Bob Dylan And Mark Twain (Part III). Do not go gentle.

Bob Dylan And Mark Twain (Part III)

by Larry Fyffe

Under the influence of Mark Twain, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan pokes a bit of fun at those who take biblical and mythological tales as actual happenings rather than as figurative explanations of how mankind’s worldly existence came about.

According to the Bible, a settled farmer by the name of Cain, kills his brother Abel, a nomadic wanderer:

All except for Cain and Abel
And the Hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

Eve gives birth to a third son to take the place of her dead one:

And Adam knew his wife again
And she bare a son, and called his name Seth
‘For God’, said she, ‘hath appointed me another seed
Instead of Abel, whom Cain slew’
(Genesis 4:25)

Apparently, Seth is not that much like Cain – he’s practical for sure, but also adventurous, a seeker of knowledge, and, like Abel, a star gazer – he has a Gnostic bent, and considers time to be more than just a seasonal thing as farmer Cain views it.

For Seth, tIme operates in cycles on a larger scale, analogous to little wheels turning inside of a big wheel. Jealous Christians, those dogmatic anyway, come to view time as linear with a beginning and an end. Albert Einstein turns back the clock, and steals Seth’s non-Christian cosmology:

Einstein disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
(Bob Dylan: Desolation Row)

Seth of the Bible is not to be confused with the Seth (Set) of Egyptian mythology. The Hebrews escape from Egypt, and it’s ‘religion’ wherein jealous Seth kills his brother Osiris who’s married to their sister Isis; in one version of the story, Seth dumps Osiris in a coffin. In the song below, lyrics can be interpreted as the narrator taking on the persona of Seth from Egyptian mythology:

I picked up his body, dragged him inside
Threw him down in the hole, and I put back the cover
I said a quick prayer, and I felt satisfied
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her
(Bob Dylan et al: Isis)

Fortunately for mankind, Noah (a descendant of biblical Seth, and an ancestor of Abraham), inherits Seth’s practical skills and his adventurous spirit.

God decides to drown, along with everyone else, all of Cain’s descendants in a flood because they go too far in disobeying his directives; Noah is permitted to save himself, his wife, and all the animals on the Earth – including, supposedly, the American bison. Noah needs a really big boat:

Make thee an ark of gopher wood
Rooms shalt thou make in the ark
And shalt pitch it within and without with pitch ….
And of every living thing of all flesh
Two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark
To keep them alive with thee
They shall be male and female
(Genesis 6: 14,19)

Mark Twain’s ‘Letters From Earth’, as well as a traditional folk song, burlesques the tale of Noah’s ark:

The animals went in one by one
There’s one more river to cross
The elephant chewing a caraway bun
There’s one more river to cross
The animals went in two by two
The crocodile and the kangaroo …
The animals went in three by three
The tall giraffe and the tiny flea …
The animals went in four by four
The hippopotamus stuck in the door
(One More River – traditional)

In the song lyrics below, Bob Dylan alludes to ‘One More River’:

One by one, they followed the sun
One by on, until there were none
Two by two, to their lovers they flew
Two by two, into the foggy dew
Three by three, they danced on the sea
Four by four, they danced on the shore
(Bob Dylan: Two By Two)

The Dionysian eternal recurrence of mankind’s existence through earthy sexuality as expressed above in ‘Two By Two’, and not mankind’s ending up in some gentle afterlife in a sexless Heaven, is a theme Bob Dylan picks up from, among others, Dylan Thomas:

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way
Do not go gentle into that good night
(Dylan Thomas: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night)

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