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In his song Where to Now, St. Peter, Sir Elton John sings:

I took myself a blue canoe,
And I floated like a leaf
Dazzling, dancing half enchanted
In my Merlin sleep.

Crazy was the feeling
Restless were my eyes
Insane they took the paddles
My arms they paralysed.

(Lyric written by Bernie Taupin. Available on the album Tubleweed Connection. See the whole lyric.)

I found myself translating Elton's songs into Czech and I am curious about the meaning of "blue canoe". Here is what I have:

According to my friend, "blue canoe" had been used by the soldiers of Confederation during the civil war in the USA meaning a "bullet". Now this would make some sense:

I took myself a blue canoe [I shot myself to death],
And I floated like a leaf [towards the afterlife]
Dazzling, dancing half enchanted [I shot myself badly / the wrong way, dying hours in horrible pain]
In my Merlin sleep [in a sleep there is no waking from].

Crazy was the feeling
Restles were my eyes [this follows the scheme above]
Insane they took the paddles [my hands took the "paddles of the canoe" = gun],
My arms they paralysed ["my paralysed hands", my hands fell down after the gunshot].

I am a little skeptic about this interpretation. First of all, I find it improbable that Taupin would describe "dying hours in horrible pain" this way; it is neither touching nor fun. There are hands falling down after the gunshot, as well as "dancing in pain". The music Elton John composed to this lyric is far beyond psychedelic, further deepening my doubts. And, one more thing that does not match at all:

It took a sweet young foreign gun
This lazy life is short
Something for nothing always ending
With a bad report.

Why would a gun be "sweet" or "young"? Now this could be allegorical expression of a "young soldier", but at the very beginning of the song, he claims himself to be the executor of whatever causes him to die.

I have come with a different idea: "blue canoe" could be some elusive drug / poisonous substance, contained (for example) in the seeds or blossoms of a (tropical) flower that is blue in color. This would make sense to me:

I took myself a blue canoe [I have eaten a poisonous flower blue in color],
And I floated like a leaf [I have been disoriented]
Dazzling, dancing half enchanted [I could not control my body]
In my Merlin sleep [in a sleep there is no waking from]

Crazy was the feeling
Restless were my eyes [kaleidoscopic vision or other vision distortion]
Insane they took the paddles [my insane hands took the drug]
My arms they paralysed [my hands, now paralysed].

This goes with the verse "It took a sweet young foreign gun" meaning fruits, seeds or blossoms of a flower that are blue in color and sweet in taste, that come from a foreign land he finds himself (fighting) and that are "young" meaning unripe, thus poisonous as it is typical for some flowers.

Also, it goes well together with the Merlin; the association between Merlin and shooting myself to death is in my opinion much weaker than the association between Merlin and a poisonous substance, a "spell" that causes "my Merlin sleep".

I have been looking "blue canoe" up in the Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary without success, I failed to find it in my books, too.

If anyone knows the meaning of "blue canoe", please do let me know. If you see any imperfection in the way I come to understand this, please do the same. I will be grateful for everyone's opinion on these two interpretations of the song.

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5  
There is an underlying assumption that song lyrics always make sense or always have meaning. Sometimes songwriters just put words together because they sound good. Or, alternatively, songwriters create songs that are open to interpretation by the individual, sans intended meaning. There may not be an actual, official meaning of "blue canoe." –  mawcsco Aug 19 '13 at 16:02
1  
As far as I can tell from looking at Google books, before Taupin wrote the lyrics "blue canoe" did not mean anything but an actual canoe which was of the color blue. –  Peter Shor Aug 19 '13 at 17:14
    
Thank you, @mawcsco. Still I am sure there is a meaning to this song, cannot let it go. –  David Čepelík Aug 19 '13 at 19:08
    
I have never read or heard of 'blue canoe' used to describe bullets in my thousands of books read about the US Civil War. lead bullets turn white with age, not blue. –  Oldcat Jul 28 at 19:28
    
They said, "You have a blue canoe, You do not what you should do." The man replied, "Things that you do Are changed within a blue guitar." –  Peter Shor Jul 28 at 19:28

7 Answers 7

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think your friend's interpretation of 'blue canoe' (ACW Confederate soldiers' slang for bullet) may be correct, although I've not been able to find any confirmation of that. However, I don't think that 'I took myself..." means 'I shot myself', rather it's the sense of 'I took a bullet' (i.e. was shot). For the rhythm of the song, it scans better to say 'I took myself a blue canoe' rather than 'I took me a blue canoe' ('I [xxx] me a common Southern idiom, e.g. 'I drank me a beer'.) So, 'I took myself a blue canoe' = I got shot.

'Sweet young foreign gun' would then be the soldier who shot him, 'gun' in this context being a someone who uses a gun. Taupin uses the same term elsewhere on the album: 'Ballad of a Well-Known Gun', i.e. a gunslinger.

There is also a pun in the last line of the last verse: 'Something for nothing always ending with a bad report', 'report' also having the meaning of an explosive noise, e.g. the report of a rifle (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/report), as well as the line '...in such a silent place as this, beyond the rifle range'.

I always thought the line 'Insane they took the paddles, my arms they paralysed' was a reference to medics trying to get the wounded man to safety, but, as mawsco so rightly said, songwriters put song lyrics together for the way they sound as well as meaning (if any).

At the time he wrote the lyrics to Tumbleweed Connection, Bernie Taupin was fascinated by the history and culture of the American South and the [American] Civil War era in particular; this theme is carried through much, if not all, of the album. 'Where to Now, St. Peter' is a hauntingly beautiful song about a young Confederate soldier who has been shot, is dying, and is contemplating what happens next. It's also a song about that soldier's faith - 'I may not be a Christian, but I've done all one man can'.

Sorry for the long answer, but this has been one of my all-time favorite songs for decades.

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Thank you so much for your lengthy answer! –  David Čepelík Aug 23 '13 at 10:04

Well, I guess you have to be a child of the sixties to really understand this. I ran into blue canoes at Woodstock. On the way in I had a sack full of oranges and kept giving them out to people — it was a hot day and it was about a five mile walk to Yasgur's Farm. And nearly every time I gave someone an orange they gave me back either some smoke of some downers or some acid or several other things I knew not what they were. When I got to the site, there was a wooded area at the back (the site was like a natural amphitheatre with the stage at the lowest point) near where the Hog Farm set up and served granola and a strange sort of think gruel and other stuff. A little further to the side Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters parked their psychedelic schoolbus and administered electric koolaid acid tests.

Well, the wooded area had two paths that crossed in the middle, and that is where all the drug dealers set up shop, usually displaying their wares on upturned cardboard boxes. So on arriving I walked back to the pharmacopeia and got the experts to identify several of my until-then unidentified acquisitions. I had been given two rather large blue pills in a capsule not unlike the cylindrical ones with rounded ends that many over the counter drugs come in. The experts identified these as "Blue Canoes" = mescaline. I had done mescaline before and rather enjoyed it, so I retained those (though I traded most of my downers and assorted others for purple microdot or orange sunshine whenever possible — the exchange rate was a bit high, but well worth it).

So the answer is, "I took myself a blue canoe, and I floated like a leaf" means "I dropped some mescaline and tripped". Evidently Sir Elton's trip was a mixture of good and bad — paralysed arms, but also "dazzling, dancing, half-enchanted".

By the way, the reference to Merlin reinforces this. If you check it out, Geoffrey of Monmouth, who first described Merlin in the 12th century, called him Merlin Ambrosius, from ambrosia which is from the Greek and Latin meaning "elixir of life".

It got me through the rainstorm on Sunday, and if the truth be known for a time there I was dazzling, dancing, half enchanted.

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Thanks! But there are some pieces missing, aren't they? What about the reference to St. Peter himself? This would make sense to me if this was a song about a soldier who drugged himself to withstand the fight and was killed. –  David Čepelík Dec 26 '13 at 14:22

they took my paddles my arms they paralyzed. He is dying and facing st peter, who decides heaven or hell -which road I'm on; so, no paddles no arms he is helpless to his fate and perhaps was helpless in determining the course of his life. C

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Thank you for further explanation! –  David Čepelík Oct 23 '13 at 18:03

I've always been fascinated by this song, and I think the lyric is a very clever 'double-meaning' one which fits two different interpretations. The Civil War/dying soldier interpretation is one than never occurred to me, but makes sense - it is also in-keeping with the general lyrical theme of the album. But, ever since I first heard this song as a teenager, I've assumed the opening verse was about a psychedelic drug, and the above comment about mescaline and 'blue canoes' is fascinating. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but mescaline can be obtained from the San Pedro cactus... so there's a link between mescaline and St. Peter for you!

Incidentally, I recently obtained this album on vinyl for the first time and the stereo/phasing effects were a real surprise, since they are completely lost on CD/mp3 and cassette versions, all of which I have purchased at some point. My mate gave me an original vinyl copy as a housewarming present last year :)

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The soldier is a sniper using a specialized foreign made rifle and insanely took the paddles meaning he paddled like crazy to get away. I interpreted the entire mission from feelings of anticipation and trepidation, stealth.......until the deed is done, "beyond the rifle range". St Peter will I be allowed in to Heaven? As a soldier doing his duty questioning which road I'm on? It makes sense along with the themes of all the other songs on the album.

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Blue canoe is a peaceful canoe. it is a color not commonly used by civil war so it probably is a good color to not provoke either side. So I guess if he knew he was going to die then he wanted to drift peacefully.

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The last thoughts of a dying soldier is clearly the best fit for this one. It works on several levels as has been mentioned.. The Woodstock mescaline stuff is obviously a much bigger leap, and nonsense if you ask me. I wish more pop rock writers these days chose historical subjects, and did it so eloquently. This tune has long been a favorite of mine too, and thanks to all now for the insight to understand it. .

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What is with the double periods?? –  tchrist Jan 19 at 1:36
    
This isn't an answer. –  Rory Alsop Jan 19 at 14:04

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