Dylan and pity


  • David Punter University of Bristol




William Blake, Bob Dylan, pity, water imagery, emotive language


Pity is a huge and complex human emotion; among its elements are a kind of universal pity, more specific pity for the suffering fellow-creature, and self-pity. Bob Dylan’s lyrics constitute a remarkable address to these issues, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, in specific contexts: the condition of American history, the plight of the immigrant, all manner of relations between the powerful and the powerless. Pity also confuses subject and object: are we in need of pity, or are we more in need of the necessity of displaying it? This article seeks to describe some of the complexities of Dylan’s work on these topics through particular attention to ‘Tryin’ to Get to Heaven’, ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’, ‘I Pity the Poor Immigrant’, ‘Spanish Harlem Incident’, ‘No Time to Think’, ‘Tight Connection to my Heart’ and ‘Desolation Row’.

Author Biography

David Punter, University of Bristol

David Punter is Professor of English at the University of Bristol. He is the author of some 20 books on romantic, Gothic, modern and contemporary literature, including Metaphor (2007), Modernity (2007) and Rapture (2009). He is also a widely published poet, and currently reads his own work with a poetry and music ensemble, Smoke and Mirrors.


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How to Cite

Punter, D. (2014). Dylan and pity. Popular Music History, 8(2), 141–154. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.v8i2.141