Saturday, December 24, 2016

Bob Dylan: Last Thoughts on Woody Gutherie (1963)

Poetry of Hope


Bob Dylan recites his poem, “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie,” live during his April 12, 1963 performance at New York City’s Town Hall —the only known recitation of the poem. Here is a sample of the words that Dylan wrote:
No but that ain't yer game, it ain't even yer race You can't hear yer name, you can't see yer face You gotta look some other place And where do you look for this hope that yer seekin' Where do you look for this lamp that's a-burnin' Where do you look for this oil well gushin' Where do you look for this candle that's glowin' Where do you look for this hope that you know is there And out there somewhere And your feet can only walk down two kinds of roads Your eyes can only look through two kinds of windows Your nose can only smell two kinds of hallways You can touch and twist And turn two kinds of doorknobs You can either go to the church of your choice Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital You'll find God in the church of your choice You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital
Dylan, who admired Woody Gutherie [born Woodrow Wilson Guthrie on July 14, 1912, in Okemah, Oklahoma], regularly visited him in the hospital (first at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morris County, New Jersey, and then at Brooklyn State Hospital in East Flatbush, New York), where he was confined as only one could be when he is suffering from Huntington’s disease, a genetic disorder that he had inherited from his mother. Gutherie died as a result of this disease on October 3, 1967; he was 55. 

Gutherie gave voice to the poor, the powerless and those who lacked the ability to state their heart. Gutherie was their proxy of hope. In 1941, Gutherie placed a message on his guitar: “This Machine Kills Fascists.” They are still alive and have become emboldened and enlivened once again by political figures who peddle hate, division and disorder; they offer no hope. How can they do otherwise when they know it not themselves? (They have the possibility of learning and doing otherwise, but this rarely happens.)

Dylan, Gutherie’s disciple of hope and seeker of truth, places hope in its proper place. The poem is about hope and where one can find it, and how one can live it once one has found it. Dylan, who learned a lot from this man, transformed his language to our modern times, countering the flatness and dullness of the soulless “machine man,” he devoid of the full range of human emotions. The tragedy is that such people, despite appearances to the contrary, have not only forgotten what it is to be human, they have choked the life out of it. They have become trapped in its doorless room of darkness; they have normalized inhumanity and cruelty. They know only hate, which they live out fully to its final awful end.

As for Hope, I would recommend that you listen to and then read the complete 1,705-word poem [here].

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