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George Monteiro - BOB DYLAN IN PORTUGAL (1985): AN UNPUBLISHED REVIEW

"It would be wrong to claim that Dylan's lyrics are in themselves free-standing poems of a high order. They are not. But nor are they valueless as poetry when divorced from the music that works symbiotically with the words to create the splendid songs that they often are."

George Monteiro - BOB DYLAN IN PORTUGAL (1985): AN UNPUBLISHED REVIEW


  BOB DYLAN IN PORTUGAL (1985): AN UNPUBLISHED REVIEW


  George Monteiro   


[In 1985, at the request of the managing editor of the Lisbon journal ColóquioǀLetras, I reviewed Bob Dylan; Poemas I. For some unknown reason the review was not published.  It now appears in print, some three decades later, for the first time.]              

      It is now a commonplace, in the mid-1980s, to say that Dylan's 1960s songs brought enormous changes in the lyrics (and to a lesser extent the music) of the popular song in the United States.  They dealt boldly and personally with issues of the broadest political and social import and as such brought such heady matters to the attention of a huge mass audience.  Drawing from the best traditions of indigenous national music as exemplified in Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly (to mention only two of the sacred names), Dylan was able to forge a poetic style exuding, at one and the same time, anger, impatience, responsibility, concern, and vulnerability.         
      The first seven years of Dylan's recording career, that is to say, from 1962 to 1969, are represented in the book under review, a bilingual edition of the lyrics of twenty songs chosen from eight albums:  Bob Dylan (1962), The Free Wheelin' Bob Dylan (1963), The Times They Are A-Changin'(1964), Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964), Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), Blonde on Blonde (1966), and John Wesley Harding (1969).  The song-poems selected are among the best known in. the poet's entire repertoire, though all of them come from his first and, in the opinion of many critics, his most creative and therefore most valuable period.       
     It would be wrong to claim that Dylan's lyrics are in themselves free-standing poems of a high order.  They are not.  But nor are they valueless as poetry when divorced from the music that works symbiotically with the words to create the splendid songs that they often are.  More so than the lyrics of any other contemporary Ameri­can (or English) songwriter of his stature and reputation, Dylan's lyrics reach out to the reader, whether or not he has memories of the accompanying music running through his head.       
      In the main, the translations in Bob Dylan: Poemas I follow closely the originals.[i]  That's all to the good.  What's less good, however, is that sometimes the translations strays, occasionally rather far afield.  A line is inexplicably omitted: "Or you'll sink like a stone" ("The Times They Are A-Changin'") or "Howard said there's only one place I know" ("Highway 61 Revisited");  a word or phrase gets lost: "you've left" ("It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"), "babe" ("Like a Rolling Stone"), "pill-box" ("Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat"), "miles" ("Motorpsycho Nightmare") and "tough" ("Bob Dylan's 115th Dream").   Oddly, the refrain in "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" is truncated with no explanation.      
      There are mistranslations: "muitas" for "thousand" ("Song to Woody"), "cortadas" for "broken" and "engolir" for "drown" ("A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"), "destino" for "curse" ("The Times They .Are A-Changin1"), "região" for "country," "carregou" for "charged," "acabou" for "laid away" and "muitas vezes" for "many a dark hour" ("With God on Our Side"), "nunca mais" for "for a spell" ("Motorpsycho Nightmare"), "criada" for "waitress" and "em ma situação" for "down the way" ("Bob Dylan's 115th Dream"), "tenho as pernas firmes" for "I'm branded on my feet" ("Mr. Tambourine Man"), "cozinha" for "streets" and "asilo dos velhos camponeses" for "old folks home" ("Tombstone Blues"), and "A quinta filha da decima segunda noite" for "Now the fifth daughter on the twelfth night" ("Highway 61 Revisited") "tuas fichas com segurança" for "your curfew plugs" and "sob a sua palavra" for "on his parole" ("Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands"), "assaltou urn armazém" for "took a stand" and "virou muito confusa" for "was all but straightened out" ("John Wesley Harding"), and, finally, "desgraça" for "weakness" ("Drifter's Escape").          
     Perhaps I did not get or understand all the idiomatic expressions employed in the translations.  Nevertheless, I offer this list in the hope that it will be of help in the future to those in charge of the next edition of this collection-when and if such an edition is called for, that is.                                                                             
 [1] Bob Dylan: Poemas I.  Tradução de Graça Nazaré.  Colecção Rock 9 (Centelha: Coimbra, 1985).

    



George Monteiro is a lifelong student and teacher of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, contributing to the scholarship on numerous writers, including Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Adams, Henry James, Emily Dickinson, Edith Wharton, Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot and Bob Dylan. His latest book is Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil and After: A Poetic Career Transformed (McFarland, 2012).