Quantcast
Connect with us

Five extraordinary poems that inspired Bob Dylan

Published

on

Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell said that Bob Dylan wasn’t a poet because he “leaned on the crutch of his guitar”. The Nobel committee clearly disagree – they awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature. Indeed, Dylan has leaned on poetry more than any other musician, before or since. Here are five poets who provided him with inspiration.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

Baudelaire’s use of hashish, dissatisfaction with the uptight middle-classes, and celebration of prostitutes, visionaries and outsiders produced a poetry that would have resonated with the Dylan of Mr Tambourine Man.

ADVERTISEMENT

Baudelaire’s Anywhere Out of this World shares and anticipates Dylan’s pot-fuelled, visionary lyrics of the mid-1960s. Baudelaire writes:

Let us go farther still to the extreme end of the Baltic; or farther still from life, if that is possible…
At last my soul explodes, and wisely cries out to me: “No matter where! No matter where! As long as it’s out of the world!”

And it seems Dylan wasn’t leaning very heavily on the crutch of his guitar when in Mr Tambourine Man he wrote:

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow…

ADVERTISEMENT

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Walt Whitman’s inclusive, democratic vision of America would have been of enormous appeal to the young Dylan. The 1856 edition of his Leaves of Grass presents a poet – open-shirted, unshaven, sexually assured – that would not have been out of place on any of Dylan’s 1960s album covers. Whitman’s I Sing the Body Electric – with its unknowing nod towards Dylan’s move from folk troubadour to electric bohemian – opens:

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

His extended, visionary lines anticipated and inspired Dylan’s long lyrics from Hard Rain through Desolation Row and provided a model that the young singer was keen to follow.

ADVERTISEMENT

Andre Breton (1896-1966)

Andre Breton was the figurehead of the Surrealists; a group of writers who gathered in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. The Surrealists’ surprising, erotic images of women find resonances in Dylan’s romantic lyrics. Breton’s Free Union is a list poem in which a love of language and of woman overwhelms the reader with poetry and erotic intent. It begins:

ADVERTISEMENT

My wife with the hair of a wood fire
With the thoughts of heat lightning
With the waist of an hourglass
With the waist of an otter in the teeth of a tiger …

Dylan’s images of love and of women are rarely commented upon. If they are, he is often mocked for the surrealism of his lyrics. Love Minus Zero / No Limit contains the verse:

The cloak and dagger dangles
Madams light the candles
In ceremonies of the horsemen
Even the pawn must hold a grudge
Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another
My love winks, she does not bother
She knows too much to argue or to judge

ADVERTISEMENT

If Dylan is at fault here, then so is an entire literary and artistic movement. In his greatest moments, Dylan nailed surrealism and love as well as any of its most important poets.

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)

One can only imagine how the teenage, Jewish Dylan must have marvelled at the geeky, bespectacled beat poet Ginsberg, and the impact of his poem Howl. Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall recognises Ginsberg’s “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night”,
and recycles them into “I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken / I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

One of the key poets of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, Hughes was responsible for the integration of jazz and black art forms into poetry. In Harlem he uses short, rhyming lines that anticipate the proto-rap of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues. Here is the complete poem:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Bob Dylan – “on the pavement / thinking about the government” – transformed popular culture in the 1960s. To many, his lyrics seemed to come out of nowhere. If all you had been doing was listening to Sinatra, they did.

ADVERTISEMENT

For the bohemians who had been hanging out in coffee-houses and paying attention to the poets, however, all he was doing was doing what poets have always been doing: making it new, and telling it like it is.

The Conversation

Tim Atkins, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, University of East London

Tim Atkins, University of East London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

ADVERTISEMENT


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Trump spoke with Giuliani on unsecured phones that were vulnerable to Russian surveillance: report

Published

on

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump has communicated with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani via unsecured and unencrypted phone lines that are potentially vulnerable to interception and monitoring by Russian intelligence officials and other hostile foreign powers.

"Trump is not identified by name in the House phone records, but investigators said they suspect he may be a person with a blocked number listed as '-1' in the files," stated the report. "And administration officials said separately that Trump has communicated regularly with Giuliani on unsecured lines."

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Internet debates ‘the dumbest thing Brian Kilmeade has ever said’

Published

on

Fox News personality Brian Kilmeade has received a great deal of attention -- and criticism -- during the Trump era.

Kilmeade co-hosts one of the President's favorite shows, "Fox and Friends," with Steve Doocy and Ainsley Earhardt on weekday mornings. He also a show on the Fox News Radio network and frequently appears on "The Five."

The former Ultimate Fighting Championship play-by-play sportscaster has also been harshly criticized for the type of comments that make the show a favorite for the president.

Journalist Molly Jong-Fast, who was widely praised her interview of Lisa Page, decided to explore Kilmeade's comments.

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Trump was ‘in denial’ he would be impeached — until he watched TV yesterday: CNN reporter

Published

on

On Thursday's edition of CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," White House correspondent Boris Sanchez said that President Donald Trump believed for weeks that Democrats were not really going to go through with impeachment — but after watching the House Judiciary Committee testimony on Wednesday, he finally realized they were serious.

"Is it clear how the president is handling this behind closed doors?" asked Cooper.

"Well, for weeks we've been hearing that the president has sort of been in denial about all of this, that he did not actually believe that Democrats in the house would vote to impeach him," said Sanchez. "We're actually told that he's come to terms with that reality in part because he was watching testimony yesterday as he was returning from a NATO leaders meeting in London."

Continue Reading