An Examination of Isis by John Baldwin
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“Bob Dylan & The Fifth Day of May” by Dylan fan John Baldwin explores the background and likely meaning of ‘Isis’, probably Bob Dylan’s most enigmatic song. John traces the chronology of the song and comments on what Dylan and his co-writer Jacques Levy have said on the subject. Although Levy is credited as co-writer, it is likely that his contribution was minimal and both agree that Dylan had at least penned part of the song before their union commenced. John is of the belief that the precise moment of origin for ‘Isis’ could be traced back to Dylan’s visit to the South of France in May 1975, where he was present at a Gypsy festival in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in honour of the Gypsy patron, Saint Sarah. The likely sight of a statue to his wife’s name-sake and the association of the saint with the goddess Isis is a highly probable influence.
In one of the book’s nine chapters, John presents a line-by-line analysis to provide an interpretation based on an examination of the lyrics, their likely literal meaning and what we know about the life and times of Mr. Dylan; John also explores what other Dylan commentators have said about the song. A view is held that ‘Isis’ is a song about Bob Dylan and his wife Sara, portrayed as the goddess Isis and her husband Osiris and, as such, the song is heavily influenced by Egyptian mythology and one of the chapters is devoted to the gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt and the tale of Isis and Osiris. The myth of Isis and Osiris follows a structure known as a monomyth and represents a typical quest saga. Dylan’s song also appears to conform to the same pattern and John and his daughter, Mary-Anne, explore the monomyth and the quest saga and its relationship to Isis, the song. Mary-Anne, an English language/literature graduate and senior professional in publishing, also explores other potential literary sources that may have influenced Dylan in the writing of this song.
The book also briefly examines the Egyptian influence in another “Desire” song, ‘Oh Sister’, and a “Desire” session out-take, ‘Golden Loom’.
‘Isis’ is a thinly veiled rewrite of the oldest story of them all – the quest for the hero to prove himself worthy of the woman he worships – a tale found in mythologies of the classical world, Egypt included. “Bob Dylan & The Fifth Day of May” attempts to provide the facts and opinions of authors and many others and provides the reader with the opportunity to formulate their own informed opinion.