Reading Stairway: Rock Commentaries, Zeppelin

Stairway to Heaven

The paradox of Stairway is that, while being the number one rock song of all time, no one is able to speak very sensibly about just what it says. It is a kind of automatic writing,[v] and so even the author cannot be sure. The meaning of Stairway is a great perennial question of rock lyrics, and while it is not possible or desirable to solve the mystery, it is possible to read through the song, and put together a consistent understanding of what is going on therein.

The lady is the lady we all know, the lady who rejects our love, for whatever reason, and the song is about her and her mistaken path. She may be the same as the Lady from “Ten Years Gone,” or the lady addressed in “Celebration Day.” She is limited to appearance, the glitter, and attempting to buy her path to paradise or way of ascent, or stairway. Somewhat like a very wealthy shopper, who knows the store owner who has made a killing off her, she thinks she knows that she has a password, such as “Jesus,” that promises her special treatment and will allow her to get what she came for, even if the stores are closed.

There’s a lady whose sure

All that glitters is gold

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven

When she gets there she knows

If the stores are all closed

With a word she can get what she came for

There’s a sign on the wall, But she wants to be sure

Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings

In a tree by the brook there’s a songbird who sings sometimes

All of our thoughts are misgiven.

“Misgiven” is a strange word, because it does not mean mistaken, but full of doubt and apprehension, as in “a feeling of doubt or suspicion especially concerning a future event.” This doubt may grow into a bustle in the hedgerow, or a humming head that won’t go, because she really doesn’t know. The sign on the wall must say something like heaven or paradise. That words have more than one meaning prevents the literal interpretation of anything. For the poet, the two meanings of words are at the center of the choice between the apparent way and the true way. The lady has a teaching of the possibility that words have more than one meaning, but the maxim is held in a way that is itself superficial, so there is a note of sarcasm in the statement “cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.” The song is about the way to heaven, an apparent way and by implication not a way to Hell but a genuine way to heaven. What happens, then, is that the woman arrives and has a sudden eerie doubt about whether the sign on the wall means what she thought it meant. She has in fact arrived in the apparent paradise. The second of the two meanings is represented by the songbird: something like the allure of Mr. Plant or of the muse to a woman who rejects or rejected him in order to adhere to the apparent way to heaven. Her true stairway, as the song will explain, lies on the whispering wind. The songbird is the way of music or of music and the new age, that the woman rejects while buying a stairway to heaven, and this if correct, is the key to the song. What he looks to is shown in the next set of lines, the second of the two meanings and the essence of his vision:

There’s a feeling I get when I look to the West

And my spirit is crying for leaving

In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees

And the voices of those that stand looking.

Longing for the West and California always meant the longing for the road and the groupies and parties away from home, but it is also an intellectual height and a high or soaring liberty. What it is he seeks is imaged not by any of these things, but by rings of smoke through the tree seen in his thoughts, and the voices of “those,” something like the watchers or great masters, imagined to stand looking in the lives of us, the creatures of today. This life of things seen in his thoughts, is not only a private vision, but is a general movement. It is whispered that soon, if we all will but call for the new spirituality, “the piper” or the musician will lead us, not to the diabolic or irrational things, but rather to “reason.” This is the life of the imagination that is in harmony with the rational or Apollonian intellect. The same is a teaching about the messiah, that when mankind calls for him, he will return, but as yet we do not. A new day will dawn then, for those who have been patient, and the spiritual happiness of the humans in the new society is described as the forests echoing with laughter.

And its whispered that soon if we all call the tune

Then the piper will lead us to reason

And a new day will dawn for those who stand long

And the forests will echo with laughter

And it makes me wonder

Wonder is of course the beginning of philosophy, as described by Aristotle (Metaphysics, I.16?). What makes him wonder is the whispered prophecy of a new age. And so…

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow

Don’t be alarmed now

Its just a spring clean for the May Queen

Yes there are two paths you can go by

But in the long run

There’s still time to change the road your on

Your head is humming and it won’t go

In case you don’t know

The piper’s calling you to join him

Dear Lady can you hear the wind blow

And did you know

Your stairway lies on the whispering wind

The next two sets of lines say basically the same thing, and setting them together allows the poem to be read. “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow” or your “head is humming,” means if you are disturbed or troubled in a fundamental sense, as with the way your life is going, this dissatisfaction is only a spring head cleaning in preparation for the May Queen, since the piper’s calling the lady to join him. The way of music or the May Queen, the piper’s way, is calling with the whisper of the wind, and this is her true stairway, to heaven.

And as we wind on down the road

Our shadows taller than our soul

There walks a lady we all know

Who shines white light and wants to show

How everything still turns to gold

And if you listen very hard

A tune will come to you at last

When all are one and one is all

To be a rock and not to roll.

As we continue on our journey, with our shadows or dark sides taller or more developed than our souls, the lady we all know continues to shine white light, and wants to show how all that glitters is gold. She is now like the Christian Church or tradition, the very Queen of Light from the previous song. According to the poet, she continues to intend to show how everything still turns to gold, as she thought in the first set of lines that all that glitters is gold. This makes it more clear that she is like Midas, and her way the way of wealth. The concluding lines are the most difficult, but it relates again to the piper and the tune of the other of the two paths. If you listen hard, as to the whisper of the wind, a tune, like that of the songbird or piper, in the end will come to her or us of its own. At last, or in the end, the two ways are one, and here there is finally permanence or stability that does not move, ramble or seek. The rock is also the foundation of the church, and here it is the noun or mineral instead of the verb, the rock in the rolling stone.

The followers of the dark way equate the way of light with the way of appearance, not realizing that there might be a way of light that is the way of nature and truth behind the appearance. While there is an artificial way of light, there is also a true way of light, and it is not the way of Lucifer but of that other one who has the morning star, the Messiah, or, as the Christians think, Jesus. But to the Luciferian the real life of the soul or the genuine spiritual life then appears to be found on the dark side, as a shadow made by the artificial light, the man-made law based on the light. The things of love, for example, appear rejected by the lives of the saints, and then the soul’s most immediate or direct experience of the divine appears to be outside the way of light. Strangely, such teachings presuppose the truth of the Christian cosmos, defining themselves in reaction against this, all the while pretending to advocate some rejected or repressed nature or natural drive, as that of the body for sex, or power, when the body has enslaved the mind.

The song is consistent with the Luciferian teaching followed by Page, except that what is said is that this path is the true stairway, to heaven, and not a “highway to hell.” Of course, the Luciferian teaching of Crowley, “do what you will,” could be presented as the way to paradise, but we hold out hope that neither Plant nor the poet of Zeppelin intends such a thing.

A Summary of the Teaching of the Commentary on the Revelation

This summary is taken from the last two pages:

To summarize, the teaching of this commentary has been: that John is the writer of the Revelation; that it is worth reading for its own sake, as well as for our worries about the future; and that the reading confers a blessing. It is addressed not to everyone, but to those already turned by the gospels, the servants. It is about the martyrs and the avenging of their martyrdom in the end times. The rapture, like the desolating sacrilege, is not directly addressed. The fourth chapter is a vision of the throne that continues throughout, so that the completion of the number of the saints or martyrs is a completion of the throne. The seals are of a different time scale than the trumpets, addressing centuries following the incarnation, up through the making of the martyrs seen in the fifth seal.

There is some conjunction of Jewish and Christian things foreseen, a re-grafting in of Israel. The Messiah will not be born in the end times, but is coming on the clouds, having already been born, died and resurrected. Israel may be set up to receive the false messiah, having missed the first incarnation, but will surely see the Messiah at the second coming, and then the two will agree. The two witnesses may refer not to individual prophets but, as the olive trees, to two bodies of the faithful, whether the Eastern and Western Churches or the Jewish and Christian. The two legs of the statue in the vision of Daniel correspond to the areas of the Eastern and Western Churches.

The twelfth chapter describes the incarnation and the consequent pursuit of the woman and her offspring, who are the Christians. This pursuit has led to the martyrs seen under the throne with the opening of the sixth seal. The worldwide earthquake destroys the present political orders, while the advances of civilization are retained, allowing after a profound silence for the emergence of the apocalyptic things concerning the Beast. The pursuit of the woman and her offspring is continued by the sea and land beasts of the thirteenth chapter, and provides the context. Meanwhile, there are survivors, and these gather on Mount Zion. The harvest and the winepress may be two different occurrences. The return is addressed in Chapters 14, 15 and 19, focusing on different aspects. The Beast is distinct from Babylon, and his kingdom is distinct. He attacks Babylon, and at the same time makes martyrs of the true offspring. The identity of Babylon is a mystery, but it is something like world empire, or the assumption made by the seven world empires, concluding with Rome and then the worldwide worship of the beast. The two books of Daniel and the Revelation together provide the Biblical apocalyptic teaching. Babylon is the whole of the statue seen by Daniel, named after its head. In the worst period of all human history, the beast will attack Babylon and make martyrs of the witnesses before the mark of the beast is required. This will continue in the martyrdom of what become the millennial saints: those who refuse the mark and are not conquered by the Beast. The extent of the world rule is not clear, since his control does not prevent the nations of the four corners of the world from gathering at Armageddon. Nor is it clear that the millennial reign of the saints is literal from the earthly point of view, though this does seem to be the most consistent reading. Babylon is contrasted with the woman that is the true Bride. The New Jerusalem is mystically identified with the body of the faithful, who have no church as we do now. No lamps are needed because the Lord is present. The marriage of the Bride and the Lamb is the most complete image of God in the scriptures, mystically including mankind in the throne. The harmony of the whole, lost from Eden, is restored in the union of God and His creation, through those not only created, but begotten, by Him and by the Bride. The saints even of this age are from this union, and are a foreshadowing or foretaste of the heavenly city. The new earth is like the former one in that there are nations. The story of their paying tribute indicates the difference, if the rod of iron indicates the similarity of the New Jerusalem to a world empire. The need for the rod of iron indicates the difference between the new condition and the simple imagination of perfection or of heaven, which remains the mystery that heaven has always been.

Aquinas on Coining

Has anyone yet essayed a principled response to the 1215 statement of St. Thomas Aquinas, cited still as the theoretical basis for the Inquisition? Thomas wrote that heresy was worse than the forgery of money, for which the penalty was already quite severe (Summa, II, Q xi; New Catechism, 1984, p. 221).

“They cannot touch me for coining: I am the king himself,” says Lear in his madness at Dover (Lear, IV, vi). Nature’s above art in that sense…” as he imagines giving his soldiers their impress money. Like the tyranny of the Roman emperors, the question could not even be safely addressed for about three to five centuries, and by that time had slipped by unnoticed too. The mad assertion is that the king, as the cause of convention, is the cause of value.

“It is an heretic that makes the fire, not she that burns in it,” says Shakespeare’s Paulina in A Winter’s Tale. This: human ignorance, is the problem, and in a word, we think the answer is the US freedom of religion, solving the problem that had plagued the West since Constantine’s Edict of Toleration turned to heresy hunting in the fourth century. So we replace Aquinas with Socrates at the head of our Academy, despite the clarity of the mind of St. Thomas. One wonders if Thomas might have amended or recanted, having seen what then unfolded when the Knights of the Crusades were turned on fellow Christians over theoretical immaturities. As we treat others, so it will be with us, and as George Mason and Lincoln relate, nations cannot be punished in the next life, and so are in this.

Milton, in Areopagita, portrays the practical problem: Censors are supposed to be employed to judge the work of those who have better things to do.