Monday, September 18, 2006

modern times poetry in motion

At 63 Bob is still making waves, and MP3s (small digital music joke). The highlight for me is the 20 or so Theme Time Radio Hours on XM Radio I have where Bob oozes mesmerisingly and seductively through the airwaves as a late night radio DJ, in the old sense of the word, like say Wolfman Jack. The highlight for others has been his completion of the trilogy of recent albums with Modern Times. Yet to be reviewed by me, or Floppy, or the 3 Ss, Sheil, Soon and Shaun. Perhaps we'll all do it on the same day.

Not today. Today I've noticed this snippett in the
Belfast Telegraph via the New York Times. The Times has talked to a bob watcher, Scott Warmuth, a radio disc jockey based in New Mexico, who has picked up that many of the lyrics on Modern Times bear a similarity to lines by Civil War poet Confederate Henry Timrod. Warmuth said he found 10 instances on the album where Dylans lyrics are similar to Timrod's poetry.

Warmuth told the New York Times: I think thats the way Bob Dylan has always written songs. Its part of the folk process, if you look from his first album to now. But he said he still considered Dylans work to be original. You could give the collected works of Henry Timrod to a bunch of people but none of them are going to come up with Bob Dylan songs, he said.

Mr. Warmuth noted that Mr. Dylan may also have used a line from Timrod in Cross the Green Mountain, a song he wrote for the soundtrack to the movie Gods and Generals, which came out three years ago. Mr. Warmuth said there also appeared to be passages from Timrod in Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, a song on
Love and Theft.

Born in 1828, Timrod worked as a private tutor on a plantation before the Civil War. Many of his earlier poems were about nature, but with the outbreak of war he started to write about the hardships caused by the conflict and its impact on peoples lives.Though he is today considered a minor poet, the Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson described him as the Poet Laureate of the Confederacy. Timrod died of tuberculosis in 1867.

Mr. Dylan does not acknowledge any debt to Timrod on Modern Times.The liner notes simply say All songs written by Bob Dylan (although some fans have noted online that the title of the album contains the letters of Timrods last name).

Nor does he credit the traditional blues songs from which he took the titles, tunes and some lyrics for Rollin and Tumblin and Nettie Moore.

This isn't the first time fans have found striking similarities between Mr. Dylans lyrics and the words of other writers. On his last album, Love and Theft, a fan spotted about a dozen passages similar to lines from Confessions of a Yakuza, a gangster novel written by Junichi Saga, an obscure Japanese writer. Other fans have pointed out the numerous references to lines of dialogue from movies and dramas that appear throughout Mr. Dylans oeuvre. Example: Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word echoes a line from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
[Just today I heard Bob say on Themetime that Tennessee Williams was his favourite playright - fxh]

For instance, the lines in his song When the Deal Goes Down, in which Dylan sings: More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours, bear a striking resemblance to lines contained in Timrods A Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night, which reads: A round of precious hours, Oh! Here where in that summer noon I basked, And strove, with logic frailer than the flowers. Elsewhere in the same song, Dylan sings Where wisdom grows up in strife very similar to a line in Timrods poem Retirement, which reads: There is a wisdom that grows up in strife.

Christopher Ricks, a professor of the humanities at Boston University who wrote Dylans Visions of Sin, a flattering study of the musician, said, I may be too inclined to defend, but I do think its characteristic of great artists and songsters to immediately draw on their predecessors.He added that it was atypical for popular musicians to acknowledge their influences.

Mr. Ricks said that one important distinguishing factor between plagiarism and allusion, which is common among poets and songwriters, is that plagiarism wants you not to know the original, whereas allusion wants you to know.

When Eliot says, No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be, to have a line ending to be when the most famous line uttered by Hamlet is to be or not to be then part of the fun and illumination in the Eliot poem is that you should know it, he said. But he added: I dont think Dylan is alluding to Timrod. I don't think people can say that you're meant to know that its Timrod.

No doubt about it, there has been some borrowing going on, said Walter Brian Cisco, who wrote a 2004 biography of Timrod, when shown Mr. Dylans lyrics. Mr. Cisco said he could find at least six other phrases from Timrods poetry that appeared in Mr. Dylans songs. But Mr. Cisco didnt seem particularly bothered by that. I'm glad Timrod is getting some recognition, he said.

James Kibler, a professor of English at the University of Georgia who teaches the poetry of Timrod in his Southern literature classes, was delighted to hear of Mr. Dylans use of the verse. If I were Timrod, I would love it, he said. I would say hes doing a great honor to Timrod and lets celebrate that. Mr. Kibler said he planned to share Mr. Dylans references with his classes because his students probably know more about Bob Dylan than Timrod.

Dylans debt -

Henry Timrod
A round of precious hours
Oh! here, where in that summer noon I basked
And strove, with logic frailer than the flowers ...
(A Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night)

Bob Dylan
More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours.
(When the Deal Goes Down)

Henry Timrod
There is a wisdom that grows up in strife

Bob Dylan
Where wisdom grows up in strife
(When the Deal Goes Down)

Henry Timrod
Which, ere they feel a lovers breath,
Lie in a temporary death
(Two Portraits)

Bob Dylan
In the dark I hear the night birds call
I can hear a lovers breath
I sleep in the kitchen with my feet in the hall
Sleep is like a temporary death
(Workingmans Blues number 2)

Henry Timrod
How then, O weary one!
The sources of that hidden pain?
(Two Portraits)

Bob Dylan
Cant explain the sources of this hidden pain
(Spirit on the Water)

FXH says: Me. I'm old skool, I'm following it on r.m.d, ( where I started trading tapes years ago. Others will be stoushing on Dylan Pool. Join in.