The festival was over and the boys were all planning for a fall
The cabaret was quiet except for the drilling in the wall
The curfew had been lifted and the gambling wheel shut down
Anyone with any sense had already left town
He was standing in the doorway looking like the Jack of Hearts

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 into the corner, face down like the Jack of Hearts

Backstage the girls were playing five-card stud by the stairs
Lily had two queens, she was hoping for a third to match her pair
Outside the streets were filling up, the window was open wide
A gentle breeze was blowing, you could feel it from inside
Lily called another bet and drew up the Jack of Hearts

Big Jim was no one's fool, he owned the town's only diamond mine
He made his usual entrance looking so dandy and so fine
With his bodyguards and silver cane and every hair in place
He took whatever he wanted to and he laid it all to waste
But his bodyguards and silver cane were no match for the Jack of Hearts

Rosemary combed her hair and took a carriage into town
She slipped in through the side door looking like a queen without a crown
She fluttered her false eyelashes and whispered in his ear
"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
"Maybe down in Mexico or a picture up on somebody's shelf"
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
Staring at the butterfly who just drew the Jack of Hearts

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 house, had lots of strange affairs
With men in every walk of life which took her everywhere
But she's never met anyone quite like the Jack of Hearts

The hanging judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined
The drilling in the wall kept up but no one seemed to pay it any mind
It was known all around that Lily had Jim's ring
And nothing would ever come between Lily and the King
No, nothing ever would except maybe the Jack of Hearts

Rosemary started drinking hard and seeing her reflection in the knife
She was tired of the attention, tired of playing the role of Big Jim's wife
She had done a lot of bad things, even once tried suicide
Was looking to do just one good deed before she died
She was gazing to the future, riding on the Jack of Hearts

Lily took her dress off, 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 looking like a saint"
Down the hallway footsteps were coming for the Jack of Hearts

The backstage manager was pacing all around by his chair
"There's something funny going on," he said, "I can just feel it in the air"
He went to get the hanging judge, but the hanging judge was drunk
As the leading actor hurried by in the costume of a monk
There was no actor anywhere better than the Jack of Hearts

No one knew the circumstance but they say that it happened pretty quick
The door to the dressing room burst open and a cold revolver clicked
And Big Jim was standing there, you couldn't say surprised
Rosemary right beside him, steady in her eyes
She was with Big Jim but she was leaning to the Jack of Hearts

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
In the darkness by the riverbed they waited on the ground
For one more member who had business back in town
But they couldn't go no further without the Jack of Hearts

The next day was hanging day, the sky was overcast and black
Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back
And Rosemary on the gallows, she didn't even blink
The hanging judge was sober, he hadn't had a drink
The only person on the scene missing was the Jack of Hearts

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 thinking about her father, whom she very rarely saw
Thinking about Rosemary and thinking about the law
But most of all she was thinking about the Jack of Hearts



Lyrics submitted by Jack, edited by Mellow_Harsher

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts song meanings
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91 Comments

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  • +4
    General CommentI have found a lot more meaning out of Bob Dylan than I ever did from my Freshman English class. I'm not trying to start an argument, but I just don't see how anyone can claim that Bob Dylan doesn't use "complicated symbolism," much less imply that Bob Dylan isn't deep, "I don't see why it has to be something deep. Bob Dylan isn't some knid of prophet or great philosopher..." It could be that people read too much into songs, I agree with that (Mr. Tambourine Man), but why tell people their 'theories are wrong and there's no hidden meaning to the song, it's just a story?' Because that's what it seems like you're trying to do. If I, and other people, can get a deep and profound meaning from a song, more power to us, I say. I realize that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I just don't agree with those who think there's not any complicated symbolism in Bob Dylan's songs. Listen to Shelter from the Storm, or Desolation Row, or the obviously symbolic Maggie's Farm.

    Now, on to Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts...I could disect and divide this song into standard archetypes but, as we all know (and contrary to what my Freshman English teacher tried to teach me) not everything is answered by archetypes. All I can say is that I've noticed that every guy I've talked to has thought of himself as the Jack of Hearts (but who really wants to be Big Jim?). Most of the women I've talked to didn't see themselves as Lily or Rosemary. Just an observation, draw your own conclusions.
    chrispyon June 22, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think this song is being analysed a tad too much. This three-personality thing is silly; it robs all the characters of personal identity and role within the plot. If Lily and Rosemary are one person, why would Rosemary be taking "a carriage into town" while Lily is already there "playing five-card stud by the stairs"? To the earlier post by bbbbb: Jack of Hearts could be (in my opinion, is) a semi-notorious out-law, maybe more so "down in Mexico" and his face may have been on "WANTED" posters in that country (as opposed to what Jim believes to be an innocent picture "up on somebody's shelf"). For this reason (i.e. that Jim doesn't completely recognise Jack [just YET anyway]) i don't believe that Jim and Jack were partners in crime, just related coz of the Lily situation. Which, reminds me....
    Jack of Hearts doesn't die!! he's the good guy, the protagonist!! he was the "only person on the scene missin'"! This i believe for several reasons:
    The stanza where "lily takes her dress off" is Lily and Jack alone in a room. she says "i'm glad to see your still alive" hints at a previous meeting, maybe one where Jim briefly met/saw him and so vaguely remembers him earlier in the song. Now, "down the hallway footsteps were coming for the Jack of Hearts" could easily be Jim lookin for his wife, (probably finally realising where he'd seen "that face before", putting 2 and 2 together and so looking for Jack also) and Rosemary following Jim as she could be bitter at Lily for stealing her husband.
    Now, I think the "cold revolver" that clicked belonged to, not Jim, but Jack, as he is ahead of the game, expecting Jim to figure it out in his girl's absence and so Jim is left "standing there, ya couldn't say surprised" while a gun is pointed at his head. Now here is where it gets interesting.... as we know, Rosemary is mighty pissed and fed up with living. So does "the one good deed before she died" and that is stab Jim with a "penknife in the back" as a kinda sacrifice for Jack to get away as she knows she would lose out to Lily anyway. Rosemary "lookin' to the future, riding on the Jack of Hearts" means just simply riding on the hope of getting away with Jack, tho this is impossible and she knows it.
    So, Jim dead, Rosemary 'bout to be hanged, Jack getting away while Lily is left to think about everything and wait until the next time the Jack of Hearts shows his face again, maybe next time she'll leave with him.

    Being on 'Blood on the Tracks', it may be reasonable to want to infer meaning into the song, but i think the songs tone acts to kinda split the album up as the rest of the album is painful, though my favourite Dylan album.
    rinward stalingon April 10, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General Comment1) Totally not getting the idea that Lily is dressing up as Rosemary. Don't think there's anything to support that--at all.
    2) Jim doesn't not recognize Lilly, he doesn't recognize the Jack of Hearts. That isn't really ambiguous.
    3) While Dylan did talk about learning to be all of his different selvesat once , to mitigate the distance between conscious and subconscious thought, right before he wrote Blood on the Tracks, I think that pointing out words like "mirror" and reflection and Lily looking for the third queen is maybe a little English paper-ish. She is playing cards! And, of course, it's all related somehow to game playing and roles. The main character is the Jack of Hearts for f's sake!

    Personally, I think reading anything for clue words and theories is a silly way to read books or songs or art. Sure, you can get an A on a paper, but it's not really going to help you understand yourself any better.

    That said, the notion that Lily and Rosemary are two facets of the same woman is pretty intriguing. But not bc of the hair dye thing. I agree more that the dye is Lily giving up her stage life and getting on with things. But maybe Lily is Rosemary's younger self?

    Totally don't agree that women don't see themselves as either character. I have imagined myself as both. The "queen w/out a crown" thing just gives her some dignity--she's not just some washed up woman. I don't think it necessarily means she's one of Lily's queens. (But of course what makes a works of art genius is that it CAN mean many things at once.)

    And going purely on the lyrics, not theories, which I have only recently listened to or read closely: Rosemary kills Jim, JAck gets away, Lily is left to miss Jack and think about the consequences of her actions. Rosemary's dead, Jim's dead, and she's going to grow up and stop running away from her miserable past.

    Rosemary was inspired "riding on the Jack of Hearts" to act passionately and willfully, and so she takes her punishment because she did it willlingly.

    NEvertheless, it's all very interesting and ripe for interpretation, i.e., it's a great work of art.
    clare22on July 22, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI don't really know if this has some kind of political or religious meaning behind it, just that its another example of how talented bob dylan is at telling stories.
    queenjaneon September 26, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe genius of Dylan strikes again. Straight song about love, crime, deceit and guilt played out in the old west. The genius? Told in such a way as to enable the listener to add their own, nearly limitless interpretations.
    BruceOfTheon December 31, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI would like to know what these lyrics symbolize, I think there is a lot of hidden meaning. Anybody know???
    cvoagon April 23, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's and old western Play, or a Movie. love triangle, drama, humor, crime. I don't konw just a guess. I would like to see it.
    Qsqawon July 05, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti think you more or less hit it on the head. i love this song because you can listen to it and hear the story or the warning but neither one gets in the way of the other
    CeeJaion October 14, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commentafter going over the lyrics i think it is just a series of events in the same cabaret. the boys are breaking in, while lily is pretending to be someone else, rosemary. "It was known all around that Lily had Jim's ring " "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 is proof that her husband cheats on her, and she kills him, and it ends up that he was part of the robbery, the get-away.
    "Lily took her dress off, buried it away. " this is after she is dressed at rosemary, takes off the dress to hide her spying on her husband.
    dirtyonion5on October 09, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti think it's pretty straightforward: rosemary is big jim's wife, jim is cheating on her with lily, lily is cheating on him with the jack of hearts, the jack of hearts is jim's crime partner, during the robbery lily dresses (and dyes her hair) as rosemary and kills jim and then runs off with the jack of hearts and the money...big jim is dead and lily is on the gallow's (framed for big jim's murder) and rosemary and the jack of hearts don't hav to worry about them

    ...but i must say it's confusing...i'll likely change my mind
    ZinbobDanon January 06, 2005   Link

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