Sage advice from Robert Zimmerman from Mr. Tambourine Man (1964):
"...Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow."
So put me down as a YES on Dylan's honor. He really is a great writer. Chronicles is excellent. But it's for his poetic lyrics that he will be rightfully remembered. Literary critic Christopher Ricks Dylan's Visions of Sin persuaded me that Dylan can hold his own with writers from Shakespeare to Browning, to Keats. As one reviewer, Andrew Motion in the Guardian writes:
Dylan's Visions of Sin is a labour of love, and a proof that he's won (though not by himself) the argument about his man. These days no one would think - would they? - that it's doubtfully transgressive or suspiciously cool to call Dylan a genius. Perhaps for this reason one of the most exciting things about the book is its air of vindication. "I've told you before, and now I'm going to tell you good," it seems to say at the outset, before unspooling at great length and with a mixture of skittishness and seriousness heady even by Ricks's standards.
The rewards are just as one would expect: a bracing attention to artfulness, a wonderful sensitivity to nuance, and a particularly brilliant sympathy with the purpose and effect of Dylan's rhymes. The big figures in Ricks's pantheon - Empson, Eliot and (yes) Keats - are repeatedly invoked to give a context other than the ones in which Dylan usually appears, and generous attention is given to less familiar songs as well as the more famous ones.
The overall structure, too, is appropriately fixed and capacious: realising that "the word 'sin' haunts [Dylan's] songs" Ricks gives seven chapters on the deadly sins themselves, four on the virtues, and three on the heavenly graces. In each case, he discusses lyrics that illustrate the theme in question - "Song to Woody", "Positively 4th Street", "Blind Willie McTell" and "Handy Dandy" for envy, "Gotta Serve Somebody" and "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" for covetousness, and so on. Just as the governing idea of embarrassment in his Keats book allowed him to keep a clear end in view and also to wander, so these divisions maintain a definite shape while making space for diversions, asides and elaborations.