Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Thinking)

By Peter Vernezze; Carl J. Porter | Go to book overview

8
We Call It a Snake: Dylan
Reclaims the Creative Word

RUVIK DANIELI and ANAT BILETZKI

“Man Gave Names to All the Animals” is the penultimate song on Bob Dylan's 1979 album Slow Train Coming, which is generally considered to have heralded the Jewish-born songwriter's embrace of Jesus Christ and Christianity. Each verse consists of three lines describing an animal and a fourth, payoff line giving the animal's name, followed by a simple, catchy chorus. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that some have mistaken this deceptive song for a child's ditty, a rock-era variation on “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” But to ascribe merely a juvenile intent to “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” is to miss this metaphysical poet at his most profound, just as he comes to question the very possibility of conveying his meaning—or any, for that matter.

Even without taking into account the personal circumstances surrounding the making of the album, Dylan's so-called conversion to Christianity, his inspiration for the song clearly seems to have come from the Bible; to be more specific, from the Old Testament creation story. The chorus almost literally echoes the verses in Genesis (2:19–20):

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the
field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto the man to
see what he would call them: and whatsoever the man called every
living creature, that was the name thereof. And the man gave
names
to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of
the field.

-90-

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