Stuck Inside Rome with the Jerusalem Blues Again


By Larry Fyffe

Some listeners to Bob Dylan’s lyrics claim that ideas for his songs just pop into his head out of nowhere. Then again, some believe that most of his songs are about Jesus.

Apparently, many of the latter listeners also believe that the Old Testament of the Holy Bible refers to the not-yet-born Christian Messiah – His love for the Church faithful as allegorized in Song Of Solomon, for example.

The Jewish allegorical interpretation of the Song Of Solomon is that it’s about God’s enduring love for Israel, the rose of Sharon – Sharon being a plain in northern Palestine:

Thou hast ravished my heart my sister, my spouse
Thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes
With one chain of thy neck
(Song Of Solomon 4: 9)

A Gnostic married brother and sister act – Isis and Osiris – reveals itself. And
there is no doubt what the rose of Saron’s garden represents in Freudian terms. There in the song too is Yahweh, a jealous God – no wonder, his spouse does not unreservedly commit herself to Him:

A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse
A spring shut up, a fountain sealed
(Song Of Solomon 4:12)

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan recognizes a good source of image material when he finds one – as presented in the revised allegory in the song below:

As I went out one morning
To breathe the air around Tom Paine’s
I spied the fairest damsel
That ever did walk in chains
I offered her my hand
She took me by the arm
I knew that very instant
She meant to do me harm
(Bob Dylan: As I Went Out One Morning)

It’s an allegory oft repeated by Dylan in other songs – a damsel lures the narrator into her ‘garden’ in order to trap the freedom-loving artist inside the walls of social and religious conformity.

Below the song with a thousand faces – in one version, Robert Zimmerman does not want to get stuck inside seven-hilled Rome with the Jerusalem blues again because of lust lost:

She was the rose of Sharon from paradise lost
From the city of seven hills near the place of the cross ….
She had bells in her braids and they hung to her toes
But I kept hearing my name and I had to be movin’ on
I saw the screws break loose, saw the devil pound tin
I saw a house in the country being torn from within
I heard my ancestors calling from the land far beyond
(Bob Dylan: Caribbean Wind)

A Dylanesque theme – trapped within the walls of Puritan John Milton’s sexless prison all hell’s bound to break loose; only in the rose garden exists a place where there are no lies:

At dawn my lover ones to me
And tells me of her dreams
With no attempts to shovel the glimpse
Into the ditch of what each one means
At times I think there are no words
But these to tell what’s true
And there are no truth’s outside the gates of Eden
(Bob Dylan: Gates Of Eden)

With a bit of ironic black humour, Dylan pens his own version of the Song Of Solomon about the Rose Of Sharon. He tells it as plain as day in the lyrics of the Rose Of Acapulco:

I’m going down to Rose-Marie’s
She never does me wrong
She puts it to me plain as day
And gives it to me for a song ….
Well, sometimes you know when
the well breaks down
I just go pump on it some
Rose-Marie, she likes to go to big places
And just set there waitin’ for me to come
(Bob Dylan: Going To Acapulco)

A spoof of the ‘Song Of Solomon’, featuring Father Yahweh’s jealousy at being treated like a stranger by the rose of Sharon, straight-faced Bob Dylan’s not capable of resisting:

Oh, sister, when I come to lie in your arms
You should not treat me as a stranger
Our Father would not like the way that you act
You must realize the danger
(Bob Dylan: Oh Sister)


What else is on the site

1: 500 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews

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2 Responses to Stuck Inside Rome with the Jerusalem Blues Again

  1. Dennis Flaherty says:

    Thank you/ all very good but just want to say that the damsel figure in As I Went Out One Morning is more related to the Tom Paine award civil liberties banquet where Dylan was booed for sympathizing with Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963.

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    Yes indeed on the particular, often autobiographical, level
    but Bob Dylan’s artistic expressionism usually leads songs on to a more universal level as well, ie about individual freedom for example. The inanimate prize in ‘As I Went Out One Morning’ is personified by Dylan.

    Were a listener to know absolutely nothing about the awards banquet, the song nevertheless stands alone on the ‘higher’ level.

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