Dylan In The Fall
(The Creation Myth in Modern Times)

by J. R. Stokes

Modern Times Bob

Part 4  - Rollin' and Tumblin'

In my observations on the song Nettie Moore, I laid bare Milton’s description of the Garden of Eden, taken from his epic work Paradise Lost, in order to explain and substantiate my view of that immense and magnificent space between the word ‘then’ and the words ‘and ever shall’ in the chorus of the song. Milton’s Garden of Eden is of course a place of Paradise, possibly a metaphor for a mental state of perfection, (if such a state could ever exist) but it was, nonetheless, a garden with all its greenery and nature. And, if the action in Rollin’ and Tumblin’ takes place anywhere, it would, in my view, occur in such a mystical garden, where: 

‘The landscape is glowin’, gleamin’ in the golden light of day’


‘The warm weather is comin’; the buds are on the vine’

Where it is pleasant enough to

‘Get up in the dawn and  ‘go down and lay in the shade’

And where there is no hatred or hostility because it is a place where it is possible to achieve the forgiveness of sins:

‘Let’s forgive each other darlin’ and go down to the Greenwood Glen.’

In the line that follows that just quoted from the penultimate verse of the song, Dylan sings:

‘Let’s put out heads together now, let’s put all ol’ matter to an end’.

Thus, him and his ‘darlin’’ are putting their heads together and, for that purpose, it must take two. Indeed there are couple of couplets that create an interesting twist in this song.

Firstly, the line from the fifth verse:

‘I ain’t no nobody’s houseboy, I ain’t nobody’s well trained maid’.

Dylan sings the line as if he were both the ‘I’ and the ‘I’, but in fact I don’t think he can be for, on any interpretation, a ‘houseboy’ must be male and a ‘maid’ must be female. Consequently I hear this line as referring to a subservient man and woman, and of course, if the greenery and nature in Rollin' and Tumblin' is grounded in the Garden of Eden then the man and the woman who take their rightful places there are Adam and Eve. Which brings me to the next couplet, although this is probably outrageous but it is the way I hear it. The line follows the reference to the sun returning, an image of the changing seasons which is ubiquitous in Modern Times. The lyric sheet that I have shows:

‘Sooner or later, you too shall burn’.

But I hear,

‘Sooner or later you TWO shall burn’.

Who knows what Dylan heard when he received these lines in that hypnotic trance, but if it is reference to Adam and Eve, they surely did burn. As soon as Adam had let that young lazy slut overcome his brains with her female charm, they burned in flaming lust. This is how Milton, in Book 9 of Paradise Lost builds it up to a buttercup of carnal desire:

‘So saying, she embraced him, and for joy
Tenderly wept; much won, that he his love
Had so ennobled, as of choice to incur
Divine displeasure for her sake, or death.
In recompence for such compliance bad
Such recompence best merits from the bough
She gave him of that fair enticing fruit
With liberal hand: he scrupled not to eat,
Against his better knowledge; not deceived,
But fondly overcome with female charm.
Earth trembled from her entrails, as again
In pangs; and Nature gave a second groan;
Sky loured; and, muttering thunder, some sad drops
Wept at completing of the mortal sin
Original: while Adam took no thought,
Eating his fill; nor Eve to iterate
Her former trespass feared, the more to sooth
Him with her loved society; that now,
As with new wine intoxicated both,
They swim in mirth, and fancy that they feel
Divinity within them breeding wings,
Wherewith to scorn the earth: But that false fruit
Far other operation first displayed,
Carnal desire inflaming; he on Eve
Began to cast lascivious eyes; she him
As wantonly repaid; in lust they burn:
Till Adam thus 'gan Eve to dalliance move’.

I repeat those red ragged words, for they are worth repeating; ‘Carnal desire inflaming, in lust they burn’, now listen to the way Dylan sings:

‘You two shall burn’ in the eighth verse of the song. It is, in my view, a condemnation of the couple who will burn together rather than an addition of one who shall burn like the sun.

But where is Milton’s anti-hero in Rollin' and Tumblin?  Where dwelleth Satan in this song? Well, he is there alright, firstly in this gothic nightmare:

‘Well the night’s filled with shadows, the years are filled with early (or is that ‘holy’?) doom.
Well the night’s filled with shadows, the years are filled with early doom.

I’ve been conjuring up all these long dead souls from their crumblin’ tombs’

And then, in the ‘deal’ which, as I have observed at length elsewhere, always involved some monetary element, that is synonymous with the wicked commercialism of these modern times. This time, the ‘deal’ is a little different and involves another meaning of the word ‘deal’ as in the process of handing out cards in the game of life. It is a gamble, as was eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge; a game of chance; of win or lose. The ‘rollin' and tumblin'’ may refer to the roll and the tumble of dice in a game of chance, but if it does, the gambler clearly loses as Dylan confirms in the opening verse of the song:

‘Woke up this morning’, I must’ve bet my money wrong’

and, from the fourth verse,

‘I’ve paid and I’ve paid, my sufferin’ heart is always on the line.

Is that ‘heart’ as in the organ that beats with emotion, or ‘heart’ as in the suit of cards? Whichever, it is this reference to ‘on the line’ that  stands out for me here: an image of separation that is again prevalent in Modern Times. Dylan has used the word ‘line’ many times before to denote a demarcation point between two states of existence, as in:

‘I’m bound to cross the line’ (Shelter From The Storm)

‘The dividing line ran thru the centre of town’  (Isis)

‘You ain’t gonna cross the line’ (Up To me)

‘Where I crossed the line’ (Where Are You Tonight)

‘Find yourself over the line’ (Brownsville Girl)

to name a few, and here again in Rollin' and Tumblin' there is the suggestion of separation and division which really is only present, in my view , to emphasize that, between the man and the woman in this song (or between Adam and Eve in my interpretation) there is no separation. Hence, although

‘I did all I know just to keep you off my mind’

And although

‘This woman’s been drivin’ me to tears’

And although there

‘Aint nothin’ more depressin’ than tryin’ to satisfy this woman of mine’

He will never leave her. How could he? I repeat here Adam’s feelings towards Eve as expressed in Book nine of Paradise Lost:

‘How can I live without thee! how forego
Thy sweet converse, and love so dearly joined,
To live again in these wild woods forlorn!
Should God create another Eve, and I
Another rib afford, yet loss of thee
Would never from my heart: no, no!I feel
The link of Nature draw me: flesh of flesh,
Bone of my bone thou art, and from thy state
Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.

I with thee have fixed my lot,
Certain to undergo like doom: If death
Consort with thee, death is to me as life;
So forcible within my heart I feel
The bond of Nature draw me to my own;
My own in thee, for what thou art is mine;
Our state cannot be severed; we are one,
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself’.

Or, as Dylan puts it:

‘This woman so crazy, I swear I ain’t gonna touch another one for years’

And, despite how she treats him, he will forgive her anything:

‘Let’s forgive each other darlin’ and go down to the Greenwood Glen.’

Whether it is the wiles of this ‘crazy woman’ or the deals of the Devil that has rendered the singer into a state where he has:

‘Cried the whole night long’

And where he considers that he has

‘Got troubles so hard, I just can’t stand the strain’

is anyone’s guess but, like so many other threads in Modern Times, there is a world full of strife here. And what about that other constant in the frame? That of the physical act of movement? Well, as it is in the beginning,

‘I rolled and I tumbled’

 so it shall be at the end:

‘I think I must be travellin’  on’ (or wrong, it matters not)

But more than that, for it is in the very sound of this song: like a mystery train hurtling over the tracks, in a hurry to arrive at some destination but never making it and thus constantly travelling on. Whether that train is the midnight train that passes lost John as he sits on the railroad track where the Southern passes the Yellow Dog, I am not too sure but all this rollin’ and tumblin’ is just one part of a whole that paints a picture of  humanity moving further away from what was ‘then’: i.e. a time and a place when the first seed of humanity was planted to a state that became, as in the following poem by one James Muir, the ‘Birth of the Blues’.


When he had planted that first seed
And sat him down to watch it grow,
Then kernelled in that primal deed
Was source of all his woe.

When he had ceased to hunt the beast
And gather fruit in fitting season,
When he had pawned tomorrow's feast
And love made prey to reason,

Had changed the thought of man for men
And made some royal, and some divine,
Had built and fenced a house, he then
Invented mine and thine.

He'd not have back what then was lost
Nor uproot the seed he started with,
But reaps its harvest, and counts the cost:
The Golden Age -- a myth.


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