Once again Bob Dylan (cf. Cinderella on Desolation Row). Last night, my sister, brother-in-law and I had a BBQ in the lush garden behind their farmhouse, next to the quince tree in full bloom. We retired to their living room after dark for what ended up being an evening of Bob Dylan reminiscence, with pieces from different periods played and excerpts from the Last Waltz film watched. (The highlights were a completely blitzed Neil Young, who could barely stagger and put on inexplicable blissful cross-eyed smiles here and there, singing Helpless, and Joni Mitchell in a latter days flower power dress rendering a spirited Coyote much more energetically than on Hejira.)
As it turned out, my brother-in-law was not familiar with Dylan’s Self-Portrait, a two-record set released in 1970, which includes covers like Gordon Lightfoot’s In the Early Morning Rain, Paul Simon’s The Boxer and Manfred Mann’s The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo) besides songs written by Dylan himself, including the strange hummed Wigwam. On some of the numbers he sounds quite unlike the usual Dylan and more like a crooner of the Dean Martin sort.
Here are the lyrics of a beautiful bucolic/folksy piece from this album. It is a variant of the John Riley motif – long-lost lover returns and tests the faithfulness of his beloved*. I’d always thought it was traditional, but apparently Dylan wrote it himself:
One evening for pleasure I rambled to view
The fair fields all alone
Down by the banks of Loch Eiron
Where beauty and pleasure were known.
I spied a fair maid at her labour
Which caused me to stay for a while
And I thought of a goddess to beauty
Bloomin’ bright star of Bright Isle.
I humbled myself to her beauty
“Fair maiden, where do you belong?
Are you from heaven descended
Abiding in Cupid’s fair throne?”
“Young man, I will tell you a secret
It’s true I’m a maid that is poor,
And to part from my vows and my promise
Is more than my heart can endure.
Therefore I remain at my service
And go through all my hardship and toil
And wait for the lad that has left me
All alone on the banks of Belle Isle.”
“Young maiden, I wish not to banter
It’s true I come here in disguise,
I came here to fulfill our last promise
And hope to give you a surprise.
I’ve known you’re a maid I love dearly
And you’ve been in my heart all the while,
For me there is no other damsel
Than my bloomin’ bright star of Belle Isle.”
– Bob Dylan
*What is strange about this Dylan variant is that the encounter appears to be by chance (“One evening for pleasure I rambled to view / The fair fields all alone”) rather than intent.