The songs of Peter, Paul, and Mary hold a special place in many of our hearts. Leaving on a Jet Plane, Where Have All the Flowers Gone and of course, Puff the Magic Dragon. We have an old tape recording (nothing fancier than that in Ireland of the seventies!) of my brother, aged about 5 or 6, singing “Puff the Magic Dragon”, with me ever the bossy older sister (by a year) correcting him when he got the words wrong. I always associate that song with him and it brings back sweet memories of childhood. After the song’s initial success, speculation arose that the song contained veiled references to smoking marijuana, but the authors of the song have repeatedly rejected this urban legend and have strongly and consistently denied that they intended any references to drug use.
The lyrics for the song were based on a 1959 poem by Leonard Lipton, a nineteen-year-old Cornell student. Lipton was inspired by an Ogden Nash poem titled “Custard the Dragon,” about a “realio, trulio little pet dragon.” Lipton passed his poem on to friend and fellow Cornell student Peter Yarrow, who created music and more lyrics to make the poem into the song.
The lyrics tell a story of the ageless dragon Puff and his playmate Jackie Paper, a little boy who grows up and loses interest in the imaginary adventures of childhood and leaves Puff alone and depressed. The story of the song takes place “by the sea” in the fictional land of Honalee.
Mary Travers, the Mary of the trio that brought folk music from coffeehouses to top-40 radio, died yesterday, after living with leukemia for several years.
So, for old times sake, for those of us who remember that little magic dragon, here is the sing-a-long version on YouTube.