Puff, the Magic Dragon
Peter Yarrow, Leonard Lipton
If you haven’t noticed, this past week’s entries at Word and Song have had to do with a theme, childhood and innocence and imagination and growing up, too, if you had a chance to watch the film, “Goodbye, My Lady,” staring the fine child actor, Brandon DeWilde. So what song came to my mind this time around? “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” written in the 1950’s, but only recorded in 1963, when it became a huge hit for the folk group, “Peter, Paul, and Mary.” Peter Yarow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers were important players in the great folk music revival of the 1960’s, which had a great influence on popular music in general, and on early rock and roll, in particular.
”Puff, the Magic Dragon” is a song about the native innocence and imagination of childhood — as it was generally experienced in the not-so-distant past. There’s a bittersweet note at the end of the song which should touch us all when we think of the adult’s eventual “growing out” of that childhood innocence. Here at Word and Song, however, we believe that no one, at any age, should lose the sense of wonder that is natural to children, but which in our times is purposely suppressed and even ridiculed. This week’s hymn, “It Fell upon a Summer’s Day” (set to the tune, Childhood) reminds us, as Jesus taught, that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven we must “become as a little child.” I invite you to become as a little child — for just a moment — as you listen to this ever-fresh and sweetly haunting American folk song.
As an aside, the lyrics for this song were not written by Peter, Paul, or Mary, but by a then-college student friend of Peter Yarrow, Leonard Lipton, who was inspired by Ogden Nash’s whimsical poem, “The Tale of Custard The Dragon.” Yarrow later brought “Puff” to life in song and installed him in the imagination of entire generations of the young and the young at heart.
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