As a teen, I used to say that Dylan would go down as the greatest poet of the twentieth century. Now, many say that. Interestingly, Dylan himself has said he no longer has that ability. In a way, genius is elusive, even though a person may be brilliant. Also interesting, it has been said that most brilliant works came about like Dylan’s, when the genius was in their twenties or early thirties.
I believe the key to understanding Dylan’s lyrics often is in feeling how the words make you feel… how he must have felt to write them. He captures subtle, elusive, abstract, yet often universal feelings with his words. He makes compelling points not just with reason, but by conveying shades, hues, as well as passions and convictions with the feelings he conveys. That is just my perspective on his genius. I’ve enjoyed going over various lyrics of his in some of our classes.
An example from the first verse of “My Back Pages”:
Crimson flames tied through my ears
Referring to his young idealized ‘crimson’ notions… passions, convictions, and black and white ‘clarity trips’. Dylan starting with the word “crimson” is, in itself, a good example… feeling of noble, god-like, royal, passionate, lofty, superior. Sarcasm is common in his lyrics. It’s source, I believe, is that he conceptualized the Transcendent (for example, his song “Gates of Eden”), but had no clear and direct experience of it. So, the dichotomy of relativity verses the Absolute, the resolution of paradox, eluded him.
Still today, people cling to their clarity-trip, belief system perspectives as truth. Even to the extent that they wage war and devote their lives to them, limited as they are. Life is paradox. It is one thing to understand that intellectually. It is quite another to live it, to be unbounded—free of limitation.
Rollin’ high and mighty traps
Realizing now that his thoughts were narrow, belief system traps.
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Referring to how he attacked world events with his perspectives.
Using ideas as my maps
His perspectives led him by the nose.
We’ll meet on edges, soon, said I
Cutting edges of debate, confrontation, etc.
Proud ‘neath heated brow
He was ready to fight proudly for his perspectives.
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now