Bob Dylan And Gregory Corso: The Owl Of Minerva And The Skylark


by Larry Fyffe

In Greek mythology, the Sun-God, who is the son of Zeus, the God of Thunder, is Paean (Apollo), known for his music. The following free verse of Gregory Corso’s poetry pitches black-humour.

It’s an assonantal and consonantal rendition of the ancient Greek hymn to the gods. Paeaning on it, Corso eroticizes the not-so-sexy climax of a nuclear bomb:

O Bomb, I love you
I want to kiss your clank, eat your boom
You are a paean, an acme of scream
O lyric hat of Mister Thunder
O resound thy tanky knees
Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom
Boom ye skies and boom ye suns
Boom, boom ye moons, ye stars, boom
(Gregory Corso: Bomb)

The bombshell, with its devastating effect, is exciting enough to pee on; a later satirical motion picture about atomic warfare is titled, ‘Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb’.

The creation of the following lighter black humour in regards to the atom bomb, with allusion to the Book of Genesis, demonstrates Gregory Corso’s poetic influence on the rhymed lyrics of singer Bob Dylan:

Well, I rang the fallout shelter bell
And I leaned my head and gave a yell
‘Give me a string bean, I’m a hungry man’
A shotgun fired and away I ran ….
Well, I spied a girl and before she could leave
‘Let’s go play Adam and Eve’
I took her by the hand and my heart it was thumpin’
When she said, ‘Hey man, you crazy or sumpin
You see what happened last time they started’
(Bob Dylan: Talkin’ World War III Blues)

In Dylan’s the lyrics below, in free verse to some extent, the alliterative sounds of Corso’s Post Modernist ‘Bomb’ poem are loudly heard; in particular, with its reference to the moon and stars:

Well, I’m moving after midnight
Down boulevards of broken cars
Don’t know what I do without it
Without the love we call ours
Beyond here lies nothin’
Nothin’ but the moon and stars
(Bob Dylan: Beyond Here Lies Nothin’)

From Corso, Dylan takes the vision of an America that fails to regain a spiritual Paradise, to become the Promised Land, but the nation manages to produce Romantic poets who keep that hope alive:

What hope for America, so embodied in thee, O friend, when
The very same alcohol that disembodied your brother redman
of his America disembodied
Thee – a plot to grab their land – we know yet what
Plot to grab the ungrabbable land of one’s spirit
(Gregory Corso: Elegiac Feelings American)

Dylan lightens things up a bit while not ignoring the role played by drugs. The message is similar to that of Corso:

‘I think I’ll call it America’, I said as we hit land
I took a deep breath, I fell, I could not stand
Captain Arab, he started writing up some deeds
He said, ‘Let’s set up a fort, and start buying the place with beads”
(Bob Dylan: 115th Dream)

There is the suggestion that now Arabian money, Captain Arab, is buying up the land:

Dylan’s lyrics are double-edged; more so than Corso’s ecologically focused lyrics that are spoken by a Shelleyan skylark, filled with hope in the future. Not so full of hope, sings Dylan – possible it is for some to achieve the American Dream, to gain a material Paradise in America, but, alas, not a spiritual one:

It’s undeniable what they’d have you think
It’s indescribable, it can drive you to drink
They said it was the land of milk and honey
Now they say it’s the land of money
Who ever thought they could ever make that stick
It’s unbelievable you can get this rich this quick
(Bob Dylan: Unbelievable)

Dylan does not throw his Romantic Blake-light sentiments all away but even were one to take a ride on the latter-day locomotive of Whitmanian techno-optimism, it’s sure to be a love that’s in vain. The owl of Minerva, of wisdom, flies at twilight. Technological innovation that be environment-friendly helps, but it comes too late:

Scarlet Town, in the hot noon hours
There’s palm-leaf shadows and scattered flowers
Beggers crouching at the gate
Help comes, but it comes too late
(Bob Dylan: Scarlet Town)

‘Hail to thee, blithe Spirit’ -The Shelleyan Beat poet is more optimistic in outlook than the songwriter, but on the torso of Bob Dylan’s work the name of Corso is written:

The time had come
I cracked my jaws
Broke my legs
Sagged belly-flat on plough
On pitchfork
On scythe
My spirit leaked from my wounds
A whole spirit pools
I rose from the carcass of my torment
I stood on the brink of heaven
And I swear the Great Territory did quake
When I fell, free
(Gregory Corso: Transformation And Escape)

As far as the songwriter is concerned, no paeans shall he sing; the Great Territory of America can look after itself:

Thunder on the mountain heavy as can be ….
Gonna make a lot of money, gonna go up north
I’ll plant and I’ll harvest what the earth brings forth
The hammer’s on the table, the pitchfork’s on the shelf
For the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself
(Bob Dylan: Thunder On The Mountain)

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.

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

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.



One comment

  1. Ovid: Sadness

    “Beyond here lies nothing but chilliness, hostility, frozen waves of an ice- hard sea”

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