"Scarlet Begonias" as written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter....
As I was walkin' down Grosvenor Square
Not a chill to the winter but a nip to the air
From the other direction she was calling my eye
It could be an illusion
But I might as well try, might as well try

She had rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes
And I knew without asking she was into the blues
She wore scarlet begonias
Tucked into her curls
I knew right away
She was not like other girls, other girls

In the thick of the evening when the dealing got rough
She was too pat to open and too cool to bluff
As I picked up my matches and
Was closing the door
I had one of those flashes
I'd been there before, been there before

Well I ain't often right
But I've never been wrong
It seldom turns out the way it does in the song
Once in a while
You get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right

Well, there ain't nothing wrong with the way she moves
Or scarlet begonias or a touch of the blues
And there's nothing wrong with
The look that's in her eye
I had to learn the hard way
To let her pass by, let her pass by

The wind in the willows played tea for two
The sky was yellow and the sun was blue
Strangers stopping strangers
Just to shake their hand
Everybody's playing
In the Heart of Gold Band
Heart of Gold Band

Lyrics submitted by itsmyownmind

"Scarlet Begonias" as written by Robert C. Christie Hunter Jerome J. Garcia

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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Scarlet Begonias song meanings
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  • +2
    General Commentthis song reminds me of janis joplin "She had rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes. And I knew without askin' she was into the blues."
    sunshinedaydream12on February 16, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIt could be about pigpen and janis. pigpen died just over a year before its debut
    tenneseejedon April 03, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General Commentthe song is about a gent falling over and over for the same type of girl, and through out the course of the song the narrator realizes that he will never find any sort of true love through this type of girl. And thats ok with him. The beginning of the song is dark and gloomy and describes a cold dark place. Through out the course of the song it is realized and a weight is lifted off the shoudlers of the narrator, the end is happy and paints a vibrant color. Not to mention the whole this is fillied with nonsensical contradictions.
    wdpimon September 07, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOnce in a while you get shown the light
    In the strangest of places if you look at it right.

    ^the answer to life^
    Drucker Truckeron November 10, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Commentthis song is pure love.
    pure fucking love.

    The sky was yellow and the sun was blue.

    i'm so happy i could die.

    p.s. when janis sings this with the dead, it's a beautiful thing.
    Barking Sparrowson December 12, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Commentanyone think there's a The Wind In The Willows allusion? It was a popular children's book from the early 1900's? i can't figure out if it's just a coincidence
    sourire0947on February 13, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI named my daughter Scarlett after this song...THIS song, not the Sublime version. I love the Sublime version very much, but I hate how they took such a beautiful song and made it about some flunkies who sold a bunch of drugs and got sold out by the girl in the song. Disrespectful in my opinion.

    Scarlet Begonias makes me think of a man who has been in the dark and alone when suddenly, he meets a girl whom he thinks is too good to be true and falls in love with her.
    The beginning of the song is describing the cold, lonely atmosphere, but the last verse is describing a much brighter and happier setting.
    Sounds like a lonely guy falling in love and finding happiness to me!!
    dahfuqon May 07, 2012   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI love Scarlet Begonias. It packs so much story into such a brief lyric. This rather personal interpretation of the lyrics probably says more about me than it says about Robert Hunter, but this is what I get when I try to match wavelengths with the songwriter:

    "As I was walking round Grosvenor Square
    Not a chill to the winter but a nip to the air"

    Hunter is not speaking literally about the weather. He is using the common poetic metaphor of the seasons as a metaphor for the phases of life. Springtime is childhood. Puberty marks the transition between spring and summer. Summer is young adulthood, driven by physical attraction and hormones, when a young man is largely focused on sex. The transition from summer to fall is the subtle shift in focus that happens in middle adulthood where instead of looking for someone to spend the night with, he starts to look for a spouse. Fall is mature adulthood, when his focus is on marriage, children, building and securing a home and family. Winter is old age.

    So what Hunter means by the line is, I'm by no means an old man, but I feel a sense of anxiety, like I'm falling behind in my life. Hunter was 31 years old when he wrote Scarlet Begonias and was going through the metaphoric summer-fall transition. He is no just longer looking to spend the evening with a woman; he wants a deeper relationship. He may not realize it yet, but he is now looking for a wife.

    "From the other direction, she was calling my eye.
    It could be an illusion, but I might as well try."

    He sees a girl on the street, but she is younger than him. Given what he is looking for at this stage of his life, he has misgivings. It could be an illusion that she is the right girl for him, but he decides to take the chance. He describes her:

    "She had rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes
    And I knew without asking she was into the blues
    She had scarlet begonias tucked into her curls
    I knew right away she was not like other girls."

    She decorates herself in the manner of a little girl -- rings, bells and flowers. But she's also "into the blues." The blues is adult music. Hunter is telling us that the girl is in the stage of her life where she is transitioning from spring to summer. She is coming of age. She is entering into the stage of her life -- young adulthood -- that Hunter is now leaving. Hunter sees this, and this is why he is unsure whether the idea that they are compatible is "an illusion." But since he has decided to try, he introduces himself to her, they hit it off and spend the rest of the day together. We know this because in the next line we learn that they are still together and talking in the evening.

    At this point I have a specific mental image that isn't in the lyrics. They have spent the day together. Now it's the evening and they are back at her place. As a young independent woman, she likely lives with roommates, so they are not alone in the house. She wants some privacy with her new friend, so they go to her bedroom, but for the sake of propriety she leaves her bedroom door open, so her roommates can keep an ear open to ensure that everything stays ok. The two of them sit in her room, chatting and sharing a smoke.

    "In the heat of the evening when the dealing got rough"

    He's struggling inside. He feels that things are going badly. He likes the girl, and he is the one pursuing her, so he's the one who has to play his cards, so to speak, make the offer, but he is having problems because the things he wants to offer are things she doesn't need.

    "She was too pat to open and too cool to bluff."

    Most people seem to interpret this line as, "She was so pat that she couldn't open and she was so cool that she couldn't bluff." But that interpretation makes little sense for a couple of reasons. In cards, if you are holding a pat hand, you have all the cards you need already, so you simply open by standing pat. And you have to be cool to bluff, because you are trying to trick the other player.

    A second argument against that interpretation is that the rest of the song is written in the first person. If this is the correct interpretation then Hunter has switched to the narrative voice for one line, to explain her internal mental state, then reverted to the first person voice. This seems out of place. There is, however, another way to parse the line that both maintains the first person voice and makes much more sense.

    I parse it as,

    "Her hand was so pat that I had no opening, and she was so cool that I couldn't bluff her."

    He has certain cards to play. He can offer commitment, permanence, stability, marriage. However, at this stage in her life she isn't looking for any of those things and he knows it. She already has everything she needs. She is young, beautiful, independent, looking for adventure. So the cards that he has to play -- all the things he has to offer her -- are things that she doesn't need yet and isn't looking for. He has no opening.

    If he wanted, he could probably easily turn the evening into a one night stand. He would have to bluff -- lie about his intentions -- but he doesn't want to do that. He thinks she is a cool girl and doesn't want to hurt her or spoil the evening. Or maybe he thinks that she would see right through him. Either way, she was too cool to bluff.

    "As I picked up my matches, she was closing the door."

    So he makes the tough but righteous decision. He likes her, but she is too young for him, and now it is time for him to do the right thing and say goodnight. So he picks up his matchbook and puts it into his pocket. She correctly reads this as a cue that he is about to leave and surprises him by getting up and closing the bedroom door. Now the two of them are in the closed room together. The tables have turned! Up until this moment he has been pursuing her, but now she has made the move on him!

    So what happened?

    He was so busy processing the situation from his perspective and struggling that he didn't realize that she had experienced the evening from a very different perspective. She was walking down the street, when a very nice man stopped her and introduced himself to her. He spent the entire day easily talking with her, paying attention to her, and he was a perfect gentleman as well! He never hit on her, never pressured her in any way, and now he's saying goodnight.

    He's exactly what she wants. Right now. He had closed the deal without even trying.

    "I had one of those flashes - I'd been there before."

    and suddenly he realizes what just happened. She is acting exactly the same way that he used to act. When he was her age!

    So what happens next? Well, a gentleman would never tell, but Hunter offers some coy clues:

    "Well I ain't often right but I've never been wrong."

    I won't claim to be someone who does the right thing all the time, but I've never wronged someone.

    "Seldom turns out the way it does in the song."

    You might think I'm making this story up, but this time it really did happen.

    "Once in a while you get shown the light
    In the strangest of places, if you look at it right."

    He has a revelation, and shares it with the listener:

    "Well there ain't nothing wrong with the way she moves."

    The way she moves through life.

    "Or of Scarlet Begonias or a touch of the blues"

    Her childlike attributes and her adult attributes.

    "And there's nothing wrong with the look that's in her eyes."

    I take this to mean that they took LSD together, but Hunter actually wrote "love that's in her eyes." and I like that better.

    "I had to learn the hard way to let her pass by"

    I take this to mean that he DID spend the night, but regretted it later because he shouldn't have.

    "The wind in the willow played Tea For Two"
    The sky was yellow and the sun was blue
    Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand
    Everybody's playing in the Heart of Gold band"

    It's the next day, he's out walking and notices strangers interacting. Strangers stopping strangers, just the way he stopped the girl yesterday. All the people interacting with each other like members of a band all playing the same song together. The world in tune.

    Once again, love this song. Thanks for reading.
    john101550on April 08, 2017   Link
  • 0
    General Commentwonderful
    skennedy97on July 11, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis song reminds me of my dear friends taryn. this song is very much her and listening to it makes me want to cry. it is something amazing when music is that good.
    kingmikekingon March 20, 2003   Link

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