Bob Dylan, Shakespeare and Psalms

Christchurch Xscape
6 min readJun 12, 2022
Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash

Dante Alighieri in Italy, Robert Burns in Scotland, Shakespeare in England. These are some of the names that come to my mind when I think about poets and literature artists. I know who they are, but don’t ask me to recite one of their poetries, I’ve never been good at memorising sonnets.

When, at school (almost ten years ago now) I had to study literature — whether Italian or foreign — I never bothered that much. Maybe it was because I was young and not particularly interested in studying literature, and because I could not relate to those stanzas and prose. To be honest, I found it quite pointless to study rhetoric figures of speech, when all I wanted to do was to be with my mates. Nevertheless, I’ve always been fascinated and amazed by the ability of these artists to describe their emotions and scenarios they see, in such a creative way.

This being said, it would be fair to say that, despite not being an amazing literature student, I always liked certain technicalities that are common in both literature and rap. Playing with words, metaphors, alliterations, rhymes, chiasms, analogies, similitudes have always been small items in my bag of the things I like — please notice the metaphor, thanks. It is not a case that a poetry is considered so when it has all these decorations to embellish it, like all those sugar and cream garnishments on a cake — Shakespeare would be proud of me after this similitude.

Leaving jokes and my poor poetry skills aside now, I think the main problem why I never understood the utility of reading what artists perceive, feel and experience is because I could never ever relate to them. I could never read them as being mine, especially at a young age. Whether a poem is the expression of love or depression, strength or weakness, a victorious hymn or a sad song of defeat, if those lines are not relatable to the readers, they may be wonderful words, but words that stick on paper only. They lose their vitality.

I think the importance of communicating something and the access to its message are what make a simple work — whether in literary, visive or sound form — a piece of art. Of course, without entering in the discussion that art needs to be attentively studied and analysed in order to be appreciated and to get its message.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” says Shakespeare in Sonnet 18.

A wonderful sonnet, but that requires study to understand its real beauty. For instance, if you dedicate this line in Great Britain, “where summer is wonderful, a fairly warm temperature with a gentle fresh breeze caressing your skin, you will surely nail your beloved heart”. Now, try to say to your beloved, “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” in Sicily, maybe in August, maybe with more than 40°C in the shadow. Either your relationship is very strong, or you are particularly annoyed with your beloved and you want him/her to know, but you want to keep the magic of the romanticism. However, let’s not take away the romance of Shakespeare from his poetry. I am sure, wherever you are from, whether you are in summer love, or your summer season is sadly at the end, by reading Shakespeare’s poetry, you’ll surely think about someone whom you particularly love. This is the beauty of art, a message to deliver, a story to tell, an emotion to feel that we can borrow from someone who is expressing it in the different shades of art, even if sometimes they could be difficult to understand. Something that unites and yet very personal.

It does not matter whether these emotions are “positive” or “negative”, we always look for something — or someone — that represents our emotional status. It’s not a case that singers such as Taylor Swift, Adele, Lana Del Rey are so famous and widespread across modern generations. They are able to give a voice to their feelings and I am sure that it was true also for previous generations through The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Queen, Elvis, Tupac and many others. I am not saying who is a good artist or not, and this is not a blog about talents; the point is that an artist is defined as such when he is able to speak into, for and with someone.

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”” Psalm 42:1–2

This was written well long before Bob Dylan, and yet, I think it can easily be exchanged by one of his songs. It’s a psalm, a musical psalm that captures the brokenness of a soul. A soul that longs to die, and yet, it does it in such a poetic way. The Bible itself is full of art, art that needs to be studied in order to be fully grasped.

The book of Psalms is probably the main book in the Bible in terms of artistic language. From poetries, to songs; words of joy and laments for sorrows. A book where you can always find yourself in. Whether you are going through a summer season like Shakespeare, or a blue period like Picasso, in the Psalms you will surely find an expression of how you feel.

As I am writing these lines, I have in front of me a Bible that on the first cover lists a number of Psalms. “Which Psalm shall I read when I…” and the list has twelve Psalms, each one for a different circumstance. For forgiveness, Psalm 39; when afraid, Psalm 91; thankfulness, 100; lack of confidence, 118; need of help, 3; feeling unloved, 23. These are very tiny examples of the wide range of emotions that the artworks of Psalms work within.

However, all of these poetries/songs have a commonality. God is at the centre. It does not matter if it is a cry for help, or a shout of joy, the authors of the Psalms want the reader to know that God is not the frame of the picture, nor outside the picture. God is within the picture and, sometimes, God is the picture.

At the end of the day, all the poets, songwriters, artists have a muse, and God is definitely who inspired the psalmists.

The book of Psalms is a brilliant collection of literary art able to hit you in whatever season of life you are, with one single but powerful message enriched and embellished with marvellous figures of speech, God is within the picture.

Metaphors, similitudes, chiasms, metrics point all toward that message. Often it is clear, sometimes it takes a more attentive reading, but it is there, knitted by the skilled hands of David, Solomon and many other authors, who going through different seasons of life, found their hope, assurance, joy and comfort in God. Now, like every piece of art, they are out there, for you. Dig in the beauty of the imagery and words of the Psalms, make them yours as they can be very relatable to you and use them in all the seasons of your life, bearing in mind that God is within the picture.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge.

3 They have no speech, they use no words;

no sound is heard from them.

4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

6 It rises at one end of the heavens

and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19:1–6

Matteo Garofano