By Larry Fyffe
- Part 1 of the series appears here: Bob Dylan And Charles Baudelaire
Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan draws many of his images from the deck of Symbols placed before him by the French poet Charles Baudelaire. A symbol is a concise image with broad meaning:
(Baudelaire: Spleen I)
On one level, the following song lyrics are about the emotional struggle with love, compassion, and hate experienced by individuals in today’s society:
The Jack Of Hearts symbolizes love and sex; Lily, as does the Queen Of Spades, symbolizes Death.
Death – both literal and metaphorical:
(Baudelaire: To A Madonna)
The following fragmented song lyrics, peppered with updated Baudelairean imagery, could well refer to a poster of Brigette Bardot with a motorcycle; the grey flannel dwarf to an uptight businessman:
According to many Romantic artists, the Reason of The Enlightenment casts God outside of the Universe, leaving Man, still locked outside of Eden, with only his physical body and it’s sensations – no Absolute moral authority to guide him or her, and no reward to look forward to in an ‘afterlife’. The Romantic Transcendentalists come up with the idea that the organic world of Nature is God’s Spirit imperfectly manifested – a hard sell when most people live in cities. Capitalist birds of prey swoop down to build their Edenic nests of concrete, plastered with posters of Brigette Bardot on a motorcycle:
Expressed in black humour by the singer/songwriter:
The Symbolists of their day champion Art as a replacement for the oh-so-boring capitalist gods who ride golden calves upon the platform of democracy. These poets mount their silver steeds and ride off to rescue the Romanic damsel-in-distress.The Symbolists, even if ‘dandies’, explore the dark, desolate streets of the contemporary city in search of artistic inspiration. Bob Dylan takes on a persona that emulates the art and lifestyle of the Symbolists – he drives a motorcycle, and the Queen of Spades jumps on, grabs him around the waist.
In the words of both Baudelaire and Dylan, Art is personified as a beautiful and unattainable woman that becomes a ‘thing in itself’ to worship:
(Baudelaire: The Living Torch)
Who among us would try to deny it?
The sound of the ticking clock, and pumping heart – the shortness of life – causes some Symbolist poets to scream at other-worldly religions, at flowery Romantic Transcendentalism …. and even at Art itself:
You may also enjoy: The Ghosts Of Electricity: Bob Dylan And Symbolism
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