Bob Dylan and Thomas Hardy part XVI

By Larry Fyffe

As previously noted, forerunners of the characters in the narrative song “Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts” by Bob Dylan include:

  • Jim the miner; Edward the businessman; Rosemary the singer
  • Jack the rum-runner; young Lily; Louis the Lug
  • Aholah; Aholibah; prophet Ezekiel

As in the song mentioned above, playing cards are used as  symbols in “Tess Of The d’Ubervilles”, a novel by Thomas Hardy.

There’s the alliterative depiction of two sisters:

…..a dark virago, Car Day,  dubbed Queen of Spades, till lately a favourite of d’Urberville’s;

Nancy, her sister, nicknamed the Queen of Diamonds ….

And the image of the blood drops:

The oblong white ceiling with the scarlet blot in the midst had the appearance of a gigantic Ace of Hearts

In the novel, Thomas Hardy works in quotes from the purplish and overly-alliterative works of a contemporary Decadent poet:

Behold, when they face is made bare, he that loved there shall hate
They face shall be no more fair at the fall of thy fate
For thy life shall fall as a leaf, and be shed as the rain
(Charles Swinburne: Not As With Sundering Of The Earth)

It be Angel, Alec, and Tess in the  novel; in the  Dylan song, the main characters are Rosemary and Lily; Jim and Jack – the Swinburnean alliterative phrasing toned down a bit :

She fluttered her false eyelashes, and whispered in his ear
"I'm sorry, darling, that I'm late", but he didn't seem to hear
He was staring into space, over at the Jack of Hearts
"I know I've seen that face before", Big Jim was thinking
to himself
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack of Hearts)
Cited below is another verse by the Decadent:
Thou wert fair in the fearless old fashion
And thy limbs as melodies yet
And move to the music of passion
With lithe and lascivious regret
What ailed us O God to desert you

(Charles  Swinburne: Delores)

Akin in sentiment and style is the song beneath:

With your mercury mouth in the missionary times
And your eyes like smoke, and your prayers like rhymes
And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes
Oh, who among them do they think could bury you
(Bob Dylan: Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands)

Of course there are always literary critics:

In short, is a flower, Rosemary
Or  Lily, dead or alive, worth
The excrement of one sea-bird
Is it worth a solitary candle drip
(Arthur Rimbaud: On The Subject Of Flowers)


In case you missed it:

Bob Dylan and Friends: a series on the musicians that Bob has played with and musicians he clearly likes.

If you’d like to write for Untold Dylan, please email

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