Make a case for the inclusion of a subject connected with your degree discipline but not presently represented

on the syllabus. Songs are a popular modern art form, arguably the single most popular art form. Although there is an obvious difference between poetry and song - music a poem and a song lyric amount to the same thing; both require potent use of language, both engage their readers and listeners on an emotional level and both require skilled use of words sounds, rhyme and rhythm. A song may use the poetic devices of metaphor, simile, alliteration, onomatopoeia - among others and both rely on effective use of descriptive imagery and symbolism. However, it is, I think, unarguable that most songs when stripped of the music reveal what amounts to abysmally poor poetry, doggerel. On the one hand this perhaps demonstrates how music can carry and obscure a bad lyric but it also, I think, shows how very difficult it is to combine poetry and music effectively in a song. One man who can do this is Bob Dylan. I would go as far as arguing that Dylan is one of the greatest living poets, and should be included as a module on the English degree course at Brunel. I realise that there will be perhaps some students who have never even heard of Bob Dylan but he is a modern living artist who appeals to many different generations. He is a master of his art and he cannot be ignored. Legend has it that Bob Dylan is credited with creating a new musical genre by blending poetical lyrics with rock ‘n’ roll music. The truth may be more complex than this; like all artists Dylan’s work draws inspiration from a variety of sources. Nothing in art is wholly original. However, this is useful as a rough definition of the art of Bob Dylan - it is poetry and music fused together. His lyrics encompass the world; love, lust, hate, revenge, politics, satire, comedy, murder, drugs, religion, race and war. For many, many years the debate of “Dylan songwriter or poet?” has raged between “Dylanologists” and those who consider Dylan too crude or popular to be a poet of any substance. When asked this very question in a 1965

press conference he famously answered “I think of myself more as a song-anddance man”.(1) The question seems to irritate him and he has a tendency to deal with it facetiously:
“Yippee! I’m a poet and I know it, hope I don’t blow it” (2)

However, once when asked if his “words were more important than his music” he answered “words are just as important as music, there’d be no music without words”. (3) In 1972 British playwright David Hare triggered the debate further when he compared Dylan with Keats. More recently Christopher Ricks and Andrew Motion have taken up the mantle for Dylan. Dylan’s own answer and opinion to this well debated issue may be found in the notes on the 1963 album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”:
“Anything I can sing, I call a song. Anything I can’t sing, I call a poem”. (4)

Many will argue that Dylan is not a poet, however, there are many people including Christopher Ricks (Professor of Poetry at Oxford University) and Andrew Motion (current Poet Laureate) - who will argue that Dylan is an “unparalleled genius”.(5) In fact Dylan himself is not a stranger to nominations for poetry prizes - he has been nominated on several occasions for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Dylan’s lyrics are debated, argued and discussed at great length by a variety of people from many different societies and classes in life. It is poetry that is accessible to everybody. He has exposed every listener to poetry whether in a drawing room, public bar or student hall of residence. When researching this essay I found many websites and discussion forums on Dylan’s lyrics. People the world over of differing ages post questions regarding Dylan’s lyrics on to the internet. The subjects for his songs can be as diverse and as current as the decade in which they are written. A common popular genre as a subject for song writing

is ‘love‘. Typically Dylan takes this musical cliché and produces a work of genius. “Tangled Up In Blue” is about the breakdown of Dylan’s marriage to Sara Lowndes. At this time, the mid 1970’s, Dylan had studied under an art teacher called Norman Raeben who encouraged Dylan to look at art and life from a “ non-linear perspective“ (6), an approach which he took with this song:
“Early one morning’ the sun was shinin’, I was laying in bed….Her folks they said our lives together Sure was gonna be rough” (7)

Dylan starts the song at the beginning of the relationship during happier, brighter times. The second stanza Dylan talks briefly about the beginning of the relationship but the narrative then goes to the end of the relationship. He uses the car as a metaphor:
“We drove the car as far as we could Abandoned it out west Split up on a dark sad night Both agreeing it was best”. (8)

Dylan captures the sadness, gloom and absolute awfulness of splitting up with somebody that you once loved. The imagery that he uses to capture the end of a relationship is very strong in this stanza. In the third - Dylan paints the picture of a man wandering aimlessly, seeking work, living alone, and living in the past. In the fourth stanza he tells us about the woman and how he found her in a topless bar - of all places - and he sings “When she bent down to tie the laces on my shoe…” (9) - a metaphorical reference to marriage. In the fifth stanza Dylan refers to an unknown poet. Dylan describes eloquently the effect the artist has on him:
“Pourin’ off every page Like it was written in my soul from me to you”. (10)

The penultimate stanza seems to be talking about the couple from the third person perspective. The last stanza sums up the sadness of the relationship failure and the pain that he felt and he concludes with:
“We always did feel the same,

We just saw it from a different point of view, Tangled up in blue”. (11)

It is a beautifully sad love song which evokes emotion and commands your attention and is as worthy of high praise as anything by Milton, Keats, Byron or shelly. In a lecture broadcast for the Cambridge Radio Forum Christopher Ricks argues the case for Dylan with great persuasiveness and eloquence. Ricks, who has studied and written about Keats, Tennyson and T. S. Elliott, has now written a close analysis of Dylan’s lyrics from a literary critical point of view: “Bob Dylan: Dylan‘s Visions of Sin“. He talks passionately about the artist and compares living at the same time as Dylan with being a contemporary of Samuel Beckett or William Empson. He makes the point that Dylan’s lyrics only work with the music, that Dylan’s lyrics on paper do not translate as Dylan would want them to. I would suggest that here Ricks is stating the obvious - the music dictates the rhythm and meter, is a necessary cradle for the poetry. When the music is stripped away the impact of the piece is certainly much reduced but, such is the strength of Dylan’s song writing the lyrics still stand as poetry. Rick’s discusses the lyrics of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” line by line and stanza by stanza in his thirty minute lecture. He talks about rhyme, rhythm, imagery, femine endings, stressed and unstressed lines, the rhetorical contrast and how perfectly and well honed the lyrics are. There are any number of Dylan songs of similar or superior quality which he could have dissected. Andrew Motion, current Poet Laureate is another great advocate of Dylan. In a recent New York Times article he stated:
“He’s one of the great artists of the century….the concentration and surprise of his lyrics; the beauty of his melodies….the dramatic sympathy between the words and the music….” (12)

Then speaking on how Dylan’s lyrics translate without their music Motion says:
“He doesn’t (as Robert Lowell said he did) ‘lean on the crutch of his guitar’ “. (13)

Some may argue that both Ricks’s and Motion’s appreciation of Dylan maybe somewhat over reverential, I would, however, suggest that to command such respect from two such distinguished academics his song lyrics when examined on their own must, at least on occasions, amount to first rate poetry. Furthermore, the Norton Introduction to Literature includes the lyrics of “Mr Tambourine Man” _ a nod of approval from the educational establishment for a song which almost unarguably describes the tail end of an “acid trip“! (14) In conclusion, there is a strong argument for including Dylan as a module for the English degree course. Not only do some of the most influential scholars, writers and academics give Dylan accolades for his literary achievements but to be even nominated for a Nobel Prize is a great honour and achievement, unparalleled for a popular musician. Dylan has a great following, he is a living poet whom we should respect and learn more about. Dylan needs to be taken seriously and if people who are unfamiliar with his work are not able to gain that from University then that would be a heinous crime.

Footnotes (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) Conversation with Andrew Moretta, October 2006. Line from Bob Dylan song “I Shall Be Free No. 10” from the album “Another Side of Bob Dylan” 1964. CBS News Interview, Dylan Poet, or Songwriter? October 11th 2004. Album linear notes for “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album, Bob Dylan, 1963. Lecture broadcast on Cambridge Forum Radio, Christopher Ricks, Bob Dylan: Artist. Bob Dylan: Performing Artist by Paul Williams, p138. Tangled Up In Blue, Bob Dylan, 1975.

(8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14)

Tangled Up In Blue, Bob Dylan, 1975. Tangled Up In Blue, Bob Dylan, 1975. Tangled Up In Blue, Bob Dylan, 1975. Tangled Up In Blue, Bob Dylan, 1975. Word for Word/Dylanology; Keats With a Guitar: The Times Sure Are A-Changin’, Article written by Tina Kelley for the New York Times, January 9th, 2000, displaying abstract text of an interview with Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate. Word for Word/Dylanology; Keats With a Guitar: The Times Sure Are A-Changin’, Article written by Tina Kelley for the New York Times, January 9th, 2000, displaying abstract text of an interview with Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate. A nod of approval from the establishment for a song which unarguably describes the tail end of an “acid trip”!

Bibliography “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album, Bob Dylan, 1963. “Blood On The Tracks” Bob Dylan, released January 20th, 1975. New York Times website Bob Dylans official website Bob Dylan: Performing Artist by Paul Williams, September 1st 1994, Omnibus Press.

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