The Responsibility that Comes with His Freedom

“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.”

Bob Dylan

Patti Smith’s Wall. Photo by Judy Linn, c.1969

From the Trench

“…In the deep green grasses
And the blood stained woods
They never dreamed of surrendering
They fell where they stood

Stars fell over Alabama
I saw each star
You’re walking in dreams
Whoever you are

Chilled are the skies
Keen is the frost
The ground’s froze hard
And the morning is lost

Bob Dylan
Cross The Green Mountain (Fragment)

 

Bob Dylan photographed by Richard Avedon. Central Park, New York, 1965

 
 

COME UP FROM THE FIELDS FATHER

“Come up from the fields father, here’s a letter from our Pete,

And come to the front door mother, here’s a letter from thy dear son.

Lo, ’tis autumn,

Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder,

Cool and sweeten Ohio’s villages with leaves fluttering in the moderate wind,

Where apples ripe in the orchards hang and grapes on the trellis’d vines,

(Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines?

Smell you the buckwheat where the bees were lately buzzing?)

Above all, lo, the sky so calm, so transparent after the rain, and with wondrous clouds,

Below too, all calm, all vital and beautiful, and the farm prospers well.

Down in the fields all prospers well,

But now from the fields come father, come at the daughter’s call,

And come to the entry mother, to the front door come right away.

Fast as she can she hurries, something ominous, her steps trembling,

She does not tarry to smooth her hair nor adjust her cap.

Open the envelope quickly,

O this is not our son’s writing, yet his name is sign’d,

O a strange hand writes for our dear son, O stricken mother’s soul!

All swims before her eyes, flashes with black, she catches the main words only,

Sentences broken, gunshot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital,

At present low, but will soon be better.

Ah now the single figure to me,

Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio with all its cities and farms,

Sickly white in the face and dull in the head, very faint,

By the jamb of a door leans.

Grieve not so, dear mother, (the just-grown daughter speaks through her sobs,

The little sisters huddle around speechless and dismay’d,)

See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better.

Alas poor boy, he will never be better, (nor may-be needs to be better, that brave and simple soul,)

While they stand at home at the door he is dead already,

The only son is dead.

But the mother needs to be better,

She with thin form presently drest in black,

By day her meals untouch’d, then at night fitfully sleeping, often waking,

In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing,

O that she might withdraw unnoticed, silent from life escape and withdraw,

To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son.”

Walt Whitman 

 

Bob Dylan is considered to be one the great musician songwriters in music of all time and has been noted to cite Walt Whitman as one of many influences that inspire him to create his unique brand of folk rock music. Bob Dylan wrote a song called Cross the Green Mountain for the soundtrack for Gods and Generals (Ronald F. Maxwell, 2003), a movie about the Civil War, which was also a re-occurring theme in many of Whitman’s poems. The song is directly influenced by the poem Come Up from the Fields Father written by Walt Whitman in 1900 and was apart of the final rendition of the Leaves of Grass.

In the song Cross the Green Mountain Dylan lyrics are mostly about the Civil War in the general sense and also is about the assignation of Abraham Lincoln. Come Through the Field, Father also, touches base on the same topics. There is one verse in particular in Dylan’s song which he writes, “a letter to mother came today gunshot wound to the breast is what it did say but he’ll be better soon, he’s in a hospital bed but he’ll never be better he’s already dead.” Dylan in this verse is writing about Lincoln’s death and is very comparable to Whitman’s portrayal of the event in Come Up from the Fields, Father in which that poem reads, “O a strange hand writes for our dear so O stricken mother’s soul! All swims before her eyes flashes with black she catches the main words only; Sentences broke gun shot wound in the breast, cavalry skirmish, taken to hospital, At present low, but will soon be better. See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be better. Alas, poor boy, he will never be better, nor maybe needs to be better, that brave and simple soul; While they stand at home at the door, he is dead already.” It is quite evident influence this piece of poetry had on Dylan’s verse and the song as a whole.

To watch the music video please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

Poetry Spoken and Sung

Baptism: A Journey Through Our Time was a 1968 album of poetry spoken and sung by Joan Baez.

Artwork by Robert Peak. Design by Jules Halfant

 

TRACK LISTING

Old Welsh Song” (Henry Treece)
2.”I Saw the Vision of Armies” (Walt Whitman)
3.”Minister of War” (Arthur Waley)
4.”Song In the Blood” (Lawrence Ferlinghetti/Jacques Prévert)
5.”Casida of the Lament” (J.L. Gili/Federico García Lorca)
6.”Of the Dark Past” (James Joyce)
7.”London” (William Blake)
8.”In Guernica” (Norman Rosten)
9.”Who Murdered the Minutes” (Henry Treece)
10.”Oh, Little Child” (Henry Treece)
11.”No Man Is an Island” (John Donne)
12.”Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man” (James Joyce)
13.”All the Pretty Little Horses” (traditional)
14.”Childhood III” (Arthur Rimbaud/Louis Varese)
15.”The Magic Wood” (Henry Treece)
16.”Poems from the Japanese” (Kenneth Rexroth)
17.”Colours” (P. Levi, R. Milner-Gulland, Yevgeny Yevtushenko)
18.”All in green went my love riding” (E. E. Cummings)
19.”Gacela of the Dark Death” (Federico García Lorca/Stephen Spender)
20.”The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” (Wilfred Owen)
21.”Evil” (N. Cameron/Arthur Rimbaud)
22.”Epitaph for a Poet” (Countee Cullen)
23.”Mystic Numbers- 36″
24.”When The Shy Star Goes Forth In Heaven” (James Joyce)
25.”The Angel” (William Blake)
26.”Old Welsh Song” (Henry Treece)

 

Joan Baez‘s most unusual album, Baptism is of a piece with the “concept” albums of the late ’60s, but more ambitious than most and different from all of them. Baez by this time was immersed in various causes, concerning the Vietnam War, the human condition, and the general state of the world, and it seemed as though every note of music that she sang was treated as important — sometimes in a negative way by her opponents; additionally, popular music was changing rapidly, and even rock groups that had seldom worried in their music about too much beyond the singer’s next sexual conquest were getting serious. Baptism was Baez getting more serious than she already was, right down to the settings of her music, and redirecting her talent from folk song to art song, complete with orchestral accompaniment. Naturally, her idea of a concept album would differ from that of, say, Frank Sinatra or The Beatles. Baptism was a body of poetry selected, edited, and read and sung by Baez, and set to music by Peter Schickele (better known for his comical musical “discoveries” associated with “P.D.Q. Bach,” but also a serious musician and composer). In 1968, amid the strife spreading across the world, the album had a built-in urgency that made it work as a mixture of art and message — today, it seems like a precious and overly self-absorbed period piece.

A clip of Whitman’s poem spoken by Joan Baez can be listened on The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

A Spear of Summer Grass

Patti Smith, late 1980’s

 

14

1

I CELEBRATE myself;
And what I assume you shall assume;
For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my Soul;
I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass. 5

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes—the shelves are crowded with perfumes;
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it;
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume—it has no taste of the distillation—it is odorless;
It is for my mouth forever—I am in love with it; 10
I will go to the bank by the wood, and become undisguised and naked;
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

Walt Whitman

Song of Myself (Excerpt)

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson praised the first edition of Leaves of Grass as “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed…. I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” To be precise, the career was already well-launched; only Whitman’s career as America’s “good grey poet” was newly minted. Why “Leaves” of “Grass,” however? A leaf of grass is a stalk, of course; yet in printer’s terms a leaf is also a page in a book. In this sense “Leaves of Grass” are pages in a book about–if we consider it further–the most commonplace plant-life on earth. The grass that Whitman invites us to “loaf” upon with him is stuff that grows everywhere; and while he can, if he wishes, observe “a spear” of that “summer grass,” he also knows it comes in all types and kinds. The “grass” thus becomes his symbol of democracy.