Bob Dylan and Hafez

Most of us want things to be neat and tidy, to follow a set pattern, perhaps because our teachers beat that idea into our heads from an early age. Or maybe because most of the childhood storybooks and Hollywood movies we grew up with follow a typical pattern. However we got indoctrinated, we have a strong need for a clear beginning, middle, and end.

I was listening to Early Roman Kings the other day. I was struggling to make sense of it. I eventually realized that I was wasting my precious time. Like many Dylan songs, there is no clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. Early Roman Kings should be read as a series of connected themes, not a series of connected events. Read in that fashion, the song makes a lot of “sense”.

For generations that grew up after Dylan, this style is a bit hard to grasp. Not many pop artists work in that manner anymore. I don’t think Taylor Swift is ever going to write anything like Early Roman Kings. But for Dylan, the style is quite natural. He grew up listening to the blues and folk songs. Listen to, for example, the inscrutable – The Cuckoo Is a Pretty Bird – and it’s easy to see how Dylan developed his style.

Fast forward a few days. I’m reading Dick Davis’ Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz. Davis is an Englishman who spent years in Iran until he was kicked out after the Islamic Revolution. He has studied Persian literature for over thirty years.

I didn’t expect to find any Dylan connections in the book. But I did. His comments about the lack of a “back-story” remind me of my struggle with Early Roman Kings.

He (Hafez) can sound especially like those troubadours who practiced trobar clus (“closed form”), a style of verse deliberately packed with difficulties and allusion likely to be lost on outsiders – a technique which was, as Hafez says in one of his Rubaiyat, meant for “art’s initiates,” excluding those not in the know. He can seem like Shakespeare in his abrupt switches of tone and scope of reference, the way wholly disparate areas of human experience are drawn into the same poetic moment. If we jump forward in time to a poet of a very different kind, Hafez’s poems can remind us of the songs of Bob Dylan, particularly his more meditative ones. Again, there is the music, and also the way a Dylan song often hovers at the edge of the paraphrasable, which might  be because we don’t have enough background information to attempt the paraphrase, or because there isn’t a paraphrase, a back-story, to be found at all, simply a series of images that create a pervasive mood and suggest a thematic coherence. There is too the loathing of hypocrisy that comes through in some of Dylan’s songs, the earnest sense, casually conveyed, that life is too serious for posturing and lies. “So let us not speak falsely now, the hour is getting late” could easily be a line from Hafez.

Introduction – Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz – by Dick Davis p. xxxix

1 thought on “Bob Dylan and Hafez”

  1. This is a helpful comment and as I consider your comment on the relationship of Mr. D, and this Perisian poet, I hope to comprehend a bit better Mr D’s achievement…thought the comment about escoteric or arts initiation into mystery compellingly thoughtful, but I do think eventually all folk with a good heart will be able to see the clear picture-vision Mr D is creating. As I mentioned to Prof. Kees De Graaf, his vision has not changed since the 50’s; there is a overreaching vision that you must struggle or pray for help to see…let me not claim I see that complete vision…but it seems to me once we see the overall vision or get a large part of the puzzle down on the table that more and more of the pieces will become clear even EARLY ROMAN KINGS puzzle pieces will suddenly look like each word/sound/musical tone emphasis was exactly and perfectly and completely what it should be. Heart, hymnal humility and Prayer helps, I believe…again I don’t claim to know much, but in my reading activities of other writers, especially them thar poet-seers-false prophets or not , this seems to be a worthwhile and helpful process. As a Jesus love, born again Christian, this is what I aspire to do 24/7 as God guides and helps. I believe Mr D’s love of Jesus has been there since the 50′..hey even the 40’s . Si Senor?

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