Stairway to Heaven

Geez, Cecil, how could you write a whole column about “Stairway to Heaven” and not mention this thread, which contains everything you need to know about the song?:

As soon as the column is posted to the website, could someone please provide a link to it?


What’s the story behind Led Zepplin’s [sic] “Stairway to Heaven?” (Although Slug’s illustration hasn’t been added yet, and I assume they’ll eventually correct the misspelling).

I dunno why he chose this song instead of something important, like deconstructing David Geddes’ masterpiece Run Joey Run, but it’s Cecil’s column, so he get to decide…

I was pretty surprised that the Galadriel connection wasn’t mentioned.

Time to get your act together, Cecil.

God, what was I thinking. It’s not about Galadriel, it’s about Arwen.

I’ll start again.

I was pretty surprised that the Tolkein connection wasn’t mentioned.

That thread is a lot more interesting than the column.

Maybe Cecil should retire and the Chicago Reader can print a new thread from the SDMB every week. :wink:

Quick summary:

“There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold”, refers to the poem about Aragorn - “All that is gold does not glitter”. It’s badly written, but it means that Arwen was sure that Aragorn really was the real thing.

“She’s buying a stairway to heaven”, is a reference to the choice given to the children of Elrond, to either pass into the West, or to become mortal and eventually die. Arwen made the choice of mortality, and bought the “stairway to heaven”. That way, Arwen and Aragorn would be reunited after death.

What a lot of bumbling around all over something that is so simple!
Shortly before the advent of pantyhose circa 1968 (perhaps the least-romantic invention ever), girls wore “nylons” which, when snagged on something, unravelled up and down the leg forming something that was called a “run” in the US, and a “ladder” in the UK.
EXCEPT FOR SATURDAY NIGHTS, when it was called a “stairway to heaven.”

(P.S.: I don’t think my wrist will ever recover from all those attempted assaults on the Fortress Of Pantyhose.)

As a seasoned & often confused musician & lyricist, I find it hard to believe that the lyrics for Stairway are so hard to decipher. The song is an absolute masterpiece, an emotional reflection in poetic terms about a lonely woman, and her quest for spiritual perfection. If you don’t buy that theory, It might be about Robert Plant being tripped out on acid, and unable to find the elevator in whichever hotel The Zep was busy destroying at the moment. His quest, then, is also obvious.

Actually, the choice was to either go west and ‘diminish’ (in the words of Galadriel), or to stay in Middle-Earth and watch their mortal friends die. According to an earlier ‘Guide to Middle-Earth’, elves age as long as they choose to age and then stop. I think this would really apply more to the people of only partial elfin blood (Elrond and the like…which would also apply to the children of Elrond, as you said…). Aarwen could very well have stayed and lived until she was killed or chose to die of old age herself.

Anyway, she didn’t choose mortality…she chose to love a mortal and to stay with him. Amazingly, even the movie reflected this when it showed her remaining young when Aaragorn was old and dead.

What I’ve always wondered is why, depending on which album you listen to, they say:

‘When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed, with a word she can get what she came for’


‘When she gets there she knows, if the STARS are all closed, with a word she can get what she came for’

I’ve always found the second to be a better match to the idea, though the official lyrics sheet says it’s stores.

From the thread referenced earlier, it appears to me – as someone who loves the song and has pondered the lyrics – the “interesting hippie gibberish” theory is the only one that holds any weight. It’s a fun game, though.


Ha! I came in here to jokingly say, “I thought it was about Galadriel.” Oops.

interesting. i’m glad to see that discussions of STH have occurred on the Boards…since i was a bit disappointed and hurt by Cecil’s dismissal of my favorite song of all time.

i daresay STH is another one of those Rorschach test-type compilations, wherein what the hearer derives is greatly dependent on where his thoughts and dreams have already paved the pathways.

to me, a great deal of mysticism (and magick) has been the overall “story” of the lyrics. in some respects it parallels the “materialism” interpretation in the linked discussion–but physical goods are not the point at all. the story i’ve conceived from it:

the Lady (or woman of power) at first is mistakenly sure in her views of things and their ultimate worth. by acquiring these items of wealth (or power), she believes she’s assuring her pathway to her ultimate goal (“heaven”). this goal, or reaching of power, will mean that her will has become supreme, expressed in the metaphor “if the stores are all closed/with a word she can get what she came for”. the refrain gently mocks her misguided notions.

however, she’s still wise enough to not glibly bypass the sign that presents itself. she can still see that more than one meaning is possible (as is true for many metaphors). she ponders this possible duality, perhaps inspired by the bird’s singing of misgiven thoughts (or perhaps the bird is a symbol to convey the appearance of her own misgivings).

it makes you wonder. sorry, i’ll stop that.

as others have mentioned, looking to the West and longing for a new place or home is an age-old literary standby. Avalon, the Blessed Isles–many earthly “heavens” have been termed as the Lands to the West. so the Lady could be thought of as longing for that ideal goal, the bright shining place where all is good and right. i’ll admit the rings of smoke through the trees and the voices of the unknown others “who stand looking” is pretty ambiguous. but given that these things are “seen” in the singer’s “thoughts”, you could imagine they symbolize either others practicing sacred rites (people and places to reach), or (somewhat less probably, to most at least) a warning of others who are possibly pursuing, maybe with less than friendly intent.

i’ll admit to being a bit taken aback at Cecil’s pronouncement that “bustle in your hedgerow” is a euphemism for menstruating. that’s certainly a new one on me! i’m hoping (if that is indeed true) that it’s maybe Brit-speak slang, to which i can freely admit to not being fully conversant. however, in my little universe, the passage of the May Queen (in the land of Faerie) was a great occasion. it is perfectly logical to visualize the denizens of Faerie energetically preparing the royal pathways beforehand, setting everything to rights and “prettying things up”, just as humans would for a similiar ceremonial procession by a mortal queen or other high public official. the fact that “you” are able to notice this activity simple shows that you are in tune with the mystical side of the greater world. regular mortals would never notice anything out of the ordinary.

pointing out the existence of the two pathways ties into this too, to a certain extent. to follow the paths of power means you have to know they exist, and know WHICH (no pun!) is the proper one. even if you inadvertently find yourself traveling the wrong pathway, “there’s still time to change the road you’re on.” so the Lady is getting a broader picture of her actions and progress at this point. she’s evaluating (or re-evaluating) what her true goals are.

the humming could be attributed to the discordance she’s set up between the path she thought she’s been on (the Light) and the actual place her journeying has brought her to, so far. or it might just as easily be viewed as the dark lures that beset all mortals. true power means acknowledging that one is made up of both higher and baser desires. just because you wish to serve Good does not mean that you’ll never have bad thoughts or wishes. i believe “the piper” has been a long-time euphemism for the devil (“paying the piper” comes to mind as a way of expressing the ultimate cost for one’s misdeeds). so “the piper’s calling you to join him” could be interpreted as the temptation mortals eternally face–whether to work for the Light or to work against it, either actively (joining the piper) or passively (pursuing one’s own wants and desires without evaluating the costs and consequences). hence the fact that the humming “won’t go”. choosing good is really not a once done=forever proposition. every day people are confronted with the choice to do good or ill. it’s the majority of the choices, one way or the other, that shows which path we truly follow.

so, “can you hear the wind blow?” the best allegory i can think of is the biblical description of Moses (or was it Elijah?) waiting to see God pass by on the mountain. the earth moved; fire raged. but he did not step forward, for he knew God was not in either the earthquake or the fire. then a small wind sighed past, and he covered his face and went to the mouth of the cave, for he knew that God was in the wind. at the risk of sounding like i’m mixing my messages here, hearing the wind and knowing the stairway lies on same is easily interpreted as knowing and following the Right (or Light) Path.

the “we” winding down the road are not yet caught up to the Lady and her new-found wisdom. she shines the Light she has learned, and would willingly help others see how things “turn to gold” when one learns to properly interpret them and use them wisely. listening hard and learning the tune seems reasonably self-explanatory. the great goal, “when all are one and one is all” would be the mystical union all the enlightened would share. being a rock and not rolling could simply be an expression of one’s adherence to the ultimate Path.

and maybe it’s the martyr in me, but the final “buying the stairway” to me has always implied an ultimate sacrifice. the Lady has laid down everything to purchase the stairway…but it’s not for herself. she’s purchasing it for the others who she’s met and tried to guide to safety (and Light). kinda like the old style, “he bought the farm”, if you will.

please give me a 10-minute start before you go calling the guys from the Funny Farm

Okay, I’m stupid. What in the world is a Shakespeare as a unit of measurement? What does it measure? Poetic sensibility? Let me guess, if a thousand monkeys, working for a thousand years could produce a work of Shakespeare, say Hamlet, then one monkey working one year the work produced would be a milli-shakespeare?

I thought the phrase “stairway to heaven” was a clever term for the gallows, I’ve heard it used that way.

I’ve given you a bit over an hour. They’re on their way.


“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

No, that would be a micro-Shakespeare. A thousand monkeys working for a year would be a milli-shakespeare. But most likely they’d really need much longer than 1000 years to reproduce Hamlet, so these definitions would have to be adjusted accordingly.

I don’t think Cecil meant anything so explicit in coining “milli-shakespeare”. He was just trying to give us a general idea of how good the lyrics are. In his opinion, of course.

Personally, I thought this was one of the better columns Cecil’s produced lately. I especially liked the line

Classic Cecil.

No, that would be a microshakespeare. 1000 monkeys for 1000 years would be 1 million monkey-years, so a shakespeare is (by your theory) 1 million monkey-years. One monkey for one year would be one monkey-year, or a millionth of a shakespeare, or one microshakespeare. A millishakespeare would be one monkey for 1000 years (presumably not the same monkey the whole time), or 1000 monkeys for a year (quicker, but you need more typewriters).

It’s a little unusual (but not unheard of) to use a unit of measurement so large that most things measured are less than one unit - if we assume Shakespeare is the greatest poet ever, anyone else will measure only a fraction of a shakespeare. It might be worth considering using the monkey-year, perhaps just called “monkey”, as the basic unit instead. This allows us to say things like “Wow, that Bill Shakespeare is at least a megamonkey poet!”.

I worked 10 minutes on this posting; I figure I’m at least twice as good a writer as a monkey, so that makes this a 38 picoshakespeare posting, or 38 micromonkeys.

Wouldn’t “Unmediated Pulsations of the Reptile Brain” be a great name for a rock band? A little long maybe. You could go by UPRB though.

That’s the funniest thing Cecil has written in a long time, and I like the song too. Nice job sir!