#12 All time lyrics, in Rock Commentaries, Chapter IX
Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands Bob Dylan
I say: I get about 30% of this song, but that’s OK. No one else gets ANY of it!
Who is the sad eyed Lady of the lowlands where the sad eyed prophets say that no man comes? Many find the terminus of the meaning in the name of the wife of Dylan, and even consider this to be their favorite love song. And these should not fear the loss of such a hearing, if they remember that we say that love is an image of the Most High, and so lyric love poetry of catches the reflection by the analogy of inspiration, even unknown to the author. We too think that the song may well have begun as a song about Sara, though this premise is quickly discarded. We, too look for particular incidents to make sense of some of the particular images, which flow past our little bucket faster than these can be collected. But to return, who is the sad eyed lady of the lowlands where the sad eyed prophets say that no man comes?
Looking to Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zephaniah, it is possible that the sad eyed lady is Jerusalem, deserted after the Babylonian conquest, and this too is sometimes analogous of the desolation of the cities of the nation in the end times. The “Kings of Tyrus” are the objects of a prophecy of Ezekiel and Isaiah, and this again a prophecy in turn of the end times. Looking up “no man” and no man comes in the Biblical concordance yields these results.
The sad eyed lady is something like the Church as Jerusalem, symbolized by Mary. The child of the hoodlum is what the non-Christians think of Jesus, and the picture here reminds of the statue of Michelangelo, with Mary holding the crucified savior. At any rate, this interpretation peeks out of the images repeatedly, and makes as much or more sense than any other.
The song is in ten sections of two quatrains punctuated by the refrain, in which the poet repeatedly asks the Church if he should leave his warehouse eyes, the eyes of philosophic eros, and his strange music at her gate in order to be admitted, or should he rater wait for her to go through her history until she will admit him as he is. That is the meaning. The changing line “who among them do you think could bury you, carry you,” etc. follows the church through her history, preparing in each case for the persistent question of the refrain. The first section covers history for about the first four centuries, in the missionary times, when the people, or the Roman empire, tried to bury her. Then she appeared with prayers like rhymes and silver cross and voice like chimes. “Eyes like smoke” is also what is said, though we do not understand it.
The second phase asks who among them do you think could carry you, and this is what the city tried to do when Rome became Christian, after Constantine. Streetcar visions placed on the grass do not make sense, but “pockets well protected at last” would fit. Flesh like silk and face like glass” reminds of the icons, which came into fashion following St. Helen.
The next two quatrains do not make much sense according to our hypothesis, except perhaps “matchbook songs and gypsy hymns” but we would expect the church to have become more established and conventional in the early middle ages. “Outguess you” and “impress you” are what the city then tried to do in regard to her. Silhouette in dim sunlight and eyes where moonlight swims are images of decreased light. I would look in the history of card decks to see if the jack and ace were ever kept out, and sheets like metal goes with sheet metal later in the ninth quatrain.
Then suddenly in the fifth quatrain our reading again appears, as the Kings of Tyrus with their convict list stand in line for what is called a geranium kiss, and who among them would want onlyto kiss her? The kings in fornication with her do not love her for her own sake, but seek to use her for a mercenary purpose. The complex image refers first to the prophecies of Isaiah (23) and Ezekiel against Tyre, when because they entered the gate at Jerusalem saying something haughty, Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar comes to destroy them. One other reader has looked at this connection, and this is where the Wikipedia article on the song leaves off. Through the prophecy to Tyre, the Spirit refers to the Babylon of the end times, (at least in one reading, sometimes agreed to by Van Impe). The Mysterious Babylon in the Revelation is described as in fornication with the kings of the earth, and she is described as “the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth” (17:18). As we think, the fornication of the kings of the earth with Babylon was especially in the persecution of heretics, done by the kings because the church recognized that it was forbidden to shed blood. So at first the mysterious Babylon appears to be Rome, and this is the most common reading of the seventeenth chapter of the Revelation. But then in the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation, Babylon is described as a great commercial nation in the heart of the sea destroyed in a single hour, and the merchants view the smoke of her destruction from afar and lament Rev. 18:18-19). The list of goods traded in Revelation is different from the list traded by Tyre, but alike in that a list is given. If the end times are now, the mercantile nation would sound very much like the United States, where every higher thing is prostituted to the marketing idea of economic success. The prophecy to Tyre may even be a prophecy to us not to do this, as presently our whoring of private information has made a grave national security lapse. Ezekiel 28:18 reads:
By the multitude of your iniquities,
In the unrighteousness of your trade
You profaned your sanctuaries;
So I brought forth fire from the midst of you;
It consumed you,
And I turned you to ashes upon the earth
In the sight of all who saw you
This would appear fulfilled if Yellowstone were to blow, whether by nature or by treachery. But to return, the Kings of Tyrus here are related first to the medieval church, and then soon to the expansion of Christendom in America. In the sixth quatrain, the Spanish manners, after the mention of childhood flames, describe the time of the expansion of the Church to the new world, when none could resist her. We still do not get “midnight rugs,” “mother’s drugs,” “cowboy mouth” and “curfew plugs.” But the period is followed by that of the farmers and businessmen, as followed the Spanish and then the cowboys in America, who chose her to sympathize with their side. These are said to have showed her the dead angels that they hide. This is a very cryptic line, but reminds of repentance and those killed by the advance of America, as westward. America congratulates herself for the repentance of slavery and injustice to the Native Americans. America is Protestant, and the repeated phrase here is who among them do you think would mistake you.” American Christendom thinks of itself as having overcome the sins of Roman Christendom. In the seventh quatrain, the sea at her feet is like the statue of Mary with the moon beneath her feet (Revelation 12:1), and symbolizes the sea of humanity, as the harlot is seen seated on the waters, which are “many peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (Revelation 17:15). The woman of Revelation 12 is the true church, contrasted very intentionally by St. John with the whore of Babylon. It is not clear that Dylan makes the distinction, yet. The phony false alarm is the warning of the apostles in the first century that the end times were at hand. The child of the hoodlum is Jesus, again according to the Jewish and pagan interpretation of the Immaculate Conception, and this is underlined by the thief, to appear soon in the ninth quatrain.
Sheet metal memory of Cannery Row does not make sense to me, though there may be a connection to the earlier sheets like metal,” which we also do not understand. Cannery Row is a place in a certain city in Mexico, where artists or writers hung out. Magazine husband reminds of the Picture of Jesus on the cover of Newsweek around the millennium. But the internet has a reading that the first husband of Sara, who she broomed, was a magazine owner. We will give them the points for these lines, if we can gain a hearing for “Your gentleness now which you cannot help but show.” The once militant church that burned heretics has become gentle, and self consciously so, like a liberal rich man who publicizes his charity. This is also like the showing of the dead angels. Mercy” is now translated “Loving-kindness,” which is not a translation that is as close to what the text says. It says “mercy,” and when it wants to use the word love it does so, and in specific various forms. “Employ you” is the variation on the repeated line here in the ninth quatrain, regarding what the city or mankind tried to do with her in this age.
The final quatrain reads:
Now you stand with your thief
You’re on his parole
With you holy medallion
And your fingers knotted fold
And your saint-like face, and your ghostlike soul
Who among them do you think could destroy you?
The tenth phase of church history brings the prophesied attempt to destroy the church in the end times. She is on the parole of the thief, Jesus, as the Church is now, for the medieval persecutions and the molestation of choirboys. That is part of her ghost-like soul. The holy medallion brings the end to recall the beginning, and makes us sure of our interpretation. If this began as a song about his wife, it does not remain so, but comes to be about the Church as Bride. It is about both being let into her gate and into the Church as well. The warehouse eyes of the philosophic poet may also be the Christ in us.
So, should the poet leave his vacuous curiosity for seeing, contemplation, of theory and beauty, and should he leave his foreign music at her gates in order to enter, since he is not welcome to enter with these? Or rather, Sad Eyed Lady, should he not wait, and should we not wait?