Bob Dylan’s Yellow Hair

by elmergantry

Another aim of this Blog is to draw together some of the various posts I have placed on other sites (particularly Michael Gray’s Bob Dylan site and his new Outtakes site) over the last few years.

These included posts on subjects like Dylan’s reference to ‘Yellow Hair’ in ‘Angelina’ and to ‘Golden Locks’ in ‘Changing of the Guards’ on Street Legal. This post arose from Michael”s discussion of Kenneth Patchen’s influence on Dylan in the Encyclopedia, in which he suggested that the latter may have drawn the lines about ‘yellow hair’ from Patchen’s work.

It seemed to me, however, that it was more likely that this line came rom the folk tradition, through lines like ‘and he took some strands of her long yellow hair’ from the song, ‘Bows of London’, which Martin Carthy has recorded.

Or from lines such as:

Oh ragged are your stockings love
And stubbly is your cheek and chin
And tousled is that yellow hair
That I saw late yestre’en

from “Jack Orion’ recorded by Bert Jansch.

There are also the lines:

“he took him by his long yellow hair,
And also by his feet.”

from “Love Henry’ which Bob recorded himself.

I think these sources also inspired the lines about ‘long golden locks’ in the same song, although it is possible that this line owes a debt this poem by the English poet, George Peele:

His golden locks time hath to silver turned;
O time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing!
His youth ‘gainst time and age hath ever spurned,
But spurned in vain; youth waneth by increasing:
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, love, are roots and ever green.

His helmet now shall make a hive for bees,
And, lovers’ sonnets turned to holy psalms,
A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees,
And feed on prayers, which are age his alms:
But though from court to cottage he depart,
His saint is sure of his unspotted heart.

And when he saddest sits in hmely cell,
He’ll teach his swains this carol for a song–
“Blessed be the hearts that wish my sovereign well,
Cursed be the souls that think her any wrong.”
Goddess, allow this aged man his right,
To be your beadsman now that was your knight.’

Incidentally, this poem was set to music by the great Elizabethan English composer, John Dowland  & a version of this can be heard here: