Bob Dylan And Omar Khayyam (Part II): Christ And The Monkeyman


By Larry Fyffe


Well, I got the fever down in my pockets
The Persian drunkard, he follows me
(Bob Dylan: Absolutely Sweet Marie)

The poetic quatrains of Omar Khayyam, a Persian skeptic, and no stranger to hedonism, be influenced by Zarathustra’s pantheistic religion, closely related to Gnosticism, that views the Universe as pervaded by a single mysterious Consciousness that allows a dualistic conflict between truth and falsity, order and chaos, light and darkness, day and night, life and death, soul and body, happiness and sadness.

Nature, made up of the elements of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, emanates from this Consciousness as the material manifestation thereof, and therefore is to be protected by Mankind.

It’s not difficult for the Victorian poet Edward Fitzgerald to translate Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat in accordance with the outlook of the English Romantic poets, and of latter-day Romantic poets who are affected by Darwin’s theory of evolution. Nor is it difficult for Bob Dylan to draw upon Fitzgerald’s translation as a source of inspiration for his song lyrics:

A book of verse underneath the bough
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread – and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness –
Oh, wilderness were Paradise enow
(Khayyam: The Rubaiyat)

Whether it’s himself or his persona that refers to a female Muse, or to G-d, songster Bob Dylan takes Khayyam’s view into consideration – wine, and women are both an escape from man’s existential reality, and an inspiration to an artist’s creative imagination:

In the courtyard of the golden sun
You stand and fight, or you break and run
You went and lost your lovely head
For a drink of wine, and a crust of bread
It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way
If I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely have to work
down to me someday
(Dylan: Narrow Way)

An artist’s chest is pierced, and it’s blood reddened, by arrows shot by the mythological sun-god Apollo:

The moving finger writes, and, having writ
Moves on; nor all thy piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it
(Khayyam: The Rubaiyat)

And the body warmed by the pleasures of its senses and by earthy materials;

Some for the glories of this world; and some
Sigh for the prophet’s Paradise to come
(Khayyam: The Rubaiyat)

Finding the balance between the spiritual soul and the physical body be the aim of the true artist:

Been dark all night but now it’s dawn
The moving finger is moving on
You can guard me while I sleep
Kiss away the tears I weep
(Dylan: Narrow Way)

To put the vision in a half-shell upon which Venus, the mythological goddess of sex and laughter, rides:

Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when
you’re tryin’ to be so quiet? ….
And Madonna, she still has not showed
We see this empty cage now corrode
Where her cape of the stage once flowed
(Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)

Frederich Nietzsche calls upon Zarathustra to talk about Christianity being a ‘slave morality” that sighs for a Paradise to come:

I beseech you, my brothers
Remain faithful to the Earth
And do not belive those who speak of
otherworldly hopes
(Nietzsche: Thus Spake Zarathustra)

The key that opens the door of Truth for Bob Dylan apparently lies somewhere between Man as a distant relative of the demi-god Christ, and the monkey:

There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Business, they drink my wine
Ploughmen dig my Earth
None of them along the line
Know what any of it is worth
(Dylan: All Along The Watch Tower)

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



  1. The monkey men are those along the line who don’t know what any of it is worth including ‘law of the jungle’ businessmen and those who mistreat the environment for monetary gain, not to mention those who over-consume wine and act like a deranged monkey.

  2. And this too: ‘You stand and fight or you break and run -there must be someway out of here’, as the monkey explained when interviewed by Charles Darwin about the ‘law of the jungle’.

  3. *In the index of the Home Page mast head entitled ‘Influences On Bob Dylan’, the Khayyam article above is listed by error as ‘Bob Dylan And Rudyard Kipling (Part II)’

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