“The Low Hum in Syllables and Meters”: Blues Poetics in Bob Dylan’s Verbal Art


Applying the linguistic category of style as put forth by Dell Hymes, this article seeks to identify the poetic devices borrowed by Bob Dylan from lyrics of traditional blues masters. The author highlights rhetorical form as it is connected to personal and cultural meaning in Blind Willie McTell’s “Broke Down Engine,” as recorded both by McTell and later by Dylan. Among the stylistic operations examined, we find a description of the phenomenon of songfulness as defined by Lawrence Kramer, metaphoric designs of Southern American English, expressive grammar deviations, and the syntactic formulation the author defines as “binary blues clauses,” commonly used in the AAB blues structure. The study is illustrated with a close analysis of language and genre use in Dylan’s “10,000 Men.”

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