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Bob Dylan - Desolation Row


En 1965, je n'étais pas bien vieux, mais Dylan lui en était déjà à son sixième album, Highway 61 Revisited, qui comporte cette composition, Desolation Row.
 


Un de ses poèmes les plus métaphoriques et parfois abscon, sur la peine de mort.

You read English : check out the fascinating interpretation of the song at the bottom of this page by a Mr 
Ramkrishna Atre !

 


Ici, la formule Desolation Row renvoie à la formule Death Row, le couloir de la mort. Desolation Row sera donc traduit par :


Bob Dylan - Le Couloir De La… Désolation

Ils vendent des cartes postales de la pendaison
Ils recolorent les passeports en marron
Le salon de beauté s'est rempli de marins
Le cirque s’est installé en ville

Voici venir le chef de la police, aveugle
Ils l'ont mis en transe
Une de ses mains tient le fildefériste
L'autre est dans sa poche

Et la brigade anti-émeute ne tient pas en place
Ils ont besoin d'un endroit où agir
Alors que ma douce et moi les observons ce soir
Depuis le Couloir de la Désolation

Cendrillon, elle semble si à l'aise
Ne jette la première pierre, sourit-elle
Et met ses mains dans ses poches
À la façon de Bette Davis

Et voici qu'arrive Roméo, il fait la tête
Tu m'appartiens je crois
On lui dit, tu t'es trompé d'endroit l'ami
Tu ferais mieux de t’en aller

Et le seul bruit qui persiste
Une fois les ambulances parties
Est celui de Cendrillon balayant
Le Couloir de la Désolation

La lune est maintenant presque cachée
Les étoiles commencent à se cacher
La diseuse de bonne aventure
A même rentré toutes ses affaires

Tous sauf Cain et Abel
Et le bossu de Notre Dame
Tout le monde fait l'amour
Ou alors attend la pluie

Et le Bon Samaritain s'habille
Il se prépare pour le spectacle
Il va au carnaval ce soir
Dans le Couloir de la Désolation

Maintenant Ophélie est sous la fenêtre
J’ai tant de craintes pour elle 
Le jour de ses vingt-deux ans
Et c'est déjà une vieille fille

Pour elle la mort est plutôt romantique
Elle porte une veste en métal
Sa profession est sa religion
Son péché c'est le vide de sa vie

Et bien que ses yeux soit fixés sur
Le grand arc-en-ciel de Noé
Elle passe son temps à épier
Le Couloir  de la Désolation

Einstein déguisé en Robin des bois
Avec ses souvenirs dans une malle
Est passé par ici il y a une heure
Avec son ami, un moine jaloux

Il avait l'air si parfaitement effrayant
Quand il a mendié une cigarette
Puis il a reniflé les canalisations
Et s'est mis à réciter l'alphabet

Là tu ne prêterais pas attention à lui
Mais il fut un temps ou il était célèbre 
Il jouait du violon électrique
Dans le Couloir de la Désolation

Le Docteur Filth tient sa parole
Dans une tasse en cuir
Mais tous ses patients asexués
Tentent de le faire exploser

Là son infirmière, une ratée du coin
Est responsable du trou au cyanure
Et est aussi chargée des fiches disant
Ayez pitié de son âme

Ils jouent  tous avec de pauvres sifflets
Vous pouvez les entendre siffler
Si vous penchez votre tête loin au dehors
Dans le Couloir de la Désolation

De l'autre côté de la rue ils ont cloué les rideaux
Ils se préparent pour le festin
Le Fantôme de l'Opéra
L’image parfaite du prêtre

Ils nourrissent Casanova à la cuillère
Pour lui donner plus d'assurance
Puis ils l’exécuteront, pleins d’assurance
Après l'avoir empoisonné de mots

Et le Fantôme crie à des filles maigres
Sortez de là si vous ne comprenez pas
Casanova est simplement puni pour être allé
Au Couloir de la Désolation

Là à minuit tous les policiers
Et toute l'équipe surhumaine
Sortent et encerclent tout ceux
Qui en savent plus long qu'eux

Puis ils les amènent à l'usine
Où la machine à crises cardiaques
Leur est entravée par les épaules
Et puis le kérosène

Est apporté des châteaux
Par des assureurs qui vont
Vérifier que personne ne s'échappe
Au Couloir de la Désolation

Gloire au Neptune de Néron
Le Titanic vogue à l'aube
Et tout le monde crie
Dans quel camp êtes-vous ?

Et Ezra Pound et TS Eliot
Se battent dans la cabine du capitaine
Tandis que des joueurs de calypso les moquent
Et que des pêcheurs tiennent des fleurs

Entre les fenêtres donnant sur la mer
Où de délicieuses sirènes nagent
Et où personne n'a trop à penser
Au Couloir de la Désolation

Oui j'ai bien reçu ta lettre hier
(au moment où la poignée de porte a cassé)
Quand tu m'as demandé comment j'allais
Était-ce bien une sorte de blague ?

Tous ces gens dont tu parles
Oui, je les connais, ils sont plutôt estropiés
J'ai dû remodeler leurs visages
Et leur donner à tous d'autres noms

Là je ne peux pas lire trop bien
Ne m'envoie plus de lettres non
Sauf si tu les expédies
Depuis le Couloir de la Désolation.

 

 

Album Cover :

 


Bob Dylan - Desolation Row

They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they're restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
'It takes one to know one,' she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he's moaning
'You Belong to Me I Believe'
And someone says, 'You're in the wrong place, my friend
You better leave'
And the only sound that's left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortunetelling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he's dressing
He's getting ready for the show
He's going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she's 'neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah's great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
You would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They're trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She's in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
"Have mercy on his soul"
They all play on penny whistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Across the street they've nailed the curtains
They're getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
In a perfect image of a priest
They're spoon feeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls
"Get outta here if you don't know
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row"

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody's shouting
"Which side are you on?"
And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fisherman hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
About the time the door knob broke
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can't read too good
Don't send me no more letters no
Now unless you mail them
From Desolation Row.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

An exhaustive analysis posted by a certain Ramkrishna Atre on Quora.com in 2014 :

Desolation Row moves beyond the poetic folk anthem (which it certainly is) in becoming an apocalyptic epic poem in the tradition of the modernist literary movement. Although many of Dylan’s best songs are poetic, few contain the depth of metaphor, and none contain the carefully structured depth and allusions of Desolation Row. Both through its lyrics and through its structure it resembles the writings of the epic poems of the modernism movement, and it is no coincidence that both T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound are alluded to during the course of the song. 
 ‘Desolation Row’ that Dylan refers to in the song is actually a metaphor for an enlightened state of mind or awareness of the world as it is, not as it is presented through the false lenses of religion or science. ‘Desolation Row’ is clearly represented as a place that some characters are at, “peeking into”, “trying to escape to”, or are “punished for going to.” However, this place should be seen as more than a physical place, and seen as a new state of mind, or way of thinking. It also should be clear that this state of mind, while enlightening, carries burdens with it. For Dylan, it appears that seeing the truth is not necessarily a ticket to happiness. In fact, the truth is often highly troubling. Dylan suggests that seeing reality as it really is, or reaching ‘Desolation Row’, is necessary to avoid impending disaster, but that it can be depressing because it involves the realization that many of the things that we have believed in or sought after are actually not the panaceas they appeared to be.

This can be seen in the first verse by Cinderella’s cynical response to the speaker saying “it takes one to know one.” Clearly Cinderella is no longer waiting for Prince Charming, but instead is taking matters in her own hands. She flirts rather than remaining passive and waiting for Prince Charming. The romantic conception of Cinderella is somehow perverted, and she has a new awareness of the world as she is left “sweeping up on Desolation Row’. The ideal image of romance is defeated, and there will be no storybook ending, but life goes on as she sweeps up the mess. Romeo enters and again is challenged by a speaker. Romeo, like Cinderella, also is in the wrong place because he also represents ideal notions of romance. Rather than speaking sweetly in verse he moans and chases Cinderella, rather than Juliet as he should. Things are not as they should be according to ideals. Conventions are being upset. ‘Desolation Row’ is not place where conventional endings are brought off, instead it is a place where there are recognitions of harsh realities. Romeo either cannot understand this or cannot accept this. He promptly takes the speakers advice and leaves by committing suicide, hence the sound of the ambulances. Romeo is an example of how there are painful realizations that come with the enlightenment found at ‘Desolation Row’.

The third verse gives a clear warning of what is to come if society continues on its current path. The “moon is almost hidden” and “the stars are beginning to hide.” This foreshadows a storm, which is a metaphor for the problems the world will encounter on its present course. “The fortune telling lady has even taken all her things inside” because she recognizes the pending storm/disaster. Those who are paying attention are taking precautions and shielding themselves from the coming problems. Cain and Able are not because they are too busy being involved in conflict to notice. This is brother against brother. It also may allude to war or conflict generally. Everyone else is “making love, or else expecting rain” because they are either too involved in their lives “making love” (or seeking personal gratification) to notice or see the storm brewing or “else expecting rain”, i.e. the fortune telling lady, and they are running from the coming storm. “The Good Samaritan” from the Biblical parable who represents the good, wise, and just person who is generally spat upon by society is getting ready for the carnival that he is going to attend on Desolation Row. The Good Samaritan is going to go into the approaching storm and deal with it in some way. Perhaps this suggests we should too, if we are doing the right thing. Rather than not realizing the problem, or running from it, we should acknowledge it and deal with it in some way.

The fifth verse brings in a discussion of the failings of modern science to resolve society’s problems. “Eisenstein disguised as Robin Hood” symbolizes modern science’s attempt or tendency to be hailed as the answer in our times. Robin Hood is the classic hero, while in addition, it is not insignificant to note that he ‘stole from the rich and gave to the poor.’ His friend the “jealous monk” symbolizes religion, Christianity, or perhaps more specifically Catholicism. Religion is jealous of science. Science has gradually replaced religion as the relied upon source for explaining the world’s problems. In the metaphor, science gets to play the hero, while religion merely tags along trying to keep up. The “memories in a trunk” may represent the past scientific tradition where science actually contributed to man’s enlightenment. However, now these times are in the past. Today, science “looks immaculately frightful” suggesting the potential dangers that science offers the world. The ‘He’ in this verse, goes off acting like a bum, rather than a hero, by “bumming cigarettes”, “sniffing drainpipes”, and stating its dogmatic findings in “reciting the alphabet.” It is unclear whether the ‘he’ is referring to “Einstein disguised as Robin Hood” or the “jealous monk”, but in either case the speaker suggests that he sees the flaws of science or religion, not the idealistic image that they would like us to see. The speaker comments “you would not think to look at him that he was famous long ago, for playing the electric violin on Desolation Row.” This suggests that you would not by looking at science or religion today that once it did a great deal in contributing to man’s enlightenment. The music of the electric violin on Desolation Row is a metaphor for something contributing to enlightenment. This verse clearly leaves us with the impression that science and religion will not resolve all of society’s problems.

The seventh verse talks about “the agents” and the “superhuman crew”, probably references to agents of the establishment and religious leaders, “rounding up everyone that knows more than they do” and punishing them. The instruments of punishment are “brought down from the castles” which seems almost like feudal imagery, the establishment attempting to control the masses. The insurance men, are those making sure that “no one is escaping to Desolation Row”. This suggests once again, that Desolation Row is a place (or more precisely a state of mind) where people learn the truth about the world, which is dangerous to the establishment that benefits from people buying into the status quo.
In the final verse, the speaker addresses an unnamed person saying that he received a letter from the person yesterday, “about the time the door knob broke”. The door knob represents the way out of Desolation Row, they way back to the conventional way of thinking, the way not concerned with the new awareness of reality. Now that the door knob broke, there is no going back to the conventional way of thinking. “When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke?” shows a general disdain for the conventional unenlightened way of thinking. The speaker is not interested in how he is doing according to the conventional way of thinking. The speaker is struggling with all of the problems of the world, and likely isn't feeling too good about things, but above all else, he is uninterested in how he is doing in the conventional way of defining well-being. “And all these people that you mention, yes I know them they’re quite lame” also refers to this change in the speaker’s priorities. The speaker does not care how people are doing in the conventional way of thinking (whether they bought a new car or house, or are happy according to the conventional way of thinking, etc.). “I had to rearrange their faces, and give them all another name” may be a veiled reference to including them in the ideas found in the song. “Right now, I can’t read too good, don’t send me no more letters, no” refers to the fact that the speaker doesn't want to hear any more about the concerns of the conventional way of thinking about life. He’s not interested, his perspective has changed, it’s no longer relevant to him. “Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row” means that the speaker is only listening to the enlightened perspective or awareness found in the state of mind of Desolation Row. It suggests that the writer has the ability to go to Desolation Row himself if he wants to. It hints at the spiritual journey that the speaker thinks people need to take to get to Desolation Row.

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