The most Blakean mind of the 20th Century may belong to the folk singer, Bob Dylan. Dylan drank deeply from the Blakean springs; he obviously knew and loved Blake for many years before he surrendered to the Christian gospel.
We find Bob Dylan's Career as a Blakean Visionary & Romantic published a year ago.
One might seek out a number of lines among Dylan's lyrics that suggest an obvious Blakean source. Or one could show the Blakean spirit active and alive in much of Dylan's art. In this section the reader is invited to look at the Blakean dimension of Dylan's structure of values implicit in his lyrical inventions. That enterprise might profitably be stretched out to great length; here are a few of the highlights:
If Blake was the most radical poetic dissenter of his generation, then Dylan may occupy that place in ours. Blake questioned authority at the deepest level. The irreverences of Dylan's lyrics had the same meaning to his listeners: "Don't follow leaders Watch the parkin' meters".
Following Blake's cue the sixties generation questioned the moral and political leadership of the country in ways that had never happened before. Dylan and Blake both knew that power resides in the people, and they aimed to encourage the people to assume full responsibility for themselves.
In that aim Dylan succeeded more significantly than did Blake, more in fact than he hoped to. In an earlier verse of the song quoted above Dylan sang, "you don't need a weatherman", and soon found a revolutionary underground emerge called the Weathermen. They sought a violent revolution, but Dylan, like Blake and Jesus before him, wanted a more fundamental revolution in the hearts of men and women.
The phenomenal response to Dylan's early protest songs led to authority problems that Blake had never had to face. Dylan's fans wanted him for their leader, and he hated and despised that idea; he knew what would follow. He identified with the moment in Jesus' life when the crowd tried to make him king by force.
A lot of Dylan's bizarre actions in the middle sixties were related to an attempt to avoid that destiny. In 1980 he sang the biblical scene that had haunted him.for years.
Few men have been in a better position to understand what that moment meant to Jesus.
"The multitude wanted to make him king
"Put a crown upon his head
"Why did he slip away to a quiet place instead?"
(From 'In the Garden' on 'Saved', cut in 1980)
It makes a lot of sense to compare Dylan's output of the sixties with Blake's in the nineties of his century.
The end of each decade witnessed a meeting with the Lord, which makes it clear that each decade encompassed a spiritual journey. Dylan's life is one of the strangest odysseys, the details of which are not known to me, and may never be told. Dylan has always been at one level a very private person. Nevertheless the outline of his spiritual journey (up to now) belongs to the public and is sufficiently clear to relate to the Blakean circle of destiny which we have studied in this book.
In Blake and in Dylan we see two men who "call no man father", who fundamentally reject all forms of outward authority. Each communes with his own spirit, and this communion leads to the same end, to the encounter with Christ the King. The passage of 200 years has obscured the drama in Blake's case, so much so that his secular students almost completely lost sight of it.
But Dylan's conversion is too new to be anything less than a collective trauma. His secular fans were sheerly appalled, confronted with a reality which they had systematically ignored. But Dylan's Christian audience by and large have failed to note the significance of the event, largely through the minuteness of their vision. In the history of Christianity it bears comparison to the Damscus Road, or to the strange warming of John Wesley's heart.
Any number of pages could be devoted to relating Blake and Dylan, but one significant point deserves special emphasis:
The celebration of fallenness is the acme of the prophet's function. He points out to us what's wrong with our society, and he does this with the kind of language designed to raise things forcibly into our consciousness. Ezekiel had told Blake that his bizarre pantomimes were aimed at raising others to a perception of the infinite". Blake became pretty bizarre at times.
Both men spent their pre-Christian decade celebrating fallenness. Hopefully by now the reader will have some grasp of what I mean by Blake's celebration of fallenness. Examples of this motif in Dylan's work are too numerous to do more than sample.
A review of Dylan's l965 album, "Highway 61, Revisited", indicates that the denizens of Desolation Row are about as fouled up as any of Blake's giant forms. Here's verse 8 of the
song of that name:
"Now at midnight all the agents And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory ~
Where the heart attack machine Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go Check to see that nobody is escaping."
Against the background of the horror in Vietnam 'To Desolation Row' and many other of Dylan's 1965 lyrics come through as a cry of pain much like Blake's Book of Urizen.