Bob Dylan: Strengthen The Things That Remain

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)”. 

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.




  1. But if -if- songs are sung out to the end
    With all the heart, with all the breath in the lungs
    Almost everything vanishes. And what remains
    Is the desert vastness, the stars, the one who sings
    (Osip Mandelshtam: What Remains ~ translation)

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