After yesterday’s jeremiad about the Pat Robertson brand of Christianity, it was good to be reminded by my friend Paul Zahl of what Charles Dickens found when he looked over the shoulder of one of his characters as she gazed into “the eternal book”:

Harriet complied and read — read the eternal book for all the weary,
and the heavy-laden; for all the wretched, fallen, and neglected of
this earth — read the blessed history, in which the blind, lame,
palsied beggar, the criminal, the woman stained with shame, the shunned
of all our dainty clay, has each a portion, that no human pride,
indifference, or sophistry through all the ages that this world shall
last, can take away, or by the thousandth atom of a grain reduce . . .

— from Dombey and Son

That quote in turn made me think of these lines from Bob Dylan’s “Chimes Of Freedom”, whose rhythm and language are so oddly like those of Dickens, with a Beat twist to them:

Through the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales
For the disrobed faceless forms of no position
Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts
All down in taken-for-granted situations
Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute
Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute
For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing . . .

Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Dylan may have had the eternal book in mind when he wrote this, with that “cathedral night” and that climactic image of the “hung-up person”, a bit of Beat lingo which, in this context, puts one in mind of some later lines he wrote:

There’s a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin’ out of a boxcar door,
You didn’t know it, you didn’t think it could be done, in the final end he won the war
After losin’ every battle.