Bob Dylan And The Monkey Man Revisited

by Larry Fyffe

At an early age Bob Dylan hears the voice of the God of Thunder commanding him to:

Write the things which thou hast seen
And the things which are
And the things which shall be hereafter

(Revelation 1:19)

Aiming to please, Dylan takes matters into his own hands, and adds the music of  Zeus’ son, Apollo:

I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children ....
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin'
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world

(Bob Dylan: A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall)

Dylan helps to save a Gothic poet from the waters of oblivion in the process; the songster writes down the things that remain. The song above is an updated version of the biblical apocalypse, as well as a tribute to the poem below:

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore ....
Oh God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?

(Edgar Allan Poe: A Dream Within A Dream)

Dylan repeats more than once the rather Gnostic view, and modernistic dark Existentialist view of the aforementioned poet:

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down in the dim West
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest

(Edgar Allan Poe: The City In The Sea)


Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, let them. Below, along with the nearly direct quote, there’s the Dylanesque “rhyme twist” of ~ ‘best’/’rest’, and ~ ‘rest’/’best’:

In the dark illumination
He remembered bygone years
He read the Book of Revelation
And filled his cup with tears
When the Reaper's task had ended
Sixteen hundred had gone to rest
The good, the bad, the rich, the poor
The loveliest and the best

(Bob Dylan: Tempest)

As do some other writers, Dylan finds such a dark view of human condition hard to take:

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned

(Edna St. Vincent Millay)

The poet above has hope that though the physical body of an individual decays that his or her works, done well, will live on. Like the writers of Romantic Transcendentalist poems, and of Christian gospel songs, Dylan grapples with the notion that an individual’s life has meaning beyond its earthly existence.

Following is a set down traditional song from the dark lumber woods of New Brunswick, Canada – previously referenced by Dylan -to which a Christian verse gets added:

There's danger on the ocean where the waves roll mountains high
There's danger on the battlefield where the angry bullets fly
There's danger in the lumber woods for death lurks sullen there ....
Near the city of Boisetown where my mouldering bones do lay
A-waiting for my Savior's call on that great Judgement Day

(Peter Emberly ~ Calhoun/Munn)

Likewise, Dylan revises one of his own songs – the original quite Christian Gnostic in tone while the revision cleans up the monkey-like sexual imagery. Nevertheless, it’s again rather ambiguous:

I'm stepping out of the dark woods
Tying to jump on the monkey's back
Yes, I'm all dressed up ....
Every day you've got to pray for guidance
Every day you've got to give yourself a chance
There's are storms on the ocean
Storms out there on the mountains too
Storms on the ocean
Storms on the mountains too
Oh Lord
You know I have no friend without you

(Bob Dylan: Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking)

Seems Charles Darwin’s monkey man is still breathing. 


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