christopher ricks on Dylan


But what I’m really suggesting is: the first time one hears Dylan will affect everything thereafter. Charlotte Brontë wrote wonderfully about first impressions and so did Jane Austin; we really need to value our first impressions and trust them, but not too much. I am the beneficiary – that also means the victim – of the fact that Dylan was first and foremost a love poet. At a party in Amherst, Massachusetts, the host and hostess announced that they were going to turn the lights out and that we were going to listen to a song. And we listened to “Desolation Row”. I’d never heard anything like it except that it was terrifically like The Waste Land, which is terrifically like Pope’s Dunciad. This is the extraordinary vision of hell on earth where civilization doesn’t know what to value or when it does know – doesn’t know how to value it.

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk,
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet.

e=mc2 isn’t exactly reciting the alphabet, but it’s a wonderful way to put it. Or let’s take:

And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them.

Which is quite right: modernism was like the Titanic, it was terrifically expensive, it depended upon people below stairs or below deck. And it was a kind of disaster.

more from Eurozine here.