Thursday, September 6, 2007

Puff, the Magic Dragon

The doorbell rang and the UPS man was already jumping in his truck to leave, by the time I picked the package up off my front porch. My Uncle Denis emailed the other day and asked for my address. I don’t remember ever getting anything through the mail from him before so I was intrigued.

Inside the box was a signed copy of the recently published book, Puff, the Magic Dragon.

I’m not sure how old you have to be to have Puff the Magic Dragon embedded in your soul, but Peter, Paul and Mary released the song in 1963, when I was two years old. It’s always been a part of my consciousness and even though it’s not a song I’ve heard very often over the years, it always brings me to tears.

Denis told me that when I was very little, they had to play that record for me over and over again.

There are a few fragments of memories I have where I remember being very small and singing that song. Most of the people who are a part of those memories are gone. My grandparents, my parents, my Uncle Phil and my grandmother’s Labrador retrievers have all passed away, most a very long time ago, so I suppose that adds to my feelings of nostalgia when I hear the song, but it’s much more than that.

Who could not feel pain in his heart and get a little misty at the lyrics:

“One gray night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more,

And Puff, that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.”

Peter Yarrow, the author of the original poem that inspired the song says this:

"Puff has appeared to me both childlike and wise, a king but also a willing follower of just about any bright spirit that inspired him. Puff gives his whole heart and soul to one special friend, Jackie Paper. And though it is terribly painful when Jackie grows up and has to leave, Puff has given Jackie the strength and courage he needs to believe in himself when he goes back to the real world. "

Maybe we mourn for ourselves and our own loss of innocence when we hear this song. I suppose we do. I tried to think of another song that has the same emotional impact that Puff the Magic Dragon has, but I can’t come up with one.

Does hearing this song do this to everyone? If not Puff the Magic Dragon, is it another song, movie, poem or book that has become part of your emotional makeup?


Larramie said...

When posting about this book's release last month, I wondered and hoped that today's child would be as touched by the written story as we had been by the song. Puff offers a message that's a true life lesson, no matter what your age.

Be sure to thank Uncle Denis, Lisa, for inspiring a lovely bit of nostalgia in you as well as in us.

Yellow said...

Lisa, I love that song, and I'd love to lay my hands on a copy of that illustrated book for my own children.
A big song for me is Country Roads by John Denver, and the rest of the stuff on a live album by his. When we were children my parents moved from Sunderland in the North East on England, to Liverpool on the North West coast. So each scholl holiday we drove the 150 miles acrossbeautiful countryside in North Yourshire which divided us, and for some reason we would always be playing that album in the car. So "Country Roads" for me is sitting in the back seat withmy two sisters, driving past the 'sleeping dinosours' (the moors) eating 'squashed tomato & stew' sandwiches (chopped tomato, boiled egg & Heinz salad cream) and drinking sweetwhite coffee from a flask. And all five of us singing along to John Denver. I had the best childhood ever. I bet you can't beat that, guys.

Anonymous said...

We are really as one on this one, Lisa. That is the ONE song that never fails to make me cry--in any version. The 70s cartoon, the single, the story. I am getting a little misty right now just thinking about it.


Anonymous said...

Remember "Seasons in the Sun?" Pass a tissue.

Lisa said...

Larramie, I thought I remembered seeing something about Puff recently and I should have recalled it came from you! I let him know :)

Yellow, I'll bet it's on Amazon.UK. It also comes with a CD that has four songs on it. Based on the comments on your blog from your Dad, I can imagine you did have a wonderful childhood and now that you mention it, Country Roads does bring up the emotion too. I love the idea of the sleeping dinosaurs and squashed tomato & stew sandwiches? Only in England! Thanks so much for the wonderful story.

Mardougrrl, I saw a PBS concert with Peter, Paul and Mary last year and I was sobbing through half of it :)

Susan at Spinning? Seasons in the Sun -- hmm -- made me remember that Bee Gees song, "I've Just Got to Get a Message to You" -- both pretty melodramatic, and yet at the time? *Sniff* :)

Sustenance Scout said...

Lisa, Last night after reading this post I went to bed humming Puff and woke up this morning with it running through my head. It brings back so many memories of hanging out at my best friend's house when I was very little and as I got older, though I don't think we listened to her sister's Puff the Magic Dragon record so much when we were teenagers. John Denver, though...! He was Shelly's favorite; I can still picture those album covers and when one of his songs plays in the grocery store or wherever, I'm never surprised to realize I remember every word. "Coming a place he'd never been before" is one of my all-time favorite lines.

Love the story of your uncle thinking of you and sending that book. K.

Lisa said...

Karen, after I posted this yesterday and Yellow brought up John Denver I had to agree and then I thought of another song that brings a lump to my throat every time -- James Taylor's Fire and Rain. I'm the oldest kid in my generation and Denis is the youngest in his, so since he's only 13 years older than I am, it seems that the older the two of us get, the less of an age difference there is. He commented on my post from today and I've found that even though he doesn't post often, he reads my blog regularly. He always got to be the cool Uncle :)

steve said...

Lisa--Kathleen and I saw Peter Paul and Mary in Davenport, IA about a decade ago. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when they sang "Puff." One poem that never fails to bring tears to my eyes is Kenneth Rexroth's poem for his mother who died in 1917 (not 1916 as the poem states) in my hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. While a Dairy Queen now stands on the block where she died, I can imagine 11-year-old Kenneth there with his mother on that last night. He wrote it in 1943-44, which explains the lines toward the end:

Died June 1916

Under your illkempt yellow roses,
Delia, today you are younger
Than your son. Two and a half decades —
The family monument sagged askew,
And he overtook your half-a-life.
On the other side of the country,
Near the willows by the slow river,
Deep in the earth, the white ribs retain
The curve of your fervent, careful breast;
The fine skull, the ardor of your brain.
And in the fingers the memory
Of Chopin ├ętudes, and in the feet
Slow waltzes and champagne twosteps sleep.
And the white full moon of midsummer,
That you watched awake all that last night,
Watches history fill the deserts
And oceans with corpses once again;
And looks in the east window at me,
As I move past you to middle age
And knowledge past your agony and waste.

debra said...

My children loved this song as much as I did. When we used to make the hour-long drive to my parents' house, they would alternate singing Puff and 10 Little Indians.

Lisa said...

Steve, that must have been an incredible show. Thank you so much for sharing this poem. My mother died at 32 when I was 12, so this resonates very powerfully.

Debra, I'm so glad to hear that Puff really is timeless!

Subscribe Now: Feed Icon

Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf