Christopher Ricks

In his recent book, Who Is that Man (which I’m thoroughly enjoying ), David Dalton refers to Christopher Ricks as “[t]he eminent scholar.”  And so he is.  I had the privilege of meeting Sir Christopher in 1983 when I took a class at Trinity College, Oxford.  It was a class on T.S. Eliot, and I had no idea who Christopher was.  I left for England on July 4th, the day Dave Righetti pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees.  I remember calling home before my flight left, to find out if Righetti nailed it, and he did.  I landed at Heathrow airport the morning of my first class with Ricks, and entered the class late.  Christopher seized it as a teaching moment putting me on the spot by saying  something to me like, “What do you think of all of us?”  Seized myself by embarrassment and paranoia, I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath like, “I don’t know . . . I don’t know any of you.”  He seemed to like that response because he was teaching “Eliot and Prejudice.” (At the time, Ricks was working with the widow Eliot on T.S.’s unpublished poetry.)

Once I settled myself in, the red gradually disappearing from my face, I noticed that Christopher was weaving in quotes from Bob Dylan while he spoke ( as I did above).  No one else seemed to be noticing this, so after class I went up to him and asked  him about it.  “You speak a lot of Dylan when you talk.”  Ah, glad you noticed.”  We went on to talk about Dylan, and I told him I brought my Dylan tapes but unfortunately forgot my tape player.  In a moment of generosity I still admire, Ricks gave me one of his (his only one?) to use the entire summer.  Naturally, when I did my final paper for the class, I chose a comparison of Dylan and Eliot.  Christopher’s loan of his player enabled me to listen to “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” so that I could fall into the song’s “hypnotic trance,” as Dalton calls it, and not just read the lyrics.

Thanks again, Christopher.

Ricks deserves credit for being the first brave scholar to place Dylan on in the pantheon of poetic studies.  He saw in Dylan someone whose way with words is ingenious.  His book, Dylan’s Visions of Sin, is a testament to Dylan’s genius and mastery of language.

For anyone who has the time, check out his lecture on the poetry of Bob Dylan:

Sir Christopher Ricks on the Poetry of Bob Dylan

by New College of the Humanities

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