Bob Dylan: The Symbolism of The Lion

By Larry Fyffe

The United Kingdom Of Judah/Northern Israel takes the lion as its symbol, a strong country that ought not to be messed with – protected  by a wrathful God who punishes His own people for straying from His commandments:

Judah is a lion's whelp
From thy prey, my son, thou art gone up
He stooped down, he couched as a lion
And as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?

(Genesis 49: 9)

Poet William Blake presents a symbolic mythology that advocates a balance between fierceness (the tiger), and gentleness (the lamb). Caught in Hollywood, between the historical towns of Jerusalem and Babylon, between light-filled Heaven and dark-filled Earth, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan utilizes biblical, Blakean, and Shelleyan imagery:

There's a babe in the arms of a woman in a rage
And a longtime, golden-haired stripper on stage ....
There's a lion in the road, there's a demon escaped
There's a million dreams gone, there's a landscape being raped
As her beauty fades, and I watch her undrape
I won't but then again, maybe I might
Oh, if I could just find her tonight

(Bob Dylan: Where Are You Tonight)

Mystical Gnostic battles are going on – inwardly and outwardly – between the proud lion and the meek lamb:

It was gravity which pulled us down
And destiny which pulled us apart
You tamed the lion in my cage 
But it was no enough to change my heart
Now everything's a little upside down
As a matter of fact the wheels have stopped
What's good is bad, what's bad is good
You'll find out when you're on the top
You're on the bottom

(Bob Dylan: Idiot Wind)

In the lyrics below, Judah, the lion, resists the tyranny of modern quick-moving social values whilst the Christian lamb, albeit slowly, yields to them:

Your conscience betrayed you

When some tyrant waylaid you

Where the lion lays down with the lamb

I'd have paid off the traitor

And killed him much later

But that's just the way that I am

(Bob Dylan: No Time To Think)

Dylanesque double-edged New/Old Testament lines entangle – those who are arrogant enough to think they’re the Absolute One will pay the price:

Like the lion tears the flesh off the man
So can a woman who passes herself off as a man
They sang 'Danny Boy' at his funeral, and 'the Lord's Prayer'
Preacher talking 'bout Christ betrayed
It's like the earth opened, and swallowed him up 
He reached too high, was thrown back to the ground
You know what they say about bein' nice to the right people on the way up
Sooner or later you'll meet them comin' down 
Well, there ain't no goin' back when the foot of pride come down
Ain't no goin' back

(Bob Dylan: Foot Of Pride)

Dylan really socks it to those who are overly self-righteous in their righteousness. In the lyrics above, the singer, or at least his persona, recognizes that he, himself, is not immune from the hubris of haughtiness:

Let not the foot of pride come against me
And let not the hand of the wicked remove me
There are the workers of iniquity fallen
They are cast down, and shall not be able to rise

(Psalms 36: 11,12)

A sentiment expressed in the following song lyrics as well:

There's a wall of pride high and wide
Can't see over to the other side
It's such a sad thing to see beauty decay
One look at you, and I'm out of control
Like the universe has swallowed me whole

(Bob Dylan: Cold Irons Bound)

In Romantic poetry, a warning that nothing’s so permanent as change:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair
Nothing beside remains: Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

(Percy Shelley: Ozymandias)

As sure as the sky is blue, a lioness is hangin’ around, and she’s asking which side are you on:

There's a woman on my lap, she's drinking champagne
Got white skin, got assassin's eyes
I'm looking up at sapphire-tinted skies 
I'm well dressed , waiting on the last train ....
Ain't no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag
Only a fool in here would think he's got something to prove

(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.  It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

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.







One comment

  1. “I’ve been trying to get as far away from myself as I can” alludes to “And the only chance I got ….is by staying as far away as possible from you, and the police….”, said by Humphrey Bogart (Sam Spade) in the movie The Maltese Falcon.

    The horror, the horror! …. An earlier post claims ‘Mr. Jinx ‘ does not refer to the cartoon cat because of the inclusion of the title of ‘Mr.”, but he indeed is referred to as just that in a number of episodes.

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