Bob Dylan, Edward Taylor, And The Painted Face (Part III)

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Part one of this series. (Bob Dylan and Edward Taylor)

By Larry Fyffe
In a number of his song lyrics, Bob Dylan (and/or his persona) grapples with the Calvinist doctrine of predestination that underlies the poetry of Edward Taylor – from the get-go, you are either part of the chosen Elect, and favoured by God for Heaven, or you are among those damned to Hell with the Devil – now that’s an anxiety-inducing thought if ever there was one.
According to Puritan poet Edward Taylor, the Devil sows the seeds of Chaos – if you doubt that you are a member of the pre-chosen Elect in that you concern yourself with physical needs and material wants, then you certainly are not a part of the Elect; if you are sure you are pure at heart, and therefore a member of the Elect, you are guilty of the sin of pride which dooms you to the fiery pits of Hell.
Apostle Paul receives a reply  from Jesus Himself:
And He said unto me, “My grace is sufficient for thee
For my strength is made perfect in weakness”

(II Corinthians 12:9)

Like the free-thinking poet William Blake, Bob Dylan has problems with accepting that kind of reasoning:

I hate myself for loving you and the weakness that it showed
You were just a painted face on a trip down Suicide Road
The stage was set, the lights went out all around the old hotel
I hate myself for loving you, and I'm glad the curtain fell ....
Lady Luck, who shines on me, will tell you where I'm at
I hate myself for loving you, but I'll soon get over that

(Bob Dylan: Dirge)

According to sociologist Max Weber, the psychological tension produced by the predestinarian doctrine causes Calvinists to seek a ‘sign’ that he or she is indeed in God’s Elect – success in one’s earthly “calling” being such a sign.

In some song lyrics, as below, the spokesperson therein presents Taylor’s view that, even for those who have sinned, the ‘faith alone’ path is the one to follow:
Many try to stop me, shake me up in my mind
Say, "Prove to me that He is Lord, show me a sign"
What kind of sign they need when it all comes from within
When what's lost has been found, what's to come has already been? 
Well, I'm pressing on
To the higher calling of the Lord
That is to say – faith changes one’s way of thinking and acting – so preaches Edward Taylor in the poem below:
In all their acts, public and private, nay,
And secret too, they praise impart
But in their acts divine, and worship, they
With hymns do offer up their heart
Thus, in Christ's coach saints sweetly sing
As they to glory ride therein
(Edward Taylor: The Joy Of The Church Fellowship Rightly Attended)
Poet William Blake, being a skeptic, rejects Taylor’s doctrine of the predestination.  He also rejects Emanuel Swedenborg’s neoGnostic Christian outlook that only special individuals can kindle the spiritual fire from sparks which lie within their physical bodies, enabling them to see through the ‘painted’ face:
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness
Hath commanded in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge
Of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ
(II Corinthians 4:6)
In certain song lyrics, a modernistic Existentialist view is put forth by Bob Dylan – when gone, the only thing one knows for sure about what happens to the ‘souls’ of the likes of Edward Taylor, John Calvin and William Blake is that their thoughts live on in the writings that they leave behind:
Calvin, Blake, and Wilson
Gambled in the dark
Not one of them would ever live
To tell the tale of disembark
(Bob Dylan: Tempest)
Dylan, through his song lyrics above, pays tribute to poet William Yeats, the  Romantic mystic and re-incarnationist, as well as indirectly to artists Edward Calvert, Richard Wilson, William Blake, Claude Lorrain, and Samuel Palmer:
When that greater dream had gone
Calvert and Wilson, Blake and Claude
Prepared a rest for the people of God
Palmer's phrase, but after that
Confusion fell upon our thought
(William Butler Yeats: Under Ben Bulben)
Double-edged though they often be, in his song lyrics Robert Zimmerman presents a rather Jewish renewed covenant viewpoint where the naked individual has a responsibility to exercise a calling that God has predestined for him while he awaits the Messiah. In contrast, as Frederich Nietzsche points out, Christianity tends to make its followers feel unworthy.

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One comment

  1. As far as minister Taylor himself goes, he would not say that he considers himself unworthy- those of the Elect be not fooled by the Devil’s tricks, and are sure beyond any doubt that they are a member of God’s chosen ones.

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