Bob Dylan And The Symbolism Of The Mirror

by Larry Fyffe

In ancient mythology, Narcissus observes his own reflection in the water, and falls in love with it; he’s unable to see, to put it in the secular terms of modern psychology, beyond the physical plain of his own selfish interests into the subconscious of his mind that once was thought of as an external ‘spiritual world’. In other words, he’s not considerate of the physical presence of others, not at all altruistic.

In the song lyrics below, Louise is compared to a mirror that reflects the physical rather than the spiritual aspect of human existence; she’s not like Johanna:

Louise,  she's all right, she's just near
She's delicate, and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all too concise, and too clear
That Johanna's not here
(Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna)

Double-edged, and full of irony, Bob Dylan’s lyrics be; the line drawn between the physical and spiritual levels of Being is not concise and clear in them. The two levels are tangled up with one another:

When you wake up in the morning, baby, look inside your mirror
You know I won't be next to you, you know I won't be near
I'd just be curious to know if you can see yourself as clear
As someone who has had you on his mind
(Bob Dylan: Mama, You've Been On My Mind)

A Blakean theme that’s repeated in the following lyrics:

The palace of mirrors
Where dog soldiers are reflected
The endless road, and the wailing of chimes
The empty room where her memory is protected
Where the angels' voices whisper to the souls of previous times
(Bob Dylan: Changing Of The Guards)

In the lyrics below, the artist fears he’ll get overly distracted on the physical level, most likely by a beautiful female, and thereby abandon his attempts to reveal the surrealistic side of one’s nature:

I come back to the town from the flaming moon
I see you in the streets, I begin to swoon
I love to see you dress before the mirror
Won't you let me in your room one time 'fore I finally disappear?
(Bob Dylan: Abandoned Love)

To make things more confusing, the Jungian image of the Great White Mother is watching from above:

Equality, liberty, humility, simplicity
You glance through the mirror
And there's eyes staring clear
At the back of your head as you drink
And there's no time to think
(Bob Dylan: No Time To Think)

So is the ghost of the late god of Corn, Elvis Presley:

"Go back and see the gypsy
He can move you from the rear
Drive you from your fear
Bring you through the mirror
He did it in Las Vegas
And he can do it here"
(Bob Dylan: Went To See The Gypsy)

The Titanic performer is no longer physically present, but recordings of his singing are:

Chilling wind as sharp as a razor blade
House on fire, debts unpaid
Gonna stand by the window, gonna ask the maid
Have you seen dignity?
Drinking man listens to the voices he hears
In a crowded room full of covered up mirrors
Looking into the lost forgotten years
For dignity
(Bob Dylan: Dignity)

To complicate matters, the powers-that-be in a secularized society out-do religions of the ‘otherworldly’ type by setting up false reflections of the dual aspects of existence:

He moved across the mirrored room
'Set it up for everyone', he said
Then everyone commenced to do what they were doing
Before he turned their heads
Then he walked up to a stranger, and asked him with a grin
'Could you kindly tell me friend, what time the show begins?'
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

Especially on the capitalist ship of economics, the crew is encouraged to forget that its members are mortal, and that there’s any need for altruism:

We live in a political world
Where mercy walks the plank
Life is in mirrors, death disappears
Up the steps into the nearest bank
(Bob Dylan: Political World)

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

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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