by Larry Fyffe
There are details of the other articles on the site relating to this song at the end of this article.
Jesus as the bridegroom, and his church followers, as the bride is a prominent
metaphor in the Holy Bible – with the promise of a wedding night in the offing, a time of sexual union.
Many gospel songs compare a faithful follower of Christ to a bride who is more than willing to sexually submit herself to Him:
All to Jesus I surrender
Make me, Lord, I give myself to thou
Fill me with thy love and power
Let your blessing fall on me
(I Surrender All)
The “song of songs” of the Bible is the fountain from which this sexual metaphor springs:
I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys
As the lily among the thorns
So is my love among the daughters
As the apple tree among the trees of the wood
So is my beloved among the sons
I sat down under his shadow with great delight
And his fruit was sweet to my taste
(Song Of Solomon 2: 1-3)
Sermons that admonish church followers for even thinking about lustful sex, leads to the biblical metaphor being parodied by writers closer in touch with the realities of human existence:
Under the apple suckling tree
Underneath that tree
There’s just gonna be you and me
Underneath that apple suckling tree
(Bob Dylan: Apple Suckling Tree)
Good luck to those who are sure they can explain both verses quoted above
in nonsexual terms, ie, that both innocently refer to Eve sucking on the fruit that the serpent offered to her from the tree growing in the midst of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).
In a fiery ring of Freudian ‘displaced’ words, the ”Song Of Solomon’-influenced gospel song – below – relies on the metaphor of complete sexual unification, akin to the Gnostic vision of a hermaphroditic God/Goddess:
I have found a friend in Jesus, He’s everything to me
He the fairest of ten thousand to my soul
The Lily of the Valley, in Him alone I see
All my needs to cleanse and make me fully whole ….
He will never, never leave me, nor yet forsake me here
While I live by faith and do His blessed will
A wall of fire about me, I have nothing now to fear
From his manna He my hungry soul shall fill
(Lily Of The Valley)
The following is a covered ballad in which the would-be bride is sexually unfaithful, yet the prospective bridegroom, comparable to Jesus, loves her still:
I had to stand my trail, I had to make my plea
They placed me in the witness box, and then commenced on me
Although she swore my life away, deprived me of my rest
Still l love my faithless Flora, the Lily of the West
(Bob Dylan: Lily of The West)
The ballad just quoted brings to mind a Symbolist poem in which the focus is on images that are not sweet-smelling:
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)
The threatrical narrative below, with its Alice-in-wonderland-through-the-looking-glass-playing-card characters, tangles up the themes from all the works cited above:
The cabaret was empty now, a sign said ‘Closed for repair’
Lily had already taken all of the dye out of her hair
She was thinkin’ ’bout her father, who she very rarely saw
She was thinkin’ ’bout Rosemary, and thinkin’ ’bout the law
But most of all, she was thinkin’ ’bout the Jack of Hearts
(Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)
‘Three Queens’ wins the game – Lily, the future ‘bride’ of the two-timing diamond-suited Jim, makes herself up to look like his wife Rosemary, stabs him to death, and his appreciative wife takes the blame, sacrificing herself on the cross(gallows) so that Lily is free to make the Jack of Hearts her bridegroom.
Taking into account the other works presented here, it’s an interpretation, the worth of which is as good as any. The song is a mystical tale – it’s unclear:
Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Did you ever go clear?
(Leonardo Cohen: Famous Blue Raincoat)
Other articles you might enjoy in relation to this song…
What else is on the site
1: Over 450 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order at the foot of 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. A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that 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.
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.