Tennyson: The Charge Of The Light Brigade)

A theme expressed in the following song:

Gone insane from the pain that they surely know
For whom the bell tolls
Time marches on
For whom the bell tolls
(Metallica: For Whom The Bell Tolls)

And once again:

How many more children
Must die on the wall
They’ll never be free
Until the bell tolls
(Saxon: For Whom The Bell Tolls)

And again, that love itself may be dying:

Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief
It takes a thief to catch a thief
For whom does the bell toll for, love?
It tolls for you and me
(Bob Dylan: Moonlight)

The source:

Each man’s death diminishes me
For I am involved in mankind
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls
It tolls for thee
(John Donne: For Whom The Bell Tolls)

What is on the site

1: Over 400 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.  Also a list of the most read articles on this site.

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.


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