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."
Leena from Mississuaga, OnThis song is infact about Sara. He introdouces it during TRR as a song about marriage, and his was failing at the time but they were trying to patch things up. Of course the song isn't just about Sara, but it's obvious that she's probably the main subject of the song. It tells a story of a man who learns loyality after having been betrayed; Bob cheated on Sara all the time during the mid 70's but they eventually got back together for a period of time. And Isis was the Egyptian goddess of motherhood and fertility; Sara represented family to Dylan, she gave him salvation, family and peace for a time of which he referred to as "the best and happiest years of my life". You can tell just by listening to "Sara". And about the May 5th thing, of course he wasn't gonna be literal, it's Bob Dylan haha.
Peter from London England, -To Matthew from New York: Dylan's songs are rarely, if ever, "about" anything in the true sense of the word. To make the sweeping statement that ISIS is "about his wife" is naive and far too simplistic. FYI Bob & Sara married on November 22nd (1965) and not May 5th - the weather for the event is not recorded anywhere! Regards, Peter: London, England
Elie from London, -gota love the version on the rolling thunder review one of the most powerfull things ever in anything
Matthew from New York, NyThis song is about his wife. First of all, he did marry Sara on May 5 in the "drizzling rain." That can't be a coincidence. Second, he calls Isis a "mystical child." On "Sara," which is obviously about his wife, he calls her a "mystical wife." I see that as Dylan dropping a hint to his listeners. Plus, the end of this song is obviously Dylan's fantasy of reuniting with his estranged wife.
Paul from Cincinnati, OhCoincidentally, the song "Powerslave" by Iron Maiden also refers to Horus and Osiris. That is all. Haven't heard this song, but I'd like to given good reviews I've read about the song and the album.
Mitch from Durham, NcIn response to the top statement, the 2nd one, that "Isis" is about Sara, Bob's wife at the time, this is not true. The song is an extended metaphor written by Dylan and Jacques Levy, his co-writer on a lot of "Desire." The song "Sara" at the end of the album is about his wife.
Peter from London EnglandThe "Leonard" that Dylan refers to is Leonard Cohen. That concert was in Montreal, Canada Cohen's home town.
Barry from New York, NyI recently got a dvd copy of Dylan's film RENALDO AND CLARA, which depite its 4 hour length, contains some great performance scenes of Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue. There is a great version if ISIS, as well as other DESIRE era songs and earlier classics.
Craig from Madison, WiDylan barks this song to great effect in a live version on "Biograph" and "Bootleg VI-1975." His intro (remember when Dylan did intros?) was, "This is a song about marriage. It's called 'Isis.' This song's for Leonard, if he's still here." If anyone knows who Leonard is, please let me know. Cohen? Nimoy? Maltin? Sugar Ray? Please let me know
Craig from Madison, WiOne of Dylan's great underrated/unknown songs. What drives me to it is what drives me insane. This, along with "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" and "Black Diamond Bay" can be held up as proof that when Dylan picked up a guitar the world lost a great short story writer. Particularly effective is the dialogue between Dylan's character and Isis at song's end. He tries so hard to be cool, but he's desperate for her.
John from Waterville, MiEver read any Joseph Campbell books?
Thom from Canberra, AustraliaWhite Stripes cover this at concerts - not too bad.