In interviews, Hendrix usually gave different answers about the development of the song's lyrics. Biographer Harry Shapiro points out that "Purple Haze" is most likely "a pot-pourri of ideas" which Hendrix developed over time. As a fan of science fiction, he frequently incorporated its imagery in his songwriting. Hendrix read Night of Light, a 1966 novel by Philip José Farmer, that expanded on a short story published in 1957. In the story set on a distant planet, sunspots produce a "purplish haze" which has a disorienting effect on the inhabitants. An early handwritten draft by Hendrix, titled "Purple Haze – Jesus Saves", uses dream-like imagery where the sense of direction and time is distorted.
In an interview on January 28, 1967, before the song was completed, Hendrix was asked how he wrote songs; he responded, "I dream a lot and I put my dreams down as songs. I wrote one called 'First Look Around the Corner' and another called 'The Purple Haze,' which was about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea." He later expressed frustration that he was unable to more fully develop his ideas for the song:
You know the song we had named 'Purple Haze'? [It] had about a thousand, thousand words ... I had it all written out. It was about going through, through this land. This mythical ... because that's what I like to do is write a lot of mythical scenes. You know, like the history of the wars on Neptune.
So far, only a crumpled single sheet of ruled yellow tablet paper is on exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and does not include any of the lyrics used in the Experience song. Chandler admitted that in the early stages, he helped Hendrix shape the songs and lyrics to radio single length. Biographer Keith Shadwick comments that although much of the complexity may have been sacrificed, it resulted in verses that are "simple, focused and striking".
After its release, Hendrix offered another explanation: "He [the song's protagonist] likes this girl so much, that he doesn't know what [state] he's in, ya know. A sort of daze, I suppose. That's what the song is all about." This draws on an experience Hendrix had while still in New York, where he felt that a girl was attempting to use voodoo to trap him and he became ill. Shapiro believes that this is reflected in most of the first two verses:
"Purple haze all around, don't know if I'm coming up or down
Am I happy or in misery, whatever it is that girl put a spell on me"
Many fans and the press interpret the song as referring to a psychedelic experience due to lines such as "purple haze all in my brain" and "'scuse me while I kiss the sky". However, Hendrix and those closest to him never discussed any connection between psychedelic drugs and the song, although Shapiro admits that, at the time, to do so would have been "professional suicide". Chandler, who claimed he was present when Hendrix wrote it, later denied suggestions that Hendrix did so while under the influence of psychedelics.
Commenting on the lyrics, Shadwick concludes "the music [was allowed] to tell the larger story. Poised effectively between the twin intoxicants of drugs and desire, they could be interpreted to the listener's taste". In concert, Hendrix sometimes substituted lyrics for comic effect; "'scuse me while I kiss the sky" was rendered "'scuse me while I kiss this guy" (while gesturing towards Mitchell), "'scuse me while I kiss that policeman" (at a near riot in Los Angeles), or "'scuse me while I fuck the sky" (during a downpour in Seattle).
Purple haze, all in my brain
Lately things they don't seem the same
Actin' funny, but I don't know why
Excuse me while I kiss the sky
Purple haze, all around
Don't know if I'm comin' up or down
Am I happy or in misery?
What ever it is, that girl put a spell on me
Oh, no, no
Ooh, ah, yeah!
Purple haze all in my eyes
Don't know if it's day or night
You got me blowin', blowin' my mind
Is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?
Ahh, yeah, yeah, purple haze
Oh, no, oh
Oh, help me
Tell me, tell me, purple haze
I can't go on like this
(Purple haze) you're makin' me blow my mind
Purple haze, n-no, no
Songwriters: Jimi Hendrix
Purple Haze lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group