Bob Dylan And Low Burlesque: The Drunken Persian He Follows Me

by Larry Fyffe 

Low burlesque is a literary technique that takes a subject matter – for example, the work of another artist that is esteemed, and presents it in a degraded manner that is often vulgar.  Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan low burlesques Edward FitzGerald’s translation of ‘The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam’, turning the poem into a travesty:

Well, the comic book and me, just us, we caught a bus
The poor little chauffeur though, she was back in bed
On the very next day, with a nose full of puss
Yea, heavy, and a bottle of bread

(Bob Dylan: Yea Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread)

‘Bread’ is metonymical slang for ‘money’. 

Dylan messes with the translated verses:

A book of verse underneath the bough
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread - and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness
Oh, wilderness were paradise enow

(The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam)

In another song lyric, the singer/song writer mocks the verse quoted below:

There was a door to which I found the key
There was a veil past which I could not see
Some little talk awhile of me and thee
There was - and then no more of thee and me

(The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam)

 Dylan, in a more earthy Sufi mood, dirties things up a bit:

Well, I got the fever down in my pockets
The Persian drunkard, he follows me
Yes, I can take him to your house, but I can't unlock it
You see, you forgot to leave me with the key

(Bob Dylan: Absolutely Sweet Marie)

He borrows the ‘key/me’ rhyme from FitzGerald.

Neither is the Dervish in the ‘Rubaiyat’ an ascetic mystic:

Waste not your hour, nor in the vain pursuit
Of this and that endeavour and dispute
Better be merry with the fruitful grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter fruit

(Omar Khayyam)

With the Sufi in the lines quoted above, the singer/songwriter agrees, and heads out for the wilderness of Kansas:

It's a one track town, just brown, and a breeze too
Pack up the meat, sweet, we're headin' out
For Wichita in a pile of fruit
Get the loot, don't be slow, we're gonna catch a trout

(Bob Dylan: Yea Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread)

Debasing the ‘Rubaiyat’ (‘And still a garden grows by the water’), Dylan’s travesty is filled with drugs, and the fishy smell of Rimbaudian sexuality; the rhyme is ~ ”trout’/’out’; not ‘flout’/’without’:

The vine has struck a fibre which about
If clings my being - let the Sufi flout
Of my base metal may be filed a key
That shall unlock the door he howls without

(Omar Khayyam)

 Rather than the Gnostic alchemy of chemistry, it’s the geography of the female form that Dylan surveys:

Now, pull the drummer out from behind that bottle
Bring me my pipe, we're gonna shake it
Slap that drummer with a pie that smells
Take me down to California, baby

(Bob Dylan: Yea Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread)

Bob Dylan loves his country pie.

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  1. The moving finger writes and, having writ
    Moves on; nor all your pity nor wit
    Shall bring it back ….
    (Khayyam )

    Been dark all night and now it’s dawn
    The moving finger is moving on
    (Dylan: Narrow Way)

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