Mother Of Muses

Album: Rough And Rowdy Ways (2020)
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Songfacts®:

  • "Muse" has become a general term for inspiration of all kinds, but the original Muses were specific characters from Greek mythology. There were nine of them, daughters of the god Zeus and of Mnemosyne. This makes Mnemosyne the "mother of Muses" Dylan is referring to in this song.

    In "Mother Of Muses," Dylan implores Mnemosyne for artistic inspiration. This is a convention that was also used in an Ancient Greek epic poem known as the Odyssey, the opening line of which reads:

    Sing for me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy

    Compare that to the opening verse of "Mother of Muses":

    Mother of Muses sing for me
    Sing of the mountains and the deep dark sea
    Sing of the lakes and the nymphs of the forest
    Sing your hearts out, all your women of the chorus
    Sing of honor and fate and glory be
    Mother of Muses sing for me


    This connection is by no means a stretch. In his Nobel Prize in Literature acceptance speech, Dylan said, "Specific books that have stuck with me ever since I read them way back in grammar school - I want to tell you about three of them: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey."

    "Mother of Muses" is a prayer for inspiration and artistic skill.
  • Sing of Sherman, Montgomery, and Scott.
    And of Zhukov, and Patton, and the battles they fought
    Who cleared the path for Presley to sing
    Who carved the path for Martin Luther King


    The first five names belong to generals. They are William Tecumseh Sherman (American Civil War), Bernard Montgomery (British officer who fought in World War I and II), Winfield Scott (Mexican-American and Civil Wars), Georgy Zhukov (Russian general who was instrumental in defeating the Nazis), and George S. Patton (World War II tank commander and perhaps the most famous American general of all time).

    "Presley" is obviously Elvis Presley, American music legend and one of the most important figures in the evolution of popular culture. Martin Luther King was a preacher, pacifist, and leader in the Civil Rights movement from 1955 to his assassination in 1968.
  • More lyrical references:

    I'm falling in love with Calliope
    She don't belong to anyone, why not give her to me?
    She's speaking to me, speaking with her eyes


    Calliope was one of the Muses. Her specialty was poetry. She's also the Muse that the poet Homer calls to in the opening lines of Odyssey and Iliad.

    Take me to the river, release your charms

    Al Green and Mabon Hodges wrote "Take Me To The River" in 1974. The song evokes a baptism.

    Wake me, shake me, free me from sin

    The Blues Project recorded "Wake Me, Shake Me" in 1966. Part of that band was Al Kooper, who frequently collaborated with Dylan, including adding the epic organ for "Like a Rolling Stone."

    Make me invisible, like the wind
    Got a mind that ramble, got a mind that roam
    I'm travelin' light and I'm a-slow coming home


    Dylan buried subtle song references all over the Rough and Rowdy Ways album, so there's cause to link these lyrics to his friend and fellow musician Leonard Cohen. Cohen had songs titled "Travelling Light," "Slow," and "Going Home."

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