Bob Dylan: Strengthen The Things That Remain
By Larry Fyffe
Make the style of art over anew, says Ezra Pound, holding that a thing of beauty, a piece of art well done, is a joy forever; however, its wishful thinking that it will physically last forever, or even be appreciated as long as it does last:
I would bid them live forever As roses might in magic amber laid Red overwrought with orange and all made One substance and one colour Braving time
(Ezra Pound: Envoi)
Pound alludes to the following poem:
Small is the worth Of beauty from the light retired Bid her come forth Suffer herself to be desired And not blush so to be admired
(Edmund Waller: Go Lovely Rose)
Though initially from a Presbyterian background, Ezra Pound turns his ‘one colour’ thoughts to establishing a perfect and permanent society based on fascist principles.
Better that he had taken the Judeo-Christian Bible more seriously:
Be watchful, and strength the things Which reman, that are ready to die For I have not found thy works perfect before God
(Revelations 3: 2)
Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan takes the biblical ‘warning’ to heart – it’s easily interpreted as saying that one ought not to think that he or she has the perfect answer; ie, don’t trust a religious leader who does not look back on previous written works of biblical messengers, translators, theologians, and scholars without at least some degree of skepticism.
The following artist of which he speaks does not look back:
She's got everything thing she needs, she's an artist She don't look back She can take the dark out of the night-time And paint the daytime black
(Bob Dylan: She Belongs To Me)
In other words, Bob Dylan, or his persona, looks back to find what values are worth keeping when times are a-changing; and what values enshrined in religious dogma ought to be tossed away since they manifest in harmful social behaviour on the part of followers:
God don't make no promise that he don't keep You got some big dreams, baby But in order to dream, you gotta still be asleep When you gonna wake up, when you gonna wake When you gonna wake up, and strengthen the things that remain
(Bob Dylan: When You Gonna Wake Up)
Some analysts of Bob Dylan claim he’s endorsing their religious beliefs, rather than admonishing religious leaders of the orthodox bent for asserting that human beings can achieve perfection of some kind or another without considering the social and environmental conditions as well as natural urges under which they exist: instead, according to Dylan, things be broken, and fragmented – it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.
Christopher Ricks points out that Moderist/Post Modernist artists, in order to give their observers some participation in the creative process, leave their works deliberately open to interpretation. So the question becomes how far an personal interpretation should go when s/he’s a true believer in some creed, rather than open to free thinking.
For instance, is there a secret embedded message when TS Eliot writes the following verse?:
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was I meant to be Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, to start a scene or two .... (Pol)itic, cauti(o)us, a(n)d matr(i)culo(us) Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse
(TS Eliot: The Love Song Of J Alfred Prufrock)
TS Eliot, who reads Edward Fitzgerald’s “Omar Khayyam” at a young age, converts from the Unitarian church (that influences the Romantic Transcendenalist writers), and joins the Anglican Trinitarian church; above, he compares his Prufrock character to Polonius, a man of tedious aphorisms in William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’.
Bob Dylan travels down a road covered with frost. The mother of poet Robert Frost be a devotee of Swedenborgian mysticism with its alchemic words of physical and spiritual ‘correspondences’ – the ‘elements’ of earth, wind, fire, and water affect the extent of ‘spiritual’ actions on the part of human beings. Dylan is thought by some to encode his wife’s former last name in “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The (Low)la(nds)”.
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