Monday, August 30, 2010

... I saw St. Augustine

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive as you or me

28 August was St. Augustine's Day. I heard on college radio a cover of Dylan's "I dreamed I saw St. Augustine". The beginning couplet is patterned after, "I dreamed I saw Joe Hill". Joe Hill was an immigrant, and an union man. The copper bosses had him framed on a murder charge. In Utah, they use, a firing squad, and pin a paper heart on the condemned. Joe Hill was a martyr and a prophet for the working man. He wrote songs and organised.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you and me.

Augustine was the most read church father in the west, and uneclipsed, till Aquinas more than eight centuries later. From late antiquity till the high middle ages, Augustine was central to theological and intellectual study. His two best known works are the Confessions, a spiritual autobiography, and the long City of God, written after the turmoil of the Visigoth sack of Rome. Luther's and Calvin's misreading of Augustine were part of initial protestantism.

And I dreamed I was amongst the ones
That put him out to death

Augustine was not put to death. He died during the Vandal siege of Hippo. The singer may suppose the Vandals were involved in his death. The singer is uneasy and guilt ridden. Bob Dylan does not answer questions distinctly. A surreal lyric often has to be accepted without probing. It is an interesting song, full decipherment is not likely.

Dylan's lyrics inserts Augustine for Joe Hill. Dylan moved in and out of christianity from judaism. He never seemed to want, or present, a public persona. Certainty about cloudy words is really not the thing, you have to accept the song as a song.

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