Bob Dylan’s Idealization Of Women (Part II): Lord Byron


By Larry Fyffe

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan dips into the poetic well of bisexual aristocrat-turned-rebel Lord Byron. Like Byron, Dylan uses hyperbolic conceits to depict the magnetic sexual attractiveness of muses who bring light into a world of woe.

Dylan gives Suze Rotolo a book of Byron’s poems – oft Cervantes-like, black-humoured and satirical these poems be -, and he inscribes the book to indicate that it is a gift from “Lord Byron Dylan”. Bob and his wife Sara name their son Jesse Byron Dylan.

In the long poem ‘Don Juan’, Byron’s persona is purchased at a slave market by one of the Sultan’s wives, and he is disguised as a woman. The Sultan’s wife, who feels unloved, is addressed by the guardian of the oda as:

Bride of the sun and sister of the moon
(‘Twas thus he spake) and empress of the earth
Whose frown would put the spheres all out of tune
Whose smiles make all the planets dance with mirth
(Lord Byron: Don Juan, Canto V)

In the song lyrics below, Bob Dylan puts on his Don Juan mask; thus spake Zimmerman:

Well the weak get weaker
And the strong stay strong
The train keeps rolling
All night long
She looked at me
With an irresistable glance
With a smile
That could make all the planets dance
(Bob Dylan: Marchin’ To The City)

An influence on Edgar Allan Poe and on Bob Dylan, the poetry of Byron be:

One shade the more, one ray the less
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o’er her face
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place
(Lord Bryon: She Walks In Beauty)

Lenore, the raven, companion of the poetic alchemists as they stir together the elements – wind, fire, earth and water – in search of spiritual freedom from the physical body:

The wind howls like a hammer
The night wind blows cold and rainy
My love, she’s like some raven
At my window with a broken wing
(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

Lord Byron’s mock epic has the spirit of Don Juan’s servant Pedro departing his physical body rather quickly:

Pedro, his valet, too, he tried to save
But the same cause, conducive to his loss
Left him so drunk, he jumped into the wave
As o’er the cutters edged he tried to cross
And so he found a wine-and-watery grave
(Lord Bryon: Don Juan, Canto II)

In the kitchen mixing up the recipe for another song, Bob Dylan humourously cooks up a modern day Don Juan persona for himself. He’s a not-so-chivalrous Scottish gypsy with a valet who takes Dale Carnegie courses while being pursued by beautiful women:

Gypsy Davey with a blow torch, he burns out their camps
With his faithful slave Pedro behind him, he tramps
With a fantastic collection of stamps
To win friends and influence his uncle
(Bob Dylan: Tombstone Blues)

Lord Byron takes ‘Ianthe,’ a young girl, as his muse. In Egyptian mythology, Iphis is a female bought up as a boy who falls in love with the beautiful Ianthe (Lily), and she with ‘him’; Isis, daughter of the mother sky goddess (Isis is the wife of her brother Osiris who is killed by his brother Seth), saves the day by transforming Iphis into a man. A ‘Peri’ is a Zoroastrian fairy-spirit:

Young Peri of the West! – ‘this well for me
My years already doubly number thine
My loveless eye unmoved may gaze on thee
And safely view thy ripening beauties shine
(Lord Byron: To Ianthe)

Ùnfamiliar with Egyptian mythology, Bob Dylan is not:

Isis, oh Isis, you mystical child
What drives me to you is what drives me insane
I still can remember the way that you smiled
On the fifth day of May in the drizzlin’ rain
(Bob Dylan: Isis)

Drawing upon mythologies, Dylan (like Byron) questions the worth of Wordsworthian Romantic Transcendentalism in modern industrial society:

Ramona, come closer
Shut softly your watery eyes
The pangs of your sadness
Will pass as your senses will rise
For the flowers of the city
Though breath-taking, get death-like sometimes
And there’s no use in tryin’
To deal with the dyin’
Though I cannot explain that in lines
(Bob Dylan: To Ramona)

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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