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
Location: Studio E, Columbia Recording Studios – NYC
What: 5th Desire session, produced by Don DeVito.
Master versions recorded: Isis, Sara & Abandoned Love
- Isis & Sara released on Desire 16 January 1976
- Abandoned Love released on Biograph 28 October 1985
This song is in a moderately fast 3/4 time, in the key of B-flat major. The arrangement is based on rhythm chords played on acoustic piano, accompanied by bass, drums, and violin. The harmonic progression consists of an ostinato using the chords I-♭VII-IV-I (B♭-A♭-E♭-B♭) throughout. The lyrics are all verses; there is no chorus. The melody is in the style of a modal folk song, emphasizing the tonic and dominant notes in the scale, with leaps of a fifth in between them. The mode is Mixolydian with a major third in the harmony, but Dylan’s delivery of the melody uses a flatted third as in the blues.
The song was written and recorded during a time of separation and reunion in Dylan’s own marriage; consequently, for fans and critics the temptation to interpret it as an allegory of Dylan’s own marital difficulties is irresistible, especially since the Desire album contains the song “Sara” which is openly about their marriage and separation. Since Dylan was known to include autobiographical hints in his previous songs, this interpretation cannot be considered farfetched. “Isis” draws upon mythological themes of a male hero separating from his wife, going on adventures, and returning to the marriage, going back to the Odyssey.
Dylan did an up-tempo live version of this song with the Rolling Thunder Revue, a performance of which was included in the film Renaldo and Clara. A live Rolling Thunder version of the song was included on the compilation album Biograph, which Dylan introduces as “a song about marriage”. Coupled with the name of the album, this introduction further insinuates that the song documents Dylan’s marital tribulations.
Live from Rolling Thunder 1 – Plymouth:
Spotify playlist – Isis, Sara & Abandoned Love:
Album of the day: