Bob Dylan and Rainer Rilke (Part III): Rose as Symbol

Bob Dylan And Rainer Rilke (Part III): Rose As Symbol

Earlier parts of this series appear at

By Larry Fyffe

Roses, to poet Rainer Rilke, are visible reflections, the physical manifestations of the invisible life force that pervades the Universe. The flowers are beauteous, androgynous, self- pollinating, and thorny. Roses are mercury-mouthed plants that send humans a message that here be pricks that are poisonous – to use double-edged metonymy.

Rilke creatively transforms roses into a symbol that signifies a transcendental life force, a ‘God’ as it were, that is objectively disinterested. The Godhead does not concern Himself with how the processes set in motion affect the creatures living on Earth. Frederich Nietzsche says ‘God is dead’; Rainer Rilke, that ‘God is asleep.’ The question for both Rilke and Dylan: ‘When is God going to wake up? – He’s got a lotta ‘plainin’ to do!’

Singer/singwriter Bob Dylan finds he has a tough fight on his hands when he meets Rilke in the alleyway. He’s determined that a hard Rainer is a-gonna fall. Dylan does it his way, and speaks on a number of topics examined in Rilke’s poems.

While exhibiting a particular State as a microcosm of the United States, if not the whole Universe, Dylan humourously substitutes ‘rosebed’ with ‘Rosie’s bed’:

Well, the devil’s in the alley, mule’s in the stall
Say anything you want, I have heard it all
I was thinkin’ ’bout the things that Rosie said
I was thinkin’ I was sleepin’ in Rosie’s bed
(Bob Dylan: Mississipi)

Dylan does not come out of the alley smelling like a rose. He looks like he’s been in a street fight with Muhammad Ali (Casius Clay):

Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
You can always come back, but you can’t come back
all the way
Only thing I did wrong was stay in Mississippi a day
too long
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

Dylan’s persona is mixed up and confused – there are things going on in this god-almighty world that not the songster nor anybody else can comprehend; he needs some of the spirits found in the horn of a hart to revitalize himself. Sexually ambiguous be the following lyrics:

Some people will offer you their hand, some won’t
Last night I knew you, tonight I don’t
I need somethin’ strong to distract my mind
I gonna look at you ’til I go blind
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

Dylan often writes wittedly, in the style of the Metaphysical poets of yesteryear. The lines following could be, without too much of a stretch, construed as Dylan snacking on Rilke’s rosy ideas when the singer/songwriter runs out of his own. Coincidently, Rilke has ‘Maria’ as a middle name:

I’m going down to Rose Marie’s
She never does me wrong
She puts it to me plain as day
And gives it to me for a song
(Bob Dylan: Going To Acapulco)

In any event, the song, in keeping with Rilke’s theme of aloneness in modern society, speaks of a relationship that is not overly entangled.

In a traditional folk song, two lovers strive to come together, but succeed only in the afterlife:

They grew, they grew so awfully high
Till they could grow no higher
It was there they tied a lovers’ knot
The red rose and the briar
(Bob Dylan: Ode To Barbara Allen)

Dylan’s modernistic song is Rilkean – nevertheless hopeful still:

Well, my ship’s been splintered and it’s sinkin’ fast
I’m drownin’ in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who sailed with me
(Bob Dylan: Mississippi)

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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