Saturday, July 12, 2008

An Interpretation of "Puff The Magic Dragon"

Recently, while discussing song titles with a friend , the lyrics of "Puff the Magic Dragon" came up. I innocently recalled as a young girl wanting to strangle that Jackie Paper for leaving Puff sad and alone in his dark, dismal cave. My reminiscing friend, openly laughed at my interpretation and exalted, that the song wasn't about the lost innocence of a child at all. She explained it was about smoking marijuana and getting high from drug use. That intrigued my interest to actually look up the history of my favorite, childhood song.

Having always thought the lyrics were written by Peter, Paul and Mary I was surprised to learn that they were originally based on a 1959 poem written by Leonard Lipton. He was a nineteen year old Cornell University student at the time. Only later was the poem passed on to Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) who added more lyrics and music to create a song.

Looking into some of the 1960's alleged drug references, I discovered Jackie Paper was considered by some drug suave entrepreneurs, as zigzag rolling papers. "Autumn mist" was interpreted as marijuana smoke and the "Land of Hanah Lee" was in reference to a Hawaiian Island called Hanalei, that was known for it's large amount of marijuana plants. "Puff was the smoking of a joint. "Cherry" was considered the burning ember of a marijuana cigarette, and "Lane" was the cigarettes length.

I tend to believe the original author of the poem Leonard Lipton. He consistently stood by his original statement that the poem he wrote back in 1959 at the age of 19 was indeed a poem of lost childhood. Peter, Paul and Mary have agreed with Mr. Lipton that this is a child's song. They also have conveyed the fact that they could interpret the "Star Spangle Banner" in such a way that it too, could be construed as a drug related song, if they chose.

After briefly researching my childhood favorite, I have come to my own conclusions. I believe that when 19 year old Leonard Lipton first wrote his poem, he was a young man entering a stressful, college world and was faced with the realization that he was no longer a child.

I know deep in my friends heart that she believes "Puff the Magic Dragon" is a 1960's drug song. That is very sad to me. She has absolutely missed one of the most mystical, childhood experiences that so many of us felt, while listening to that magical song.

I may be disillusioned, but I'd rather believe for the rest of my life that the name "Puff" was a chosen name for a wonderful, fantasy friend. And the reference of "autumn mist" was merely in reference to a glistening, dew covered meadow. I refuse to believe that green dinosaur scales is a synonym for drug paraphernalia. Which in turn has guided me down to Cherry Lane, where I will always be convinced that, "Little Jackie Paper, did love that rascal Puff!"

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