Dylan Disguises Himself As Ezekiel (Part III)


By Larry Fyffe

“Rosemary, Lily, And The Jack Of Hearts” is a song-play, a time-warped allegory by the word-alchemist Bob Dylan – starring the Jack of Hearts as ‘Ezekiel’; Rosemary as ‘Aholah’; Lily as ‘Aholibah’; and Big Jim as ‘King Solomon’:

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 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)

Aholah (Rosemary) represents the biblical Kingdom of Israel that, at the time, includes what is now the West Bank; Aholibah (Lily) represents the Kingdom of Judea that has Jerusalem as its capital. Northern Israel (Rosemary) breaks up with Solomon’s Unified Kingdom (Big Jim); she runs around with the Assyrians; Judea (Lily) is even worse and flirts with both them and the Babylonians.

In another one of his songs, Bob Dylan compares these two sisters to brothers “Tweedledum And Tweedledee”, from a poem by John Byrom:

They’re lying low and they’re makin’ hay
They seem determined to go all the way
They ran a brick and tile company
Tweedle Dee Dum and Tweedle Dee Dee
(Bob Dylan: Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee)

Referenced, as in ‘Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts’, is the Book of Ezekiel:

Thou also, Son of Man, take a tile, and lay it before thee
And portray upon it the city, even Jerusalem

In modernized format:

Now you, son of man, get yourself a brick, place it before you
And inscribe a city on it, Jerusalem
(Ezekiel 4:1)

Prophet Ezekiel tries to warn the Judeans that the Babylonian (Iraqi) army is coming yet again; that there is good reason to be nervous.

Gnosticism deals in word play, its writers laying down riddles to be solved, codes to be deciphered:

In the beginning was the Word
And the Word was with God
And the Word was God
(Book Of John 1:1)

Also, but not in official canon:

And Jesus said, ‘Whoever discovers the interpretation of
these sayings will not taste death”
He said, “Those who seek shall not stop seeking until they find
When they find, they will be disturbed
They will marvel and will reign over all”
(The Gospel Of Thomas 1, 2)

Jump to modern times: Canaan is threatened to be divided once again into a Palistinian (West Bank mostly) and a Jewish state.

The distant, unknowable, albeit loving God (‘Yahweh/Jehovah’), the name of whom is not supposed to be spoken, remains hidden in the letters JWH of  songs like “John Wesley Harding” and JOH of “Jack Of Hearts”. Yahweh punishes wayward Hebrews; He’s a ‘tough-love’ daddy.

Analogized as re-incarnated prophet Ezekiel, the Jack of Hearts, follows God’s orders:

And thou, Son of Man, take thee a sharp knife
Take a barber’s razor and cause it to pass
Upon thine head and upon thine beard
(Ezekiel 5:1)

Dressed up as a shaven-headed Christian monk, the Jack of Hearts stabs the modern-day worshippers of the Golden Calf, symbolized by Big Jim, the King of Diamonds:

As the leading actor hurried by in the costume of a monk
There was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts …..
Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

The knife is a pen that writes out warnings on the wall of impending danger in the Middle East:

In the vision-play, the master thief and trickster, the Jack of Hearts, like Ezekiel, believes that Yahweh is on his side. It matters not were secular justice to cut Rosemary’s baby in half – into West Bank Palistine and Israel. That’s only to punish Israelites who are naughty.

The Jack of Hearts/Ezekiel knows that Rosemary is playing a dangerous game of Russian Roulette – at first, the cold revolver ‘clicks’. But in the end, YOH has her paying the price for going it alone, for trying to do the right thing:

And Rosemary on the gallows, she didn’t even blink
The hangin’ judge was sober, he hadn’t had a drink
The only person on the scene missin’ was the Jack of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

The Jack of Hearts is missing because Yahweh wants him to go and paint the Holy Temple in Jerusalem – to give it a really good paint job this time as a fitting tribute to the memory of father Abraham:

The cabaret was empty now, a sign said, ‘Closed for repair’
Lily had taken all of the dye out of her hair
She was thinkin’ ’bout her father, who she rarely seldom saw
Thinkin’ ’bout Rosemary, and thinkin’ ’bout the law
But most of all she was thinkin’ ‘ bout the Jack of Hearts
(Bob Dylan: Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts)

As for the Jack of Hearts, he’s spun the Wheel of Fortune, turned the roulette wheel. And if he’s lucky, Yahweh won’t have everyone’s brains blown out.

It’s a risky business though for li’l Lily and any boyfriend she has in the future:

Someday little girl, everything for you is gonna be new
Someday little girl, you’ll have a diamond as big as your shoe
Let the wind blow low, let the wind blow high
One day the little boy and the little girl were both baked in a pie
(Bob Dylan: Under The Red Sky)

Of course, the above may not have anything to say about what Bob Dylan actually thinks one way or the other about the Middle East situation of today, but rather has to do with his ambiguous lyrics that are open somewhat to different levels of interpretation.

Articles related to Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.

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  1. Shakespeare: King John Act IV, sc 2 –

    “To gild refined gold
    To paint the lily ….
    Is wasteful and ridiculous excess”

  2. Thanks, Joost …I enjoyed writing it…Dylan isn’t just copying biblical stories but adds to them twists and turns of his own
    making ….there’s no creativity involved in exactly copying the original lily that’s hanging in the Museum of the Holy Bible.

    Lily’s a sad-eyed lady waiting because to her no new prophet comes. You can tell by the way that she smiles.

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