Bob Dylan And Cupid (Part III)

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By Larry Fyffe

From a Jungian point of view, the narrative song ‘Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts’ spins with ‘archetypes’ that pre-exist within the ‘collective unconscious’, in the ‘psyche’, of the human mind. But as I’ve pointed out, the song also has a number of external concrete sources.

Writes Bob Dylan ~. ‘The Odyssey’ is a great book whose themes have worked their way into the ballads of a lot of songwriters: ‘Homeward Bound’, ‘Green, Green, Grass of Home’, ‘Home on the Range’, and my songs as well (Bob Dylan: The Nobel Lecture). Captain Odysseus ties himself to the mast of the ship so he won’t be seduced away from his journey home; yet, at the same time, he gets to hear the enchanting songs that the mermaids are singing:

Well, I sailed through the storm
Strapped to the mast
Oh, but our time has come
I'm seeing the real you at last
(Bob Dylan: Seeing The Real You At Last)

It’s no stretch of the imagination at all to suggest that ‘Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts’ has roots that go back to Greek and Roman mythology. It’s quite simple to consider ‘The Jack of Hearts’ as a character analogous to Cupid: ‘Lily’ to Psyche; ‘Rosemary’ to Persephone; and ‘Big Jim’ to Hades.

Biblical analogies come to mind as well. There’s no problem in making such an interpretation except when the analyst claims that his or her conjectures are the closest to, or indeed, the correct explanation as to what the song is about. But the analyst has to stay within the boundaries of the text of the song that s/he’s looking at or listening to, in order for his/her interpretation to have any validity. Inserting too many of one’s own beliefs into the analysis, without sufficient textual evidence, is not going to convince other readers or listeners (at least those who do not share the same beliefs) that s/he is on the right track in so far as decoding the song goes.

The two plots vary of course, but as regards the comparison of the mythological story concerning “Cupid And Psyche”, and the narrative song that’s about “Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts”, there are indeed a number of similarities that stand out. Let’s tie ourselves to the mast, and have a listen ~ Lily and Psyche are both depicted as butterfly-like princesses. Lily is drawn to Jack; Psyche to Cupid. Both male characters play around with emotions associated with the heart. Jack and Cupid each go missing for a time.

Rosemary is the wife of Big Jim; Persephone, the wife of Hades. Rosemary sacrifices herself, and so does Peresphone though only for half of each year. Jim owns a diamond mine; Hades rules the mineral underworld. Both wives feel trapped. Rosemary thinks about stabbing Big Jim; Psyche comes close to stabbing Cupid. All this, and more – too much to be mere coincidence.

Writes Bob Dylan ~ When Odysseus in ‘The Odyssey’ visits the famed warrior in the underworld. Achilles – who traded a long life full of peace and contentment for a short one full of honour and glory – tells Odysseus it was all a mistake. ‘I just died, that’s all.’ There was no honour. No immortality. And that if he could, he would rather choose to go back and be a lowly slave to a tenant farmer on earth than what he is, a king in the land of the dead (Bob Dylan: The Nobel Lecture):

Well, I rush into your hallway
Lean against your velvet door
I watch upon your scorpion
Who crawls across your circus floor
Just what do you think you have to guard
You know I want your loving
Honey, but your're so hard ....
Achilles is in your alleyway
He don't want me here, he does brag
(Bob Dylan: Temporary Like Achilles)

Notes Frederick Nietzsche ~ Christianity becomes the official religion of the Roman Empire where it promotes Achille’s “slave morality” – promises a reward of happiness and peace, but only in Heaven after you die. The narrator in the lyrics below indirectly references Goddess Persephone who comforts the corn, but it’s pointed out that the life of a slave ain’t that great:

All the early Roman kings
In the early morning
Coming down the mountain
Distributing the corn
Speeding through the forest
Racing down down the track
You try to get away
They drag you back
(Bob Dylan: Early Roman Kings)

Lucifer’s given the best line in the following poem:

Here we remain secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven
(John Milton: Paradise Lost, Book I)

A neo-Romantic gnostic poet contends that Satan has done rather well for himself – orthodox Christianity marks the triumph of patriarchy, and denigrates ancient myths that feature the likes of Psyche, Lilith, and the great White Mother:

Mermaids will not be denied
The last bubbles of our shame
The Dragon flaunts an unpierced hide
The true fiend governs in God's name
(Robert Graves: Mermaid, Dragon, And Fiend)

All the top angel Gabriel gets to say to Lucifer when the rebellious angel’s discovered in Eden:

But wherefore thou alone? Wherefore with thee
Come not all hell broke loose?
(John Milton: Paradise Lost, Book IV)

Unlike Rosemary who’s standing on the gallows with her head in the noose, and doesn’t even blink (she’s as content as youthful Persephone used to be in the summertime before being taken prisoner by Hades), the narrator in the lyrics below is rather troubled:

Standing on the gallows with my head in a noose
Any minute now I'm expecting all hell to break loose
(Bob Dylan: Things Have Changed)

What else is on the site

You’ll find some notes about 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 all the 594 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 2000 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, please do drop me a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article.  Email Tony@schools.co.uk

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, links back to our reviews

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