The festival was over, the boys were all plannin' for a fall
The cabaret was quiet except for the drillin' in the wall
The curfew had been lifted and the gamblin' wheel shut down
Anyone with any sense had already left town
He was standin' in the doorway lookin' 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 doin' 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 playin' five-card stud by the stairs
Lily had two queens, she was hopin' for a third to match her pair
Outside the streets were fillin' up, the window was open wide
A gentle breeze was blowin', 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 lookin' 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 lookin' like a queen without a crown
She fluttered her false eyelashes and whispered in his ear
"Sorry, darlin', that I'm late," but he didn't seem to hear
He was starin' into space over at the Jack of Hearts

"I know I've seen that face before," Big Jim was thinkin' 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
Starin' 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 away 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

The hangin' judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined
The drillin' 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, nothin' ever would except maybe the Jack of Hearts

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 deed before she died
She was gazin' to the future, riding on the Jack of Hearts

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"
Down the hallway footsteps were comin' 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 hangin' judge, but the hangin' 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 standin' there, ya couldn't say surprised
Rosemary right beside him, steady in her eyes
She was with Big Jim but she was leanin' 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 hangin' 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 hangin' judge was sober, he hadn't had a drink
The only person on the scene missin' 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 thinkin' 'bout her father, who she very rarely saw
Thinkin' 'bout Rosemary and thinkin' about the law
But, most of all she was thinkin' 'bout the Jack of Hearts

Lyrics submitted by Jack, edited by Mellow_Harsher

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts Lyrics as written by Bob Dylan

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts song meanings
Add Your Thoughts


sort form View by:
  • +4
    General Comment

    I 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
  • +4
    General Comment

    Everyone has missed what seems obvious.

    First of all, the Jack of Hearts does not get killed; Rosemary saves him by killing Big Jim, the husband she despises, with a pen knife. She chooses to do "one good deed before she died" and consigns herself to the gallows.

    Secondly, Rosemary is Lily's...wait for it...mother! Why do you think Dylan wrote the lyrics of the final verse like so: "She was thinking about her father who she very rarely saw / Thinking about Rosemary, and thinking about the law..."

    Rosemary "had done a lot of bad things," including having a child out of wedlock. What makes the story so sordid and even more Shakespearean is that Rosemary's unfaithful husband is having a dalliance with her daughter.

    Nobody writes a song like Bob Dylan.

    johnrausch3rdon February 26, 2015   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    I 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 Comment

    I 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 Comment

    This might be way off but i always just thought that Rosemary took out the bullets of Jim's gun because it was a "cold revolver", meaning it wasn't hot and loaded. I've never seen the Jack of Hearts as dying in the end nor Lily dressing like Rosemary but since the "lily had already taken all the dye out of her hair" line always confused me, that could work. I could very well be wrong.

    flowersrhon April 08, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    The 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
  • +1
    General Comment

    Lily is the Jack of Hearts. "I know I've seen that face somewhere, Big Jim was thinking to himself" "Lily took her dress off and buried it away" - Changing into Jack And the final verse: "Lily had already taken all of the dye out of her hair" - Why was her hair dyed? "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" - Because she is the Jack of Hearts! She had "Strange affairs with men from every walk of life which took her everywhere" - She's worldly and creates Jack out of a conglomeration of her father and all the men she knew. The song's about women taking control of their lives by any means necessary.

    eyehopon March 26, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    What festival was over? What kind of a fall were the boys planning' for? A windfall? Why was there a curfew? Why on earth would the gambling wheel be shut down? There must have been some kind of trouble, but apparently the dust was settling down, because the curfew had been lifted.....The streets were filling' up anticipation of the show, I guess. The showgirls were passing time, playing cards to pass the time....Lilly had two queens, and was hoping for a third...two queens is a very good hand in 5 card stud....but maybe someone else showed 2 Kings, and she needed that third....The jack of Hearts seems to be a mannerly man, as one might expect form a conman, rather nondescript, since no one paid him much mind when he entered. When Big Jim sees him, Big Jim being a man who notices details, he recognizes him.....maybe a picture on someone's shelf....(Lilly's shelf?)....Bob Dylan has said he never forgets a face. Jack's boys are drilling' through the wall to reach the bank safe, maybe that's why there is a fresh coat of paint....someone patched up their entrance point and painted it so as not to rouse suspicion or point the finger at Lilly who may have helped them by letting them start in her room. Lilly comes form a broken home...someone suggests that Rosemary is her mother...could Rosemary have left her daughter behind to marry Big that why she is suicidal? Her guilt in abandoning Lilly who has lived a promiscuous life, and may now be a prostitute, as showgirls in the Old West often were? The house lights dim, but only Jim and Jack are left alone in the is that possible, if the theatre is filled? They must be backstage in a separate room.....both intimates of cast members.....a pen knife is a tiny knife...difficult to kill a big man with....What show has a lead actor as a monk? Romeo and Juliet? The Friar is a main character.....Shakespeare was very popular in the Old West...snippets of the bard mixed with other entertainment......Rosemary rode a carriage into town...from where? Jim's house, I guess...she must have been well taken care of in order to have enough for a carriage.....Dylan's wife, sara lost her father to murder when she was 17 or 18..."She was thinking' about her father, who she very rarely saw.....was Big Jim her father? Kinda weird that someone is hanged the day after a murder...when was the trial? Is Dylan the Jack of Hearts? The non-descript guy who has a special magnetism for women, and who leads a gang of boys (the band) who wait not he ground by the riverbed and can't go anywhere without him? Did Jim get the drop on Jack when the Colt revolver clicked? Is that why Rosemary felt obligated to do Jim in? Is it all just a dream? Has Bob invaded our dreamscape again? Bob's uncle owned a movie theatre or three in hibbing, and Bob watched a lot of flicks.....our dreamscape.....hence his acuteness at re-inventing character voices in his songs.....This is his masterpiece, more clever even than Sad Eyed Lady, Desolation Row, Subterranean, My Back Pages, A hard Rain, or dozens of other one else has ever approached this kind of complexity...not even Joey Dugan.

    Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in timeon November 25, 2016   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    The song tells a pretty straightforward story, but it contains an important theme about fate. Each of the main characters are referred to as specific cards. The hero if the “jack of hearts,” Jim is referred to as “the king” and owns a diamond mine, and Rosemary is a “queen,” Lily is a “princess,” but the women appear to be represented by “two queens.” Significantly, as the Jack of Hearts is drawn by Lily, this character arrives. In the broader context of the song, the hand of cards that is drawn (King, two queens, Jack) sets in motion a chain of events that leads to death and betrayal.

    Each character has a backstory. The Jack of Hearts is very charismatic, but also has a history. He is the leader of an outlaw gang that is too loyal to leave without him, even once they have the loot. Big Jim recognizes him and is bothered that he can’t place his face. “. . . he didn't seem to hear. He was starin' into space over at the Jack of Hearts. "I know I've seen that face before," Big Jim was thinkin' to himself. "Maybe down in Mexico or a picture up on somebody's shelf" “

    It’s clear from the lyrics that Lily and the Jack have been lovers in the past. She has a long history as a kept woman. “She'd come away from a broken home, had lots of strange affairs. With men in every walk of life which took her everywhere.” She is now Jim’s mistress, having changed her appearance – she’s dyed her hair a new color. We know that Lily and the Jack have had a previous relationship, because we find them in her dressing room after the show. As she’s undressing, she tells him: "Has your luck run out? . . . Well, I guess you must have known it would someday. . . I'm glad to see you're still alive, you're lookin' like a saint"

    She also appears to rebuff his initial advances, saying: “Be careful not to touch the wall, there's a brand-new coat of paint.” This odd line refers to the fact that she has a new life and a changed appearance, including her new hair color.

    Some versions of this song include Dylan’s lyrics: Lily's arms were locked around the man that she dearly loved to touch, She forgot all about the man she couldn't stand who hounded her so much. "I've missed you so," she said to him, and he felt she was sincere, But just beyond the door he felt jealousy and fear. Just another night in the life of the Jack of Hearts.

    This addition makes it clear that Lily has had a past affair with the Jack, has missed him, and is holding him when Jim opens the door with his revolver in hand. Rosemary’s backstory is that she hates her husband, has already considered suicide, and is primed to do one last good deed before she dies. She also is attracted to the Jack of Hearts. When the door opens, “. . . Big Jim was standin' there . . . Rosemary right beside him, steady in her eyes. She was with Big Jim but she was leanin' to the Jack of Hearts.” She suddenly switches sides and kills her husband with a penknife before he can shoot the Jack.

    The song ends with Big Jim in the morgue, Rosemary being hung for his murder and Lily washing the dye out of her hair, thus changing back to her natural appearance, and apparently preparing to reinvent herself again. Where is the Jack? We are told that “The only person on the scene missin' was the Jack of Hearts.” Significantly, Big Jim is not described as missing. We are told that “Big Jim lay covered up, killed by a penknife in the back.” Since the Jack is not laying dead somewhere in town, presumably he and his gang have gotten away with the money, leaving Lily on her own, Jim dead, and Rosemary about to hang.

    margaretcxon February 09, 2019   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    I would like to know what these lyrics symbolize, I think there is a lot of hidden meaning. Anybody know???

    cvoagon April 23, 2002   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

More Featured Meanings

Album art
When We Were Young
This is a sequel to 2001's "Reckless Abandon", and features the band looking back on their clumsy youth fondly.
Album art
Ed Sheeran
There aren’t many things that’ll hurt more than giving love a chance against your better judgement only to have your heart crushed yet again. Ed Sheeran tells such a story on “Page.” On this track, he is devastated to have lost his lover and even more saddened by the feeling that he may never move on from this.
Album art
Plastic Bag
Ed Sheeran
“Plastic Bag” is a song about searching for an escape from personal problems and hoping to find it in the lively atmosphere of a Saturday night party. Ed Sheeran tells the story of his friend and the myriad of troubles he is going through. Unable to find any solutions, this friend seeks a last resort in a party and the vanity that comes with it. “I overthink and have trouble sleepin’ / All purpose gone and don’t have a reason / And there’s no doctor to stop this bleedin’ / So I left home and jumped in the deep end,” Ed Sheeran sings in verse one. He continues by adding that this person is feeling the weight of having disappointed his father and doesn’t have any friends to rely on in this difficult moment. In the second verse, Ed sings about the role of grief in his friend’s plight and his dwindling faith in prayer. “Saturday night is givin’ me a reason to rely on the strobe lights / The lifeline of a promise in a shot glass, and I’ll take that / If you’re givin’ out love from a plastic bag,” Ed sings on the chorus, as his friend turns to new vices in hopes of feeling better.
Album art
Trouble Breathing
Alkaline Trio
While the obvious connections with suicide or alcoholism could be drawn easily, more subtly this song could be about someone who views the world through a negative lens constantly and how as much as the writer tries to show the beauty in the world, this person refuses to see it. It's one or another between the rope and the bottle. There is no good option for this person. They can't see it. Skiba sings it in a kind of exasperated way like He's tired of hearing this negative view constantly and just allowing that person to continue feeling the way they feel knowing he can't do anything about it. You can hear it when he says maybe you're a vampire.
Album art
Somewhere Only We Know
Per the FAQ on Keane's website, Keane's drummer Richard Hughes, stated the following: "We've been asked whether "Somewhere Only We Know" is about a specific place, and Tim has been saying that, for him, or us as individuals, it might be about a geographical space, or a feeling; it can mean something individual to each person, and they can interpret it to a memory of theirs... It's perhaps more of a theme rather than a specific message... Feelings that may be universal, without necessarily being totally specific to us, or a place, or a time..." With the nostalgic sentiment and the overall tone of the song, I think Keane is attempting to express a Portuguese term known as 'saudade', which does not have a direct English translation but roughly means "that which we remember because it is gone."