Bob Dylan and Archibald MacLeish (Part II)


If you missed it, you might also be interested in Bob Dylan and Archibald MacLeish Part I

by Larry Fyffe

Faced with the rise of Fascism and Monopoly Capitalism, American poet Archibald MacLeish laments losing sight of the Promised Land that Transcendental sunshine poets envision:

And here face down beneath the sun
And here upon earth’s noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night
(MacLeish: You, Andrew Marvell)

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan peers into Joseph Conrad’s heart of darkness too; however, he lights a match for poets Walt Whitman and William Wordsworth:

Father of night, father of day
Father, who taketh the darkness away
Father who teacheth the bird to fly
Builder of rainbows in the sky
Father of loneliness and pain
Father of love and Father of rain
(Bob Dylan: Father Of Night)

Whether the message above is considered religious or Romantic Transcendentalist, or both, darkness is not a sign of doom and death, but of a cycle in light and rebirth.

In his imagistic and alliterative poetry, MacLeish presents a shadowy vision of the Universe that appears to be amoral and purposeless:

Therefore I will not speak of the undying glory of women
I will say you were young and straight and your skin fair
And you stood in the door and the sun was a shadow of leaves
on your shoulders
And a leaf on your hair
(MacLeish: Not Marble Nor The Gilded Monuments)

Such a rather Existentialist view, Bob Dylan takes pains to counteract:

If not for you
Babe, I’d lay awake all night
Wait for the mornin’ light
To shine in through
But it would not be be new
If not for you
(Bob Dylan: If Not For You)

That is to say: a caring woman reveals that indeed meaning can be found in the Universe, at least a Promised Land for two.

It is on this point that MacLeish brightens up and has a meeting of minds with Wordsworth, and Bob Dylan:

Her voice when she sings is a voice
At dawn by a freshening sea
Where the wave leaps in the
Wind and rejoices
(MacLeish: Poem In Prose)

The father of Romantic Transcendentalism:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky
So it was when my life began
So it is now that I am a man
(William Wordsworth: My Heart Leaps Up)

Not as apocalyptic as Archibald MacLeish, Bob Dylan is not afraid to join the Existentialist circus of an absurd world:

Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight on Desolation Row
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

Archibald MacLeish flees from it:

The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his grand and second toe ….
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off ….
There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover ….
There in the sudden blackness, in the dark pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing – nothing at all
(MacLeish: The End Of The World)

Though there is something for Dylan and his irony:

Beyond here lies nothing
Nothing but the moon and stars
(Bob Dylan: Beyond Here Lies Nothing )

Think there’s something missing or wrong with this review?

You are of course always welcome to write a comment below, but if you’d like to go further, you could write an alternative review – we’ve already published quite a few of these.  We try to avoid publishing reviews and comments that are rude or just criticisms of what is written elsewhere – but if you have a positive take on this song or any other Dylan song, and would like it considered for publication, please do email Tony@schools.co.uk

What else is on the site

1: 500+ 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 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 produced 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 our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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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