Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact
Album: DesireReleased: 1976
This song is about a man who has recently split from his wife, Isis. He leaves town atop a pony headed "for the wild unknown country." Along his way, he meets with a shady character and the both of them begin a search for treasure. During the journey, the man keeps thinking back to his ex-wife:
As we rode through the canyons, through the devilish cold
I was thinking about Isis, how she thought I was so reckless
The shady character dies midway into the voyage, leaving the man to continue the treasure hunt alone:
When he died I was hoping that it wasn't contagious
But I made up my mind that I had to go on
Upon reaching the tomb where the supposed treasure lies, the man is shocked to find an empty casket:
There were no jewels no nothing, I felt I'd been had
Frustrated, he drags his dead companion into the casket, before deciding to ride back home to Isis, "just to tell her I love her."
After questioning his recent whereabouts, Isis accepts her ex-husband back. The song then concludes with the man pondering Isis and her magnetic influence:
Isis oh Isis you're a mystical child
What drives me to you is what drives me insane
This was written while Dylan was separating from his then-wife, Sara, therefore many fans believe this song alludes to the couple's turbulent relationship. This argument is supported by the fact it features on the album, Desire, which closes with the poignant "Sara," during which Dylan openly sings about his "radiant jewel, mystical wife." This biographical approach to writing was a rare feat for Dylan, who usually preferred to write under personas (as in "Isis").
A live version of "Isis" features on the compilation album, Biograph. Dylan introduces it as "a song about marriage."
The female character in this song is named after Isis, the goddess in ancient Egyptian mythology who is idolized as the ideal wife and protective mother.
"Isis" was one of seven songs on Desire co-written between Dylan and songwriter/theater director, Jacques Levy.
In their early years, The White Stripes frequently covered this song.
The song's co-writer Jacques Levy was asked by the Dylan fanzine Isis
about this song title and its significance in Egyptian mythology. Levy replied that it was an attempt at an old Western ballad like the kind The Band used to pen: "Well, this is a similar kind of thing," he said, "and just as The Band wrote 'pulled into Nazareth
,' you know, well, 'Isis' has as much to do with Egypt as Fanny has to do with Nazareth."