How Bob Dylan’s ‘Tarantula’ secured his fame with new generations

Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

Bob Dylan has been an American icon since his first album, “Bob Dylan,” was released in 1963. In fact, in 2016 he became the first musician to win a Nobel Prize in literature for his lyrics.

Dylan was also mentioned in the “Times 100: Most important people of the century” list, where he was called a “master poet,” and his impact on American music and culture was recognized as an extreme influence.

Written in 1966 and published in 1971, Dylan released a work of experimental prose poetry titled “Tarantula.” With only 137 pages of Dylan’s obscure thought process and poetic language, any reader could easily fall head first into the book.

While there is not a consistent plot throughout the novel, each prose consists of a short storyline ranging from poetic descriptions of nature, to comical narratives from the perspective of a “madman.”

 Dylan focuses on human life and emotion through his writing by creating almost absurd scenarios, and focusing greatly on the reaction of his characters and the responses that arise.

This collection of poetry showcases Dylan’s imaginative folk perspective while also encompassing the messy ways of life while criticizing the ways of the world. By doing so in quick and open-ended poems, he often leaves the reader to take away their own meaning from the writing.

The writing itself is rather experimental and untraditional. Dylan uses many open-ended story lines, references various historical or made up characters and uses unusual punctuation. Yet, he manages to still create an entirely captivating tale.

[Photo of “Tarantula,” a prose poetry collection by Bob Dylan.]
Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

Most of the prose ends with a letter, written and sent to unknown characters. These sections are where the most captivating lines are derived from.

“You are human – sad and silly as it might seem,” Dylan wrote. 

Dylan’s writing is often focused around human nature and articulates the struggles and redemptions that come with life.

The push for individualism is consistent throughout these poems. Dylan often references music as his main source of inspiration and expression. 

Despite there being no consistent plot, Dylan focuses on human nature through his writing by creating almost absurd scenarios, and focusing greatly on human reaction of the characters and the emotions that arise.

Dylan’s writing can be described as objective, yet still empathetic. He reminds the reader consistently that life is meant to be lived, not rushed. 

He implores the reader to take part in events and learn news skills that are otherwise deemed unnecessary, like creating music or art.

While this short collection of poetry is filled with obscure verses and laughs, it remains the soulful depiction of Dylan’s beliefs. A multitude of insightful narratives can be found within the pages of this book. With their untraditional form and satirical elements, readers can often find many meanings through Dylan’s words, his work is by no means meant to be literal.

Dylan also adds an element of criticism to his poems, mostly alluding to government leaders and those who reject the individuality that Dylan pushes. 

“This land is your land and this land is my land – sure – but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway,” Dylan wrote.

The criticism alluded throughout this book is a point that is still made by more modern writers. Dylan’s craving for the understanding of human nature and human connection to music and art was rather controversial at the time it was published. Musicians taking a stance was not taken seriously, though now this take is more commonly supported.

A 1971 New York Times article said “Dylan doesn’t belong to the history of literature”, though time would prove to alter this opinion.

Dylan’s lyrics and poems caught the attention of millions and has left a ripple throughout the years, solidifying his mark on American culture and literature for both his lyrics and poems.

While Dylan is older now, his legacy remains as strong as ever.

Timothée Chalamet is set to play Bob Dylan in an upcoming film titled “Going Electric,” which has been in the works since 2020. Variety magazine informs readers to expect filming to begin this year. With the intertwining of an aging legacy and one that is just beginning, Dylan’s voice is sure to make its comeback within the younger generations.

“Tarantula” is just one product of Dylan’s unique mindset and creativity. His lyrics and poems have stood the test of time. Those looking for a short and entertaining book written by one of the most influential artists of all time will find just that in this collection of poetry.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Don Kingfield

    Take me down, Little Susie
    Take me down

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