Thursday, October 30, 2014

Appendix 10

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 is embedded in the western ethos where clean hands evoke bad gambling men, and he suddenly switches to the imagery of Psalm 24:

"Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol

Dyan's song:
"His clothes, are dirty but his hands are clean". 

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 is not too Explicit as the fittest for Instruction, because it rouzes the faculties to act". 

For the intellectually curious the lure of Blake and Dylan

is identical: to find the kernel of meaning in the peculiar wrapping. Throughout his entire artistic career Dylan depended heavily upon biblical images and language. 

"Blowing in the Wind", the song that brought his first fame back in 1962, obviously evokes the words of Jesus found at John 3.8, "the wind blows where it will". For Jesus and Dylan alike the wind symbolizes Spirit. One would not be too far off to say that "Blowing in the Wind" initiated a spiritual revolution in American culture. 

Dylan's later song, "Idiot Wind", in a far different mood, still uses wind as an image of spirit. Biblical imagery can be found in every one of the twenty five albums that Dylan has released. 

But look at just one song from the John Wesley Harding record, called "The Wicked Messenger". Like so much of Blake's poetry this song is clear as mud to the biblically illiterate. 

"There was a wicked messenger--from Eli he did come. (Now the sons of Eli were worthless men;) His tongue, it could not speak, but only flatter. (they flatter with their tongue)"  

I picked up this example, almost en toto from Michael Gray's book.  

"One day he just appeared with a note in his hand..." (Devotees of the Christmas story may remember that the priest Zechaias lost his speech when he expressed scepticism over Gabriel's message that his aged wife would have a son--to be named John. Upon the birth of the child Zecharias wrote a note saying, "His name is John", and recovered his speech.) 

From Dylan's song:"The soles of my feet, I swear they're burning." 

From Isaiah 52:1  
(How beautiful upon the moutains are the feet of him who bring's good tidings.")

 The feet in biblical symbolism is often associated with the bringing of news, the messenger. And Paul, in his passage on the whole armor of God, advises the Christian to have his feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace

The wicked messenger's feet are burning because he hasn't done this. 

"Blonde on Blonde" was not exactly the gospel of peace. We should realize that this like most of Dylan's songs in essentially autobiographical. He shared Blake's perspective on the oneness of the human race. He knew that fundamentally his (and our) experiences are universal. 

The song ends appropriately with this message to the messenger: "If ye cannot bring good news, then don't bring any."

Dylan likely got the burning soles from Dante who, in the third ring of the Inferno, found the simonists suspended head down with the soles of their feet licked by flames. 

"The Wicked Messenger" is more overtly biblical than most of Dylan's output, but less direct allusions abound throughout his lyrics. Not exactly a "Bible soaked Protestant", but maybe the nearest thing to it among modern artists. 

What does the future hold? Michael Gray credits Dylan, the secular artist, with the monumental achievement of lifting the popular musical. taste to the level of real art. Dylan, the Christian, creating art in the Blakean meaning of the word, must of necessity address himself to the more awesome task of raising the popular spiritual level to a Christian faith with some Intellect. Is that expecting too much of the man? or of God?  

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