Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts: revealing the source of this and other Dylan songs.


by Larry Fyffe

Likely unknown to many of our readers, a number of songs written by Bob Dylan have a connection to Canadian geography and history.

Here’s a spiritual that goes back to the time of the formal ending of slavery in the British Empire, whereby blacks seek to escape to Canada from slavery in the United States:

No more, no more
No more auction block for me
Many thousands gone
No more driver’s whiplash for me
No more, no more
No more driver’s whiplash for me
Many thousands gone
(No More Auction Block)

The somewhat humourous lyrics by Bob Dylan about the exploitation of wage-labour is inspired by the Canadian song:

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel, he hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin if you’re havin’ a good time
There he fines you every time you slam the door
(Bob Dylan: Maggie’s Farm)

The following folksong of the latter 19th century about lumber camps, based on a true story, comes out of New Brunswick, Canada:

There’s danger on the ocean where the waves
roll mountains high
There’s danger on the battlefield where the
angry bullets fly
There ‘s danger in the lumber woods for death
lurks sullen there
And I have fell a victim into that monstrous snare
(Peter Emberley)

Dylan replaces the danger of tree branches with that of social inequity:

And there’s danger on the ocean where the salt
waves split high
And there’s danger on the battlefield where the
shells of bullets fly
And there’s danger in this open world where men
strive to be free
And for me the greatest danger was in society
(Bob Dylan: The Death Of Donald White)

In the mid-19th century, a ballad about Sir John Franklin’s fatal search for the
North West Passage in the Canadian Arctic is published:

We were homeward bound one night on the deep
Swinging in my hammock, I fell asleep
I dreamed a dream, and I thought it true
Concerning Franklin and his gallant crew
(Lady Franklin’s Lament)

Singer Bob Dylan writes a song about the loss of old friends:

While riding on a train going west
I fell asleep to take my rest
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had
(Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan’s Dream)

The rebellion in the Red River Colony of Manitoba, Canada, inspires the 19th century fictional ballad, presented below, about a half-French, half-Indian gal who’s about to lose her soldier lover. He helped suppress the rebellion, and plans to leave:

Come and sit by my side if you love me
Do not hasten to bid me ‘adieu’
But remember the Red River Valley
And the girl who has loved you so true
(Red River Valley)

Dylan innovates on the love theme – reverses it:

Well, I sat by her side for a while
I tried to make that girl my wife
She gave me her best advice
And she said, ‘Go home and lead a good life’
(Bob Dylan: Girl From The Red River Shore)

Below is a love song from an early 20th century escapist romantic operetta, the setting being in the Canadian Rockies and northern British Columbia:

Oh Rose-Marie, I love you
I’m always dreaming of you
No matter what I do, I can’t forget you
Sometimes I wish that I never met you
And yet if I should lose you
T’would mean my very life to me
Of all the Queens that ever lived, I’d choose you
To rule me, my Rose-Marie

The fictional storyline involves a wild-living miner named Jim, who has a partner, ‘Hard-Boiled’ Herman. Jim’s reforms because he loves the French-Canadian stage-singer Rose-Marie – ‘I choose you to rule me’ -, and Rose-Marie loves Jim.

A wealthy businessman wants to marry Rose-Marie though he’s involved with a ‘half-breed’ Indian gal; she stabs her jealous boyfriend to protect the businessman, who then claims Jim is the murderer.

Rose-Marie decides to marry the deceitful businessman. As the ceremony is about to take place, the ‘half-breed’ confesses that she is the real murderer. Jim and Rose-Marie are happily reunited.

In the following song, Bob Dylan changes the names as well as the character of the actors involved in the storyline – Rose-Marie and Jim become Rosemary and Big Jim:

Rosemary started drinkin’ hard, and seein’ her
reflection in the knife
She was tired of the attention, tired of playin’ the role
of Big Jim’s wife
She had done a lot of bad things, even once tried suicide
Was lookin’ to do just one good thing before she died
She was gazin’ at the future, riding on the Jack of Hearts
(Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

What is on the site

1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

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.


  1. In real life, ‘Big Jim’, also known as ‘Diamond Jim’, Colosimo was a Mafia crime boss who left his first wife to marry another.

  2. ‘Big Jim’ Brady of NY, a wealthy businessman, liked to eat a lot and load himself down with diamonds.

  3. I think Big Jim is Nixon, Rosemary is Rosemary and the Republican Party, Lily is the US itself and Jack is Revolution… (down in south america, etc) aka Dylan himself in a way. To me this a a complete tale of Watergate. Almost every line…. It fits the time era.

  4. Such a time bound assertion can be hammered into the song with a heavy hand, but Dylan as usual writes a song here that stands up on its own even if the listener knows absolutely nothing about the Watergate break in….as time passes, the story of Watergate dies away, but the song remains forever young….as Dylan intended it to.

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