Dylan’s Auden on the Holy Innocents?

I’ve posted poetry a couple of times before related to the Feast of the Holy Innocents, whom Herod had murdered in an attempt to kill the Christ child. In one of those posts, I quoted from W.H. Auden’s For the Time Being, and in the other from Bob Dylan’s “Man of Peace” (from Infidels).

It now occurs to me that Dylan may have been alluding to Auden.

Here are the two passages. First, from Auden:

Somewhere in these unending wastes of delirium is a lost child, speaking of

Long Ago in the language of wounds.

To-morrow, perhaps, he will come to himself in Heaven.

But here Grief turns her silence, neither in this direction, nor in that, nor for any reason.

And her coldness now is on the earth forever.

Second, from Dylan:

Somewhere Mama’s weeping for her blue-eyed boy

She’s holding them little white shoes and that little broken toy

And he’s following a star

The same one them three men followed from the East

I hear that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace

Is “[s]omewhere” too slender a thread to hold the lines together? Maybe. On the other hand, we can be pretty sure that Dylan already had at least some familiarity with Auden long before he wrote “Man of Peace”: the title and first line of John Wesley Harding’s “As I Went Out One Morning” is commonly taken as an allusion to Auden’s poem “As I Walked Out One Evening.” The verbal allusion there consists only of one (altered) line. But in that instance Dylan uses the same meter for the lyrics as Auden does for the poem. That doesn’t occur here.

Still, the possibility is tantalizing, given that Auden’s moderate, centrist, secular, rational Herod is most certainly a “man of peace.” As Auden has him say in self-pitying justification for ordering the massacre, “I object. I’m a liberal. I want everyone to be happy”—as the ink dries on his death decree.[1]


1 A couple of modifications were made to this post shortly after publication.


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