Butterflies continue to fly from septuagenarian Bob Dylan’s cocoon. Last week the Bard of Duluth released yet another song ‘I Contain Multitudes’ after his long hiatus. The opening lyrics piqued our curiosity:
Today and tomorrow and yesterday, too,
The flowers are dyin’ like all things do,
Follow me close, I’m going to Ballinalee,
I’ll lose my mind if you don’t come with me.
Why does Ballinalee, a remote village in County Longford in the Irish midlands, feature in the song? One of our correspondents has a theory.
He suggests it is a reference to the early nineteenth century, Irish-language poet Antoine Ó Raifteirí’s (Anthony Raftery) poem ‘The Lass from Ballynalee.’ Raftery was a contemporary of James Clarence Mangan, beloved of Irish songster Shane MacGowan, the resident Bard of Ballsbridge.
Rumour has that the Bard of Duluth met the Bard of Ballsbridge for dinner in the Intercontinental Hotel a few years ago and talked poetry all night.
Conceivably, the Bard of Ballsbridge, who is a great admirer of James Clarence Mangan, suggested his fellow Bard take a look at Raftery, who was blinded as a child after a dose of smallpox. We’re actively pursuing comment from the Ballsbridge citadel.
It’s known that Dylan spent three days in Ardmore Studios, Bray, during the same trip, working on an as-yet unnamed project with his touring band. Was he inspired by Shane to write some new songs and then record them straight away?
The link might sound fanciful, but another online sleuth has noticed that a line in the final verse of the same song, “Keep your mouth away from me”, matches a line from Lord Longford’s translation of the seventeenth-century Irish poem, “Keep your Kiss to Yourself”.
The latter is anthologised in Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella’s An Duanaire, 1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed (Bord na Gaeilge, 1981). Did the Bard of Ballsbridge reach to his shelf and grab a copy to present to Bob on their meeting? And what did Bob give Shane?
Our operatives are tracking down the book to check if Raftery’s poem is in there too.
We know that in recent decades Dylan has littered his lyrics with quotations and allusions to sources as diverse Ovid, Chaucer and Homer and the obscure Civil-war poet, Henry Timrod, as well as the usual panoply of blues and folk sources, often within the same stanza. Can we now add an anthology of translations of Irish-language verse to his reading list?
Or maybe Bob actually sings, ‘I’m goin’ to Balian Bali’. He’s off surfing, and we’re barking up the wrong tree.
If you can help solve this mystery leave a comment below.
Here is the Raftery poem itself:
The Lass from Bally-na-Lee
(translated from the Irish)
On my way to Mass
To say a prayer,
The wind was high
I met a maid
With wind-wild hair
And madly fell
In love again.
I spoke with learning,
Charm and pride
And, as was fitting,
‘My mind is now
So walk with me
Given the offer,
I didn’t delay,
And blowing a laugh
At this willing young lass,
I swung with her over
The fields through the day
Till shortly we reached
The rump of the house.
A table with glasses
And drink was set
And then says the lassie,
Turning to me:
‘You are welcome, Raftery,
So drink a wet
To love’s demands