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Dylan's Visions of Sin
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About the Author

Christopher Ricks is a Warren Professor of the Humanities, codirector of the Editorial Institute at Boston University, and a member of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. He was formerly professor of English at the universities of Bristol and Cambridge. Ricks is the author of Milton's Grand Style (1963), Tennyson (second edition, 1989), Keats and Embarrassment (1974), The Force of Poetry (1984), T.S. Eliot and Prejudice (1988), Beckett's Dying Words (1993), Essays in Appreciation (1996), Allusion to the Poets (2002), and Reviewery (2003). He is also the editor of Poems of Tennyson (second edition, 1987), The New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse (1987), A.E. Housman: Collected Poems and Selected Prose (1988), Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917 by T.S. Eliot (1996), The Oxford Book of English Verse (1999), Selected Poems of James Henry (2002), and Decisions and Revisions in T.S. Eliot (2003).

Reviews

Literally hundreds of books have been written about Bob Dylan and his music, but very few have considered his lyrics as works of literature. One notable exception is John Hinchey's fine Like a Complete Unknown: The Poetry of Bob Dylan's Songs 1961-1969 (2002). Ricks (humanities, Boston Coll.; formerly English, Cambridge) takes things a step further with his scholarly approach to over three decades of Dylan's music. Ricks, who has previously written about Keats, Browning, Milton, and Eliot, is an old-school literary critic more interested in understanding and appreciating the works at hand than in deconstructing them. His criticism is erudite and incisive, his writing witty and enjoyable, and his analysis broadened by comparisons to the poetry of canonical writers such as Eliot, Hopkins, and Larkin. The title is, however, a bit of a misnomer. While the book takes a thematic approach based on the seven deadly sins, it also covers the four virtues and the three graces. Highly recommended for academic libraries and for public libraries with strong literature or music collections.-Alison M. Lewis, Drexel Univ. Lib., Philadelphia Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Ricks, a professor of humanities at Boston University, allows his own musings about Bob Dylan to go "blowin' in the wind" in this love letter to the enigmatic bard. Focusing on the centrality of the seven deadly sins (pride, anger, lust, envy, sloth, greed, covetousness), the four virtues (justice, temperance, fortitude, prudence) and the three graces (faith, hope, love) in Dylan's writings, Ricks confirms Dylan's poetic genius and elevates the poet of the north country to canonical status alongside Tennyson, Shakespeare and Milton. Through a series of closely engaged readings of selected songs, Ricks demonstrates how each reflects a concern with sin, virtue or grace. Thus, "Lay, Lady, Lay" becomes an anthem of lust, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" a paean to fortitude and "If Not for You" a tribute to love. In every reading of the songs, he compares Dylan's poetry to the work of other poets, often finding either explicit correspondence or structural echoes of earlier works. For example, Ricks contends that the structure of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" mimics the structure of the early Scottish ballad "Lord Randal." Sometimes Ricks strives to be too hip and precious as when he characterizes "Lay, Lady, Lay" as "erotolayladylaylia," and when he concludes that there are similarities between other poems and Dylan's by providing a list of one word correspondences, as he does with "Lay, Lady, Lay" and Donne's "To His Mistress Going to Bed." Nevertheless, Ricks's affectionate critical tour-de-force reminds readers why Dylan continues to encourage our "hearts always to be joyful" and our "songs always to be sung" as we remain "forever young." (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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