Bob Dylan And Allen Ginsberg
By Larry Fyffe
Poets who influence Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg include Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and William Carlos Williams, and, especially, the pre-Romantic poet William Blake who exalts physical sex as an integral part of the spiritual aspect of love given to humankind by the Creator; thereby the poet challenges the conventional teachings of church and state:
A Sunflower! weary of time
Who countest the steps of the sun
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done
(William Blake: Sunflower)
Called the ‘slave morality’ by Frederich Nietzsche, William Blake, in the poem above, chides those waiting for happiness after death rather than searching for it on God’s green and pleasant Earth (Allen Ginsberg speaks from a homosexual perspective; Dylan Thomas is another poet much influenced by Blake).
When I heard Bob Dylan in New Brunswick, 1997, the singer/songwriter paid a heart-felt tribute to Ginsberg.
The pseudo-Darwinism of William Carlos Williams, picked up by Ginsberg, unfolds into the poetic imagination, as revealed by the following verse:
Now I’ll record my secret vision, impossible
sight of the face of God ….
Lo and behold! I was thoughtless and turned a page
and gazed on the living
The great brain unfolding and brooding in the wilderness
Now speaking and with Blake’s voice
Love! thou patient presence and bone of the body ….
Time howled in anguish in my ear
(Allen Ginsberg: Psalm IV)
The Blake/Ginsberg symbols of Tiger and Sunflower, male/female, with eyes of fire, from the wilderness, speak out. And, in Dylan song lyrics, too:
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl
(Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)
And in the next song lyrics, the anguish of Ginsberg is heard once again:
Louise she’s all right, she’s just near
She’s delicate and seems like a mirror
But she just makes it all too concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here
The ghosts of electricity howls in the bones of her face
Where these visions of Johanna have now taken my place
(Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)
Bob Dylan’s not going to wait until he dies, but he contrasts Louise’s singular physical presence with the prospect of both a physical and a spiritual union with Johanna; hope springs eternal in the Shelleyian mind.
Poet Allan Ginsberg, depicts present day society (Moloch) as one that displaces the spiritual and sexual desires of human existence with a secular materialistic dogma that commands all to kneel before the image of the Golden Calf and beneath that of the Hydrogen Bomb:
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! ….
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone
Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks
Moloch whose poverty is the spectre of genius
Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen
(Allen Ginsberg: Howl)
The same troubled sentiment, but coupled with a somewhat more hopeful double-edged meaning, in the song lyrics that follow:
Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They’re trying to blow it up
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)
The message sent through the howls of Ginsberg’s black-dog is rather depressing, to say the least:
I saw the best minds of my generation
destroyed by madness ….
Who bared their brains to heaven under the El and saw
Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated
Who passed through universities with
radiant coloured eyes
Hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy
among the scholars of war
(Allan Ginsberg: Howl)
In the song following, there be coals of optimism still burning in the darkness:
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl who gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
(Bob Dylan: A Hard Rain A-Gonna Fall)
Dylan, perhaps with second thoughts, was not above taking a humorous shot at Ginsberg:
Crocagator, see you later, crocagator
After a while, smock-a-while, see you later Allen Ginsberg
See you later, alligator, see you later, crocagator
After awhile, crocodile, in a while Allen Ginsberg
(Bob Dylan: You See Later, Allen Ginsberg)
What is on the site
1: Over 400 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. A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that 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.