SUBMITTED BY Graley Herren
I have an update/correction to make to my article, “Young Goodman Dylan: Chronicles at the Crossroads,” which appeared in Volume 2.1 (Summer 2020) of your journal. On pages 82-83, I cite a passage from Chronicles in which Dylan quotes from Archibald MacLeish’s play Scratch – or misquotes, as I claim in the article. Here is precisely what I wrote:
But then Dylan inserts an ellipsis and continues on with the quotation: “…powerful nations suddenly, without occasion, without apparent cause…decay. Their children turn against them. Their women lose their sense of being women. Their families disintegrate” (Chronicles 124). Remarkably, none of this second half of the quotation appears in the play Scratch. My research so far has uncovered no source. I frankly don’t know where Dylan got this quotation. It smacks of the apocalyptic rhetoric of Hal Lindsey, but the passage may be entirely fabricated. In any case, it doesn’t come from Scratch.
The mystery has been solved by the Bob Dylan Center. I was fortunate enough to tour the magnificent new facility on June 3, 2022, during my trip to Tulsa for the excellent “Dylan and The Beats” conference, sponsored by the Institute for Bob Dylan Studies. While perusing one of the display cases, I read with great interest a typed letter sent by MacLeish to Dylan. At the time he wrote the message, the elder playwright still held out hope that his collaboration with the young songwriter might come to fruition. In fact, MacLeish even offers some possible lines for the song “Father of Night,” adding the caveat: “Does that say anything to you? If it’s of any use, take it—rearrange it as you please: it’s yours.” Of course, Dylan would eventually pull out of the Scratch collaboration, using his original compositions instead as part of the album New Morning.
On the first page of the letter, in an effort to nudge Dylan in a darker direction with his songs, MacLeish quotes a lengthy passage from the working draft of Scratch, and it does indeed include, verbatim, the passage that I referred to above. This passage does not appear in the final published script, so Dylan must have been quoting from an earlier draft he retained from that period, or perhaps even from the very letter on display at the Dylan Center.
Either way, it is now clear where the text in question comes from, and it is equally clear that my speculation about it being fabricated was wrong. I would appreciate it if the editors would publish this letter and belatedly set the record straight.
My thanks to the curators of the Dylan Center for sharing this artifact with the public. These are precisely the sorts of revelations and clarifications we can hope to benefit from in the future as Dylan scholars.