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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
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The index to all the 594 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.
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