Bob Dylan Disguises Himself As Ezekiel (Part I)


By Larry Fyffe

Through analogy, allegory, and symbolism, Bob Dylan updates the story of the Jews and Israel in “Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack of Hearts”.

With his gold and silver mines, wise King Solomon, represented by the King of Diamonds in a deck of playing cards, gets punished by God for turning away from Him to wine, women, wealth, and the worshipping of idols. Solomon’s united Kingdom is divided into the House of Israel and the House of Judea with Jerusalem as its capital.

Big Diamond Jim, as the ghost of King Solomon past, symbolizes the corruption of Judea’s leaders by pride and greed:

Big Jim was no one’s fool, he owned the town’s only diamond mine
He made his usual entrance lookin’ so dandy and so fine
With his body guards and silver cane and every hair in place
He took whatever he wanted to and he laid it all to waste
But his body guards and silver cane were no match for the Jack of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

Bob Dylan modernizes the story – The Jack of Hearts is the leader of a gang of outlaws, Jewish cowboys who have been kicked out of the town of Jerusalem by Nebuchudnezzar, the mean Sheriff of Babylon:

In the darkness by the riverbed they waited on the ground
For one more who had business back in town
But they couldn’t go no further without the Jack of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel has visions of the coming invasion of Judea by the Babylonian (Iraqi) army and the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of its Holy Temple:

I was among the captives by the river
That the heavens were opened
And I saw visions of God
(Ezekiel 1:1)

According to Ezekiel’s visions, the destruction of the Temple is allowed by God because of the decadent behaviour of the Hebrews; Ezekiel envisions God speaking to him:

And he said unto me, Son of man
“I send thee to the children of Israel
To a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me
Even unto this very day”
(Ezekiel 1:3)

To sound the alarm of the coming doom if the Hebrews do not mend their ways, God has Ezekiel go into town and put on a show in the Temple. There the prophet gets himself involved in a game of five-card stud with the Almighty as dealer:

Then I arose, and went forth into the plain
And behold, the glory of the Lord stood there
As the glory which I saw by the river of Chebar
And I fell on my face
(Ezekiel 3: 23)

The singer/songwriter picks up the allegory, the Cabaret serving as the Temple, and the the Jack of Hearts as Ezekiel:

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 he asked him with a grin
“Could you kindly tell me, friend, what time the show begins?”
Then he moved in the corner, face down like the Jack of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

God’s deck of cards has the one-eyed Jack of Hearts and the one-eyed King of Diamonds looking to the left and to the right, not ahead:

Lie thou also upon thy left side
And lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it …
Lie again on thy right side
And thou shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah …
(Ezekiel 4: 5-6)

The decadent King of Diamonds and the saintly Jack of Hearts both keep an eye on the fluttery Promised Land, represented by Lily:

But then the crowd began to stamp their feet and the house
lights did dim
And in the darkness of the room there was only Jim and him
Starin’ at the butterfly who just drew the Jack of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

The prophet Ezekiel finds himself ordered to dig a hole in the Temple wall, where he observes the wicked ways of the previous leaders of Judea:

Then he said unto me, “Son of Man, dig now
in the wall
And when I had digged in the wall, behold a door
And he said to me “Go in, and behold the wicked
abominations that they do here
(Ezekiel 8: 7-9)

Bob Dylan’s rebel gang of outlaws, in town from the banks of the river in Babylon, get their revenge on the immoral King of Diamonds by digging a hole in the wall of the Cabaret:

Two doors down the boys finally made it through the wall
And cleaned out the bank safe, it’s said that they got off
with quite a haul

Big Jim Solomon’s once-loyal girl friend is Lily -“As the lily among thorns,
so is my love among the daughters” (Song Of Solomon 2:2). The King of Diamonds holds a losing hand against herJack of Hearts and two Queens. Of course, she can’t be sure it’s a winning hand. Neither can the wandering Jack; only God, the dealer knows:

Lily took her dress off and buried it away
“Has your luck run out?”, she laughed at him
“Well, I guess you must have known it would someday
Be careful not to touch the wall, there’s a brand new coat of paint
I’m glad to see you’re still alive, you’re lookin’ like a saint”

Wary is Lily of those who bluff in life’s game of poker, their temple of cards built with insecure motar, covered up with a coat of paint:

And one built up a wall, and lo
Others daubed it with untempered morter
Say unto them which daub it with untempered mortar
That it shall fall
(Ezekiel13: 19-11)

She, like Ezekiel, evisions the coming of a true Messiah who’ll one day re-unite the divided family, the broken land of Israel:

Lily was a princess, she was fair skinned and precious as a child
She did whatever she had to do, she had that certain flash every
time she smiled
She’d come from a broken home, had lots of strange affairs
With men in every walk of life which took her everywhere
But she’d never met anyone quite like the Jack of Hearts

(End Of Part I)

Footnote: “Jack of Hearts” is one of the most analysed and commented upon songs on this web site.  A listing of all the Jack of Hearts articles is given at the top of the Bob Dylan Themes page.

What else is on the site

1: Over 450 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 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 produced 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 our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

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



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