by Larry Fyffe
Robert Frost is a middle-of-the-road poet. In his lyrics about the cosmos, nature, society, and the individual, Frost swings back and forth between a gnostic-like vision and a romantic transcendentalist one:
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more But dipped it's top, and set me down again That would be good both going and coming back One could do worse than be a swinger of birches
(Robert Frost: Birches)
Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, too has a gnostic-like vision though a darker one, along with a bit of Romantic optimism. In the song below, Dylan depicts mankind locked out of an ideal Edenic paradise:
At dawn my lover comes to me And tells me of her dreams With no attempt to shovel the glimpse Into the ditch of what each one means At times, I think there are no words But these to tell what's true And there no truths outside The Gates of Eden
(Bob Dylan: Gates Of Eden)
Frost’s lyrics reveal that the narrator therof is just a busy man with little time for contemplating the beauty of Nature:
Whose woods these are I think I know His house is in the village though He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow .... The woods are lovely, dark and deep But I have promises to keep And miles to go before I sleep
(Robert Frost: Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening)
The singer/songwriter paints a picture where both woods and town are ‘dark’, and anything but ‘lovely’:
The evenin' sun is sinkin' low The woods are dark, the town is too They'll drag you down, they run the show They will beat you black and blue Tell ol' Bill when he come home Anything is worth a try Tell him that I'm not alone That the hour has come to do or die
(Bob Dylan: Tell Ol’ Bill)
The poet/narrator may reside in a somewhat busy place, but it’s ways of behaving appear to be rather calm and complacent – like himself when choosing which path to take when going for a walk in the countryside:
Then took the other, as just as fair And having perhaps the better claim Because it was grassy and wanted wear Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way I doubted if I should ever come back
(Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken)
Not so calm is the rough-and-tumble world of which the singer speaks: Took an untrodden path once, where the swift don't win the race It goes to the worthy, who can divide the word of truth Took a stranger to teach me to look in justice's beautiful face And see "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth"
(Bob Dylan: I And I)
Interpreted from a gnostic point of view, the ‘stranger’ be a female spirit who separates from her male counterpart, and believes in taking an eye for an eye before she’s re-united with her male twin, and becomes the goddess of ‘wisdom'( Sophia).
The latter-day Romantic poet presents a rather biblically-based apocalyptic vision of a coming catastrophe, but the narrator really hasn’t got the time to think about it much:
Some say the world will end in fire Some say in ice From what I've tasted of desire I hold with those who favour fire But if I had to perish twice I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction, ice Is also great And would suffice
(Robert Frost: Fire And Ice)
Bob Dylan (or his persona if you wish) admonishes complacent writers, like Robert Frost, that the Holy Bible’s prediction of an impending apocalypse is not a matter to to be taken lightly, and a warning needs to be sent to their readers and listeners to change the ways in which they behave lest everybody suffers the consequences – for example, by having an atomic bomb dropped on their heads:
'No reason to get excited', the thief he kindly spoke There are many here among us who think that life is but a joke But you and I we've been through that, and this is not our fate So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late' ..... Outside in the distance, a wildcat did growl Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl
(Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)
Interpretations of the poem and song lyrics can vary to a certain extent, but there can be no doubt that Bob Dylan has read a number of Robert Frost’s poems.
You might also enjoy “Frost fills the window: Dylan’s knocking on the door”
What else is here?
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.
There is an alphabetic index to the 550+ Dylan compositions reviewed on the site which you will find it here. There are also 500+ other articles on different issues relating to Dylan. The other subject areas are also shown at the top under the picture.
We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook which mostly relates to Bob Dylan today. 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.