Monday, September 18, 2006

Some pieces are coming together….

When the NYTimes ran an article about one of Bob Dylan’s sources of material for Modern Times, it immediately reminded me of Confessions of a Yakuza by Junichi Saga. In much the same way as Confederate poet Henry Timrod worked his words into Dylan’s lyrics, so too did Junichi Saga find several Yakuza lines in Love and Theft. Both stories had a refreshing episode: upon hearing about the borrowing of Timrod’s phrases biographer Walter Cisco was delighted at the nod and the recognition it would earn the poet. Likewise, when Junichi Saga heard about Dylan’s use of his material, he was flattered. Meanwhile, Dylan pretty much never flinched or felt a need to explain. Why would he? After all, as he described himself in Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home, he’s a 'musical expeditionary.' Perhaps the best phrase to describe him. As such, he’s free from any rules the bind the rest of us. Not that his last transgressions were offenses. But it wouldn’t matter if it was, because it is Dylan.

However, the connections between Timrod and Modern Times don’t stop with lines from poems. I’m not sure who actually suggested the idea, but there apparently floats a notion that the title of Modern Times is a rearranging of the letters that spell Henry Timrod. Now before you spit your drink out in a fine mist of surprise at the absurdity of it all….before you notice that the title and the name are hardly a match in letters – consider that the six letters (three in each) that do not have counterparts spell the telling word shymer eshmyr rhymes. That’s right! Just what was Dylan thinking? What clues does this offer to those trying to break the Dylaninci Code?

Perhaps two poems from Timrod will offer more clues into the bottomless mystery of Bob Dylan, and, if not, perhaps they will provide a glimpse from the poet himself:

At Magnolia Cemetery (Charlston, 1967)
SLEEP sweetly in your humble graves,
Sleep, martyrs of a fallen cause;
Though yet no marble column craves
The pilgrim here to pause.

In seeds of laurel in the earth
The blossom of your fame is blown,
And somewhere, waiting for its birth,
The shaft is in the stone!

Meanwhile, behalf the tardy years
Which keep in trust your storied tombs,
Behold! your sisters bring their tears,
And these memorial blooms.

Small tributes! but your shades will smile
More proudly on these wreaths to-day,
Than when some cannon-moulded pile
Shall overlook this bay.

Stoop, angels, hither from the skies!
There is no holier spot of ground
Than where defeated valor lies,
By mourning beauty crowned.

Poet! If on a Lasting Fame Be Bent
Poet! if on a lasting fame be bent
Thy unperturbing hopes, thou will not roam
Too far from thine own happy heart and home;
Cling to the lowly earth, and be content!
So shall thy name be dear to many a heart;
So shall the noblest truths by thee be taught;
The flower and fruit of wholesome human thought
Bless the sweet labors of thy gentle art.
The brightest stars are nearest to the earth,
And we may track the mighty sun above,
Even by the shadow of a slender flower.
Always, O bard, humility is power!
And thou mayst draw from matters of the hearth
Truths wide as nations, and as deep as love.

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