Bob Dylan And Rainer Rilke(Part IV): Step Ĺightly From The Ledge

Bob Dylan And Rainer Rilke(Part IV): Step Ĺightly From The Ledge

by Larry Fyffe

The poetic influence of Rainer Rilke permeates much of the works of Bob Dylan – unlike inanimate objects and organic things, human beings possess language by which they transform ‘things’ from external reality into mental images – the creative artist more so than anyone else. Thus spake Rainer Rilke.

In his Symbolist poetry, he juxtaposes the darker consciousness of the human male and that of the female:

See, we don’t love like flowers ….
O, gently, gently show him with love
a confident daily task
Lead him near to the Garden
Give him what outweighs those nights
(Rainer Rilke: Duino Elegy #3)

Dylan too idealizes some females as special sources of light:

People carry roses
Make promises by the hours
My love she laughs like the flowers
Valentines can’t buy her
(Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero)

Rilke’s writings are akin to those of Frederich Nietzsche in which is envisioned Man as a solitary creature – half-monkey, half-angel – lost in an absurd meaningless world; tightrope walkers with no escape except everlasting death:

The man is clapping for your leap
And before a pain can become more distinct
Close to your constantly racing heart
A burning grows in the soles of your feet
(Rainer Rilke: Duino Elegy # 5)

Angst-ridden language that Dylan employs in the following song:

Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tightrope walker
The other is in his pants
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

And once more in the song below:

Go lightly from the ledge, babe
Go lightly on the ground
I’m not the one you want, babe
I will only let you down
You say you’re lookin’ for someone
Who will promise never to part
Someone who will close his eyes for you
(Bob Dylan: It Ain’t Me, Babe)

Rainer claims he relies on a mystical method to connect with the hidden, distant transcendental life force that drives the Universe. The essential artist, according to Rilke, concentrates on objects that exist; on ‘things’ in the world of experience that have no essence, and that includes most humans other than, of course, the artist himself, and perhaps a few special females.

In the captain’s tower, Dylan takes a couple of humourous jabs at Rilke:

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

A hard Rainer the poet be to knock down; he counterpunches, responds that the Romantic Transcendentalist poets get it backwards with their claim that Nature loves us – it be we who love Nature, personified, because she does not answer back:

Oh, and the night, the night
When the wind full of space
Wears out our faces
When would she not stay
(Rainer Rilke: Elegy #I)

We are equipped to construct a menal image, a conceit, that it is she, whether imagined as a caring woman or as Mother Nature, who needs us:

If not for you
My sky would fall
Rain would gather too
Without your love, I’d be nowhere at all
I’d be lost if not for you
And you know it’s true
(Bob Dylan: If Not For You)

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