Bob Dylan and the Romantic Refuge

by Larry Fyffe

The dark Gnostic outlook of humankind trapped in a physical world finds expression in many of the song lyrics by Bob Dylan, but all is not doom and gloom because of the outlook expressed there of the Romantic poets who intuit a spiritual side to mankind that transcends physical bondage. The tension created between these two seemingly contradictory conditions of human existence – one symbolized by darkness, the other by light – is the starry dust of which art is made.

That Dylan song lyrics have roots in the cosmological view of the Romantic poets, and the Modernist offshoots thereof, is collaborated by his direct references in the following song lyrics.

Ah, and we said imperishable things
Those eaves illumined by burning coal
(Charles Baudelaire: The Balcony)

And every one of those words rang true
And burned like burning coal
(Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue)

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green
(William Blake: Jerusalem)

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand
(Bob Dylan: Every Grain Of Sand)

Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe
My heart’s In the Highlands wherever I go
(Robert Burns: My Heart’s In The Highlands)

Well, my heart’s In the Highlands
I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go
(Bob Dylan: Highlands)

All nothing’s only our hugest home
The most who die, the more we live
(EE Cummings: What If A Much Of A Which Of A Wind)

The more I take, the more I give
The more I die, the more I live
(Bob Dylan: Pay In Blood)

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
(Robert Frost: Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening)

The evenin’ sun is sinkin’ low
The woods are dark, the town isn’t new
(Bob Dylan: Tell Ol’ Bill)

My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk
Or empied some dull opiate to the drains
(John Keats: Ode To A Nightingale)

My sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain
(Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet)

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door
(Edgar Allan Poe: The Raven)

Blue light linking, red light glowing
Blowing like she’s at my chamber door
(Bob Dylan: Duquesne Whistle)

From the altar of dark ocean
To the sapphire-tinted skies
(Percy Shelley: Lines Written Among Euganean Hills)

Got white skin, got assassin’s eyes
I’m looking up into the sapphire-tinted skies
(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

No elemental form and sound
In T.S.E. and Ezra Pound
(Dylan Thomas: A Letter To My Aunt)

And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

Oh! here in the summer noon I basked
And strove with logic frailer than the flowers
(Henry Timrod: A Rhapsody Of A Southern Winter Night)

O’er the road, we’re bound to go
More frail than the flower, these precious hours
(Bob Dylan: When The Deal Goes Down)

All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost
(JRR Tolkien)

You’ll be fine at the end of the line
All that’s gold doesn’t shine
(Bob Dylan: Going, Going, Gone)

The palm-leaf shadow for the hot noon hours
And on its branches dry
Calls out the acacia’s flowers
(John Whittier: To Avis Keene)

Scarlet Town in the hot noon hours
There’s palm-leaf shadows and scattered flowers
(Bob Dylan: Scarlet Town)

For Bob Dylan, a way out of the dismal enclosure erected by the Gnostics is through the lighted doorway that leads to the musings of the Romantic poets.

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+ Dylan compositions 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 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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