Bob Dylan And John Keats (Part II)

By Larry Fyffe

Bob Dylan And John Keats Part One can be found through this link.  Part Three follows shortly.

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan likes to fiddle while Keats mourns.  Dylan turns  themes presented by other artists upside down.

As in the song lyrics below:

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young

(Bob Dylan: Forever Young)

More optimistic is the singer about future happiness in the world of reality than the poet be.  Keats finds the actual world, outside the imagination, wanting:

For ever warm and still to be enjoyed
For ever panting, and for ever young
All breathing human passion far above
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed
A burning forehead and a parching tongue

(John Keats: Ode On A Grecian Urn)

The Dylanesque rhyme twist: ‘young’/’rung’ vs ‘young’/ ‘tongue’

Another poet, who’s also familiar to Dylan, focuses on the dark side of life:

We are dropping down the ladder rung by rung
And the measure of our torment is the measure
of our youth
God help us, for we knew the worst too young

(Rudyard Kipling: Gentleman-Rankers)

The Dylanesque rhyme twist again – Kipling and Dylan both end-rhyme ‘rung’ and ‘young’

Again, below, Dylan fiddles with themes, turns things around:

Why wait any longer for the world to begin
You can have your cake and eat it too
Why wait any longer for the one you love
When he’s standing in front of you

(Bob Dylan: Lay Lady Lay)

Contrasting with Keats’ melancholic view of the world outside his mind:

Ye artists lovelorn! Madmen that you are!
Make your best bow to her and bid adieu
Then, if she likes it, she will follow you
‘You cannot eat your cake and have it too’

(John Keats: On Fame)

The Dylanesque twist – Keats and Dylan both end-rhyme ‘too’ and ‘you’.

Bob Dylan matches John Keats’ mood some of the time:

You trampled on me as you passed
Left the coldest kiss upon my brow
All my doubts and fears have gone at last
I’ve nothing more to tell you now

(Bob Dylan: Tell Ol’ Bill)

But overall Keats’ poetry is dark – for example, he depicts knights in shining armour who are doomed from here to eternity:

I see lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever-dew
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too

(John Keats: La Belle Dame Sans Merci)

Bob Dylan’s lyrics reveal that he’s more or less content living in the sensual world, especially if he has a real female Muse to go with it; he’ll bake his ideal cake for sure, but he’ll eat it in the real world:

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

(Bob Dylan: If Not For You)

Dylan end-rhymes ‘you’/’too’, coincidence or not, with Keats, ‘dew’/’too’.

The more Gnostic-influenced John Keats imagines he’s trapped with women in a Gothic place from which there is no physical release:

Her head was a serpent, but ah, bitter-sweet
She had a woman’s mouth with all its pearls complete
And for her eyes: what could such eyes do there
But weep, and weep, that they could be born so fair?

(John Keats: Lamia)

Not a compassionate sad-eyed lady of the lowlands is Lamia – she’s a beautiful woman without mercy.

What else is on the site?

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ songs reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

We also now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

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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