What’s the meaning of “To be a rock and not to roll”

What’s the meaning of “To be a rock and not to roll” in the lyrics of Stairway to Heaven?

There’s a lady who’s 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.
Ooh, ooh, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

The Catholic Church of the middle ages was given to selling indulgences, commonly perceived to allow the faithful to buy out (through monetary donations to the Church) of purgatory time for themselves or loved ones and into Heaven.

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.
Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it makes me wonder.

I’m thinking that the “sign on the wall” could also be the writing on the wall, perhaps biblical in nature, that can be interpreted in many ways. It makes lots of folks wonder about it.

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 who stand looking.
Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it really makes me wonder.

The coming of the Enlightenment – the mass exodus from the Church (as well as other established institutions) and its teachings and rites?

In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees,
And the voices of those who stand looking.
It makes me wonder.

A musing in particular about the election of the pope and the signal of such by means of smoke – and its effect on the masses…..

And it’s 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.

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,
It’s 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 you’re on.
And it makes me wonder.

Again about enlightenment, about the replacement of Church teachings and superstition with Man’s own ability to reason.

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 second part of the stanza as a direct address to the Lady (the Church) as a warning that Her time is about to end, it’s about to be blown away with the winds of time.

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
The tune will come to you at last.
When all is one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven….

To me this is a plea to look beyond the Lady (Church) to one’s own sense of reason and morality to get to some higher place – “the tune will come to you at last” and you’ll be the “rock” of your own faith, of your own reason,(as Jesus’ claim to Peter) and not depend upon any other earthly entity to inform you of right and wrong.

 

  1. To be the still point around which other things move. To be unchanging, stable. To have reached the end of The Journey.
  2. Meant to evoke a passage from Tolkien (as are most of the lyrics of this song): near the end of LotR, Gandalf says: “I am going to have a long talk with [Tom] Bombadil: such a talk as I have not had in all my time. He is a moss-gatherer, and I have been a stone doomed to rolling. But my rolling days are ending, and now we shall have much to say to one another.” Tom Bombadil is meant to be simultaneously inside and outside the story. Bombadil is already at Journey’s End. Or more properly, before its beginning (a type of Christ, or Man before the Fall).
  3. Echoes the term “rock and roll” (and fainter echoes of the band name The Rolling Stones and the Dylan song title “Like a Rolling Stone”).

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