About The Writer
Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman) is a famous an American singer/songwriter, active from the year 1959 and in the present. His career reached its peak during the 1960s, when his songs became anthems for both the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War protests.
His album Desire was released in 1976. "Isis" was the second track on the record and one of the most celebrated songs of the album.
The song takes the form of a ballad, with quatrains of rhymed alternating lines. A narrative is told through the recollections of the protagonist narrator, including dialogue in several separate stanzas. The themes in "Isis" also align with traditional ballads about love, death, and betrayal.
Fun Fact: "Isis" is the name of the ancient Egyptian goddess of fertility and motherhood, who is sometimes depicted as holding a lotus flower.
(A Lyric analysis)
I married Isis on the fifth day of May
But I could not hold on to her very long
So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away
For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong
The narrator married a woman named Isis, on Cinco De Mayo (May 5, a Mexican holiday) which is a common trend throughout Dylan's works. Their marriage does not last, and one party leaves the other, as idicated by "could not hold on to her very long" She could have been fed up with his behavior or he could have become restless, but the reason is up for debate. The protagonist sets out looking for adventure, quite possibly joining a ship's crew or the military, hence the phrases "cut off my hair" and "wild unknown country".
Visualization: A modern interpretation of the divided town that the narrator visited.
I came to a high place of darkness and light
Dividing line ran through the center of town
I hitched up my pony to a post on the right
Went into a laundry to wash my clothes down
The protagonist then came to a town with a dark side and a light side, more than likely symbolizing good and evil. The placement of his horse on the right (light) side would represent what he thought of his own character. That is, he thought he was a good man.
Fun Fact: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated in 2015 that smokers of tobacco make up 15.1% of the American population over the age of 18 years.
A man in the corner approached me for a match,
I knew right away he was not ordinary,
He said, "Are you lookin' for somethin' easy to catch?"
Said, "I got no money." He said, "That ain't necessary."
Smoking can be seen as a social activity, and asking for a light (in this case, a match) makes for a perfectly normal icebreaker. The narrator knows immediately that something is "off" about this man. Being "in the corner" suggests than this man did not want anyone to catch him off guard. Subconsciously, or maybe even consciously, he would have chosen the corner so no one could surprise him. This behavior indicates that he does not trust people, and people should not trust him. Furthermore, "something easy to catch" without any expense seems like a get-rich-quick scheme and just plain shady.
Did you know? Horseback is still a method of typical transportation for people in positions such as city police, park rangers, and farmers because of a horse's low probability of getting stuck in the mud or being unable to traverse an unpaved area.
We set out that night for the cold in the North,
I gave him my blanket, he gave me his word.
I said, "Where are we goin'?" He said we'd be back by the fourth.
I said, "That's the best news that I've ever heard."
Starting a journey in the night usually foreshadows that the activities ahead are not legal or ethical. However, the protagonist is still trusting of the stranger. Additionally, he's excited about being "back by the fourth" which could be May 4th, the day before the anniversary of his marriage to Isis. This could indicate that he misses her and plans to see her again.
Fun Fact: It has been estimated that all of the world's sunken cargoes of precious metals would be worth more than $4.5 billion in today's money.
I was thinkin' about turquoise, I was thinkin' about gold,
I was thinkin' about diamonds and the world's biggest necklace.
As we rode through the canyons, through the devilish cold,
I was thinkin' about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless.
The stranger has presented himself to the narrator as a treasure hunter of sorts, but the protagonist thinks back to his time with Isis and her criticism. Despite more foreshadowing of the road ahead, he still continues to tag along.
Myth: "Half of US marriages end in divorce." Reality: The US divorce rate peaked around 1980, with about 2.3% of marriages involving women ages 15 or older ending in divorce. However, in 2015, that rate has dropped to about 1.7%.
How she told me that one day we would meet up again,
And things would be different the next time we wed.
If I only could hang on and just be her friend,
I still can't remember all the best things she said.
Still caught up in his thoughts, the narrator reveals that he had indeed intended on seeing Isis again. "The next time we wed" could literally mean remarrying after divorcing or simply getting back together after being married but separated. The narrator expresses feelings of regret and longing for his wife. However, his memory is foggy, as he may have ignored some of her criticism.
Fun Fact: While Mount Everest is considered the highest mountain on earth, there are several underwater mountains that are much larger, but do not break the surface of the deep oceans.
We came to the pyramids all embedded in ice
He said, “There's a body I'm tryin' to find,
If I carry it out it'll bring a good price.”
'Twas then that I knew what he had on his mind
The "pyramids all embedded in ice" could be mountains, as the chances of the Egyptian pyramids being covered in ice is slim. Surprise! The shady man actually turned out to be a grave-robber.
Did you know? As of 2011, there are more than 200 bodies of dead climbers on Mount Everest.
The wind it was howlin' and the snow was outrageous,
We chopped through the night and we chopped through the dawn.
When he died I was hopin' that it wasn't contagious,
But I made up my mind that I had to go on.
It is most likely that the protagonist's guide died of hypothermia, maybe even suffering frostbite in the process. For the record, hypothermia is not contagious, nor is frostbite. Despite his companion dying, the narrator is determined to finish the job he has no obligation to carry out.
Consider this: There are more people in the ground than walking on it.
I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty.
There was no jewels, no nothin', I felt I'd been had.
When I saw that my partner was just bein' friendly,
When I took up his offer I must-a been mad.
Upon finding an empty tomb, the protagonist realizes that this was a fool's errand from the start. Since the coffin was there, it is possible that someone had gotten there first. If the riches were never there to begin with, then this could have been an elaborate murder plot gone wrong.
Fun Fact: Bobbing horse tails in the winter not only keeps the horses's tails clean, but originally provided the hair needed for the bows of stringed instruments like the violin.
I picked up his body and I dragged him inside,
Threw him down in the hole and I put back the cover,
I said a quick prayer and I felt satisfied,
Then I rode back to find Isis just to tell her I love her.
The narrator throws his dead companion into the grave and closes the casket lid. After offering up a small funeral, he rushes home to see his wife.
Did you know? The ocean levels rise every year, from 0.8 m to as much as 3.3 m.
She was there in the meadow where the creek used to rise.
Blinded by sleep and in need of a bed,
I came in from the East with the sun in my eyes,
I cursed her one time then I rode on ahead.
Isis seemed to be waiting for the protagonist. Unfortunately, he was cranky and tired from his travels and was not as happy as he thought he would be to see her. Perhaps that is because she could say, "I told you so."
Fun Fact: The word "loyal" comes from the Latin term legalis via the Old French word loial.
She said, “Where ya been?” I said, “No place special.”
She said, “You look different.” I said, “Well, I guess.”
She said, “You been gone.” I said, “That's only natural.”
She said, “You gonna stay?” I said, “Yeah, I might do.”
While not the tearful, joyous reunion one might expect, Isis manages to get him to stay without much effort. The protagonist has learned the value of loyalty and the worth of having a home.
Did you know? The action of smiling triggers the release of hormones in your brain that are correlated with a positive emotional state. In other words, smiling can make you happy!
Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child,
What drives me to you is what drives me insane.
I still can remember the way that you smiled,
On the fifth day of May in the drizzlin' rain.
The narrative is wrapped up, implying a Happily Ever After.