by Larry Fyffe
In his song lyrics, Bob Dylan grapples with the issue of balancing reason and rules, centred in the head, with emotions and desires, centered in the heart. James Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough’ deals with the theme of regeneration that flows from mythology, through religion, to science. Venus helps Aeneas find the golden bough that’s required if he is to enter the Underworld.
Broadly speaking – in mythology, Apollo, the sun god, is the man of reason; his sister, Diana, the moon goddess, is the female of emotion. The bigger sun of the day is presented as having more power than the moon of the night.
In the religion of Judaism, Psalm 145 is considered an important guide as to how believers should conduct themselves:
I will extol thee, my God, O king
And I will bless thy name forever and ever …
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
And His greatness is unsearchable…
The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion
Slow to anger, and of great mercy
Science would look for evidence, but the rules of the Sun-King be sacrosanct.
Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan is well-versed in Judaism, but is not uncritical thereof; nor is he of himself:
It’s been a long, long time
Since we loved each other
And our hearts were true
One time, for one brief day
I was the man for you …..
Shake it up baby, twist and shout
You know what it’s all about
What are you doing out there in the sun, anyway
Don’t you know the sun can burn your brains out?
(Bob Dylan: Long And Wasted Years)
The narrator in the song, taken as the persona of Dylan, blames himself for the broken relationship because he relied too much on patriarchal ‘reason’, but the woman is faulted for trying to be like a man (in symbolic terms, like the sun instead of the moon).
In the Edgar Allan Poe’s poem below, the focus is on a planet “warmer than Dian” – Venus, a symbol of sexual desire, overtakes the narrator’s reason, and guides him to the grave of his lost lover. The poem is situated in the Fall, a time of decay:
And I said, ‘What is written, sweet sister
On the door of this legended tomb?’
She replied, ‘Ulalume — Ulalume!’
‘Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!’
Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crisped and sere
(Edgar Allen Poe: Ulalume)
The allegorical duality of darkness and light, a feature of Gnosticism, is characteristic of many of Bob Dylan’s song lyrics; the singer/songwriter spins an erotic Poe-etic dream:
Smoky autumn night, stars up in the sky
I see the sailin’ boats across the bay go by
Eucalyptus trees hang above the street
And then I turn my head for you’re approachin’ me
Moonlight on the water, fisherman’s daughter, floatin’
into my room
With a golden loom
Note the ‘Dylanesque rhyme twist’: ‘tomb’/’Ulalume’, and ‘room’/loom’.
The fisherman’s daughter (perhaps an imagined baby that Mary Magdalene has with Jesus) is a symbol of regeneration; the daughter, in this case, may not die, but she recedes:
And then I kiss your lips, and I lift your veil
But you’re gone, and all I seem to recall is
the smell of perfume
And your golden loom
(Bob Dylan: The Golden Loom)
It’s warmer than country pie.
Symbolist poets Baudelaire and Rimbaud draw on children’s fairy tales which they corrupt. Post Modernist writing features fragmentation that mixes high and low art with irony, and allusion. The male counterpart of the girl’s golden loom is none other than Rumpelstiltskin.
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Untold Dylan contains a review of every Dylan musical composition of which we can find a copy (around 500) and over 300 other articles on Dylan, his work and the impact of his work.
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