Friday, October 15, 2010


Book of Urizen, Plate 22, (E 82)
"The tormented element stretch'd
From the sorrows of Urizen's soul."

When Larry was writing his Blake Book, (Ram Horn'd with Gold) in the seventies and eighties the influence of Bob Dylan was everywhere including under our roof. He wrote a chapter on Blake and Dylan for his book but it was not included in the online version. Since I posted on the influence of Blake's poetry on Dylan's song EVERY GRAIN ON SAND, I'd like to pass along some of what Larry said in the missing chapter:

"In style Dylan closely approaches Blake as a symbolist. Fiercely eclectic like the English poet, he drew with utmost freedom upon his entire experience for the imagery of his lyrics. This means that the listener unversed in Dylan's experience will have the same sort of problems with his lyrics as so many have had with '4Z's' or 'Jerusalem'. Much of it comes through as sheer gibberish to all except the few some where in the vicinity of Dylan's mind. It helps to know the sixties Greenwich Village scene, country music, blues and rock as well as Verlaine, Rimbaud and Baudelaire, plus a few other esoteric sources.

"It also helps to know the Bible. Nowhere are Blake and Dylan more alike than in their dependence upon Biblical symbolism. Dylan is fully capable of throwing a wicked curve, when for example, one of his songs embedded in the western ethos where clean hands evoke the gambling man, and suddenly he switches to the imagery of Psalm 24: "His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean". [Example from Michael Gray's book.]

"Whether he knew of Blake's letter to Trusler or not, Dylan certainly put into practice the advice of the "Wisest of the Ancients [who] consider'd what was not too Explicit as the fittest for instruction, because it rouzes the faculties to act". For the intellectually curious the lure of the two men is identical: to find the kernel of meaning in the peculiar wrapping."

It is fascinating to compare the lives of these two poets whose struggles to express their enormous gifts, and to master the psychological conflicts of warring aspects of their minds were played out so publicly in their poetry. As Larry says:
"We should realize that this ['The Wicked Messenger'] like most of Dylan's songs is essentially autobiographical. He shared Blake's perspective on the oneness of the human race. He knew that his (and our) experiences are universal. The song ends appropriately with this message to the messenger: 'If you cannot bring good news, then don't bring any.'" Our two messengers brought their good news even though they often dipped into the deepest and darkest reaches of the psyche to bring it into the light.

Lyrics to Wicked Messenger


Susan J. said...

Ellie, you and Larry never fail to amaze me. Two weeks ago I borrowed a bunch of old Dylan CDs from a public library and loaded the music onto my iPod. Yesterday I was listening as I did some manual labor, and I thought "sheesh! what is this guy talking about? it's obviously symbolic... but what?" I caught some of the biblical stuff, but missed a lot of the rest. And what should I find here on your blog, after many weeks of not finding time to read? Dylan! Thank you so much!

Susan J. said...

is the entire Dylan chapter posted somewhere? I'd love to read it...

ellie said...

I hope to scan it soon. I need some OCR software that I can use.

Are you back in FL?

Susan J. said...


in Fl but not in the area -- we're up near Tallahassee right now -- may be at M4W at your place next week, but not in G'vl tom'w. Sorry to miss --

I can't find my way back to the note I know Larry posted somewhere -- yes I would love to have his notes -- sigh -- I've been losing my taste for computers/the internet lately -- boy that would be a big lifestyle change for me, to drop off the web --