Dylan's Visions of Sin by Christopher Ricks

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Bob Dylan's ways with words are a wonder, matched as they are with his music and verified by those voices of his. In response to the whole range of Dylan early and late (his songs of social conscience, of earthly love, of divine love, and of contemplation), this critical appreciation listens to Dylan's attentive genius, alive in the very words and their rewards.

"Fools they made a mock of sin." Dylan's is an art in which sins are laid bare (and resisted), virtues are valued (and manifested), and the graces brought home. The seven deadly sins, the four cardinal virtues (harder to remember?), and the three heavenly graces: these make up everybody's world -- but Dylan's in particular. Or rather, his worlds, since human dealings of every kind are his for the artistic seizing. Pride is anatomized in "Like a Rolling Stone," Envy in "Positively 4th Street," Anger in "Only a Pawn in Their Game" ... But, hearteningly, Justice reclaims "Hattie Carroll," Fortitude "Blowin' in the Wind," Faith "Precious Angel," Hope "Forever Young," and Charity "Watered-Down Love."

In The New Yorker, Alex Ross wrote that "Ricks's writing on Dylan is the best there is. Unlike most rock critics -- 'forty-year-olds talking to ten-year-olds,' Dylan has called them -- he writes for adults." In the Times (London), Bryan Appleyard maintained that "Ricks, one of the most distinguished literary critics of our time, is almost the only writer to have applied serious literary intelligence to Dylan ... "

Dylan's countless listeners (and even the artist himself, who knows?) may agree with W.H. Auden that Ricks "is exactly the kind of critic every poet dreams of finding."


About Christopher Ricks

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Christopher Ricks is a Warren Professor of the Humanities, codirector of the Editorial Institute at Boston University, and a member of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. He was formerly professor of English at the universities of Bristol and Cambridge.Ricks is the author of Milton's Grand Style (1963), Tennyson (second edition, 1989), Keats and Embarrassment (1974), The Force of Poetry (1984), T.S. Eliot and Prejudice (1988), Beckett's Dying Words (1993), Essays in Appreciation (1996), Allusion to the Poets (2002), and Reviewery (2003). He is also the editor of Poems of Tennyson (second edition, 1987), The New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse (1987), A.E. Housman: Collected Poems and Selected Prose (1988), Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909–1917 by T.S. Eliot (1996), The Oxford Book of English Verse (1999), Selected Poems of James Henry (2002), and Decisions and Revisions in T.S. Eliot (2003).
Published June 15, 2004 by Ecco. 528 pages
Genres: Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction, Biographies & Memoirs, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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His four thematic chapters “attempt to elucidate the difficult pleasure that is Dylan, with his nasal voice, oblique lyrics, complicated relation to race, and controversial appropriation of words and music.” Obviously passionate about his subject, on whom he teaches a course, Yaffe writes that “w...

Apr 05 2011 | Read Full Review of Dylan's Visions of Sin

Kirkus Reviews

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Ricks (Humanities/Boston Univ.) has penned tomes on Milton, Keats, Eliot, and Tennyson, but he has long been fascinated by Bob Dylan: His 1984 essay “Clichés and American English” was a much-lauded textual reading of the singer-songwriter’s work.

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BC Books

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Yes, he outright damned — for example, in addressing the Masters of War: Let me ask you one question Is your money that good Will it buy you forgiveness Do you think that it could Will never buy back your soul Continued on the next page Page 1 — Page 2 ...

Sep 28 2005 | Read Full Review of Dylan's Visions of Sin

The Wall Street Journal

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In last year's "Bob Dylan in America," Mr. Wilentz writes of how Mr. Dylan traded influences with the poet Allen Ginsberg, while for the English literary critic Christopher Ricks (who published his book "Dylan's Visions of Sin" in 2004) the man can stand "comparison with the very greatest poets."

May 14 2011 | Read Full Review of Dylan's Visions of Sin

Austin Chronicle

In May, while Dylan's people were putting the finishing touches on his upcoming minor league baseball stadium tour with Willie Nelson – making sure yogurt, raisins, and Wild Turkey are on the rider at Applebee's Park in Lexington, Ky., possibly – Christopher Ricks became professor of poetry at th...

Jul 02 2004 | Read Full Review of Dylan's Visions of Sin

The New York Review of Books

In the introduction to his new book, Marcus recalls seeing Dylan perform for the first time in the summer of 1963, “in a field in New Jersey.” Among the songs Dylan played was “With God on Our Side,” which opens: Oh my name it is nothin’ My age it means less Dylan, Marcus writes, did seem agele...

Nov 25 2010 | Read Full Review of Dylan's Visions of Sin

The Sunday Times

Viking £25 pp518Is Bob Dylan as great a poet as John Keats?

Sep 14 2003 | Read Full Review of Dylan's Visions of Sin

Carlin Romano

In addition to the Princeton historian Sean Wilentz's new book, Bob Dylan in America (Doubleday), PublicAffairs will in October release a collection of essays from Greil Marcus—dean of Dylan critics—titled simply Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010.

Sep 05 2010 | Read Full Review of Dylan's Visions of Sin

The Fortnightly Review

By ERIC ORMSBY [from Fine Incisions: Essays on Poetry and Place] – Whether writing on Tennyson, Eliot, Housman, Beckett, or many others, Christopher Ricks has always been a critic of exceptional learning and aplomb;

Jan 10 2011 | Read Full Review of Dylan's Visions of Sin

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