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.