"Hejira" as written by and Joni Mitchell....
I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shocked love away

There's comfort in melancholy
When there's no need to explain
It's just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today

In our possessive coupling
So much could not be expressed
So now I'm returning to myself
These things that you and I suppressed

I see something of myself in everyone
Just at this moment of the world
As snow gathers like bolts of lace
Waltzing on a ballroom girl

You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line

Now here's a man and a woman sitting on a rock
They're either going to thaw out or freeze
Listen...strains of Benny Goodman
Coming through' the snow and the pinewood trees

I'm porous with travel fever
But you know I'm so glad to be on my own
Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
Can set up trembling in my bones

I know, no one's going to show me everything
We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone

Well I looked at the granite markers
Those tribute to finality, to eternity
And then I looked at myself here
Chicken scratching for my immortality

In the church they light the candles
And the wax rolls down like tears
There's the hope and the hopelessness
I've witnessed thirty years

We're only particles of change I know, I know
Orbiting around the sun
But how can I have that point of view
When I'm always bound and tied to someone

White flags of winter chimneys
Waving truce against the moon
In the mirrors of a modern bank
From the window of a hotel room

I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
Until love sucks me back that way

Lyrics submitted by ruben

"Hejira" as written by Joni Mitchell

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing

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Hejira song meanings
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  • +3
    General CommentJoni's view of love has changed on Hejira to one seen from loneliness and existentialism. It is as stark and barren as the winter snow she is travelling in. Before love was spontaneous (Chelsea Morning), of challenging cynicism (The Last Time I Saw Richard), of being independent (A Case of You) and of needing strength to sustain it (Dont Interrupt the Sorrow). But as happens with experience people can develop clearer views on love.
    As with the Islamic term Hejira (the prophet Mohamed fled to find safety and himself), Joni is fleeing a failed relationship and what she sees now as the interpersonal battleground of "petty wars". As epitomised with the couple on the rock, love only happens if people "thaw out" and reveal themselves with trust, or they "freeze".
    However, even though people are simply biochemical "particles of change orbiting around the sun", there is a greater force that pulls her back to the thing that has hurt her so badly. Love. She now sees it as a dependancy which only depresses her more. She is "always bound and tied to someone". Its like love hurts and yet she has to have it.
    She tries everything to avoid it. She travels, she sits alone in cafes and motel rooms, and only finds "comfort in melancholy". Shes glad to be by herself and to ponder life ("from the forceps to the stone") in an existential way. She's "returning to herself" to understand why she and her lover didnt thaw and suppressed their feelings towards each other. Its a time for deep reflection on life also and the seeing the hope and hopelessness after thirty years. She is again existentialist in viewing the symbolic granite markers on the road of life. Singularly they are final, whilst in a row they are eternal. This juxtaposition leaves her thinking about what has transcended in her life to make her immortal. What she will leave behind.
    However, she ends on a depressing note. Even with her "defection" from love's "petty wars", love will eventually "suck" her back into more of the same. As they say in the therapy books she is "love codependant".

    I'm traveling in some vehicle
    I'm sitting in some cafe
    A defector from the petty wars
    Until love sucks me back that way
    missterfairyon August 31, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationApologies for the length of this but, given the song’s complexity, it hasn’t been possible to make my thoughts on it any shorter.

    This song is a kind of cerebral road movie, full of onward movement, fleeting images and introspection, while the music itself has a rolling quality to it. The lyrics read like thoughts that might go through your head when you’re already well into a journey but still have a long way to go (and you've the acuity, life experience and articulacy of Ms Mitchell, of course).

    The song is about flight from a desperate situation, echoing Muhammed's Hajj from Medina to Mecca. Though in contrast to the desert environment of the original, the setting here is bleak and wintry. Indeed, it feels like the outside world is almost monochrome, perhaps reflecting of her own inner world at the time, an impression that is lent further weight by the album cover. The song, and the album, seem to explore a hiatus, a period of withdrawal from an otherwise colourful emotional life; a distance to be travelled in the hope of finding some sort of welcome, or at least resolution, on the other side. She seems to be in post-relationship trauma, and has withdrawn from the world, almost gone into hibernation in this winter cold, in order to deal with it.

    The song is not situated in any one location, but rather in a linear progression of locations through an area most likely in the northern US or Canada. Various settings are mentioned - a cafe, a pine forest, a church, a bank, a hotel room - mostly interiors, perhaps unsurprisingly given these cold conditions.

    The lyrics begin by dropping us immediately into her continuing journey, with the completion of another stage. The locations are indistinct and shifting (‘some vehicle’, ‘some cafe’), as if she's become so inured to being on the road that everything has become generic to her. And this anonymity may be something that she’s trying to deliberately disappear into. It's even possible that she's feeling so disconnected from herself that, withdrawn into the interior, she sees her body as a kind of vehicle in which she’s moving herself around.
    She seems to have walked out on a relationship (‘A defector from the petty wars’) that was so full of conflict and bickering that not only has her love for him has fled (as she herself has now), but she’s been left with some level of psychological damage (‘shell shock’).
    She grew tired of having to explain and justify her feelings to him. Now melancholy can move through her unhindered, as naturally as the way the heavy clouds move by overhead - she can observe without having to analyse.
    It was an unhealthy, greedy relationship (‘possessive coupling’), though the lines which follow can be read in two ways : either that they both had to keep parts of themselves hidden from the other in order to maintain the fiction of a functional relationship, or that she suppressed things in herself and he also suppressed things in her. She now says, 'I’m returning to myself' - she’s beginning to repatriate her estranged parts, and to occupy her own authentic being again.
    In the relationship she was bound almost exclusively to him, but having broken free, she is now able to reestablish connections with the rest of humanity (‘I see something of myself in everyone’).
    Snow swirls in clumps from the sky as if fastened to a dancer's dress.

    The second verse begins by asserting how difficult it is to either remain engaged in life (though perhaps she’s thinking specifically of relationships here) or retiring into seclusion; and then the difficulties of either exploring all points between the bounds of possibility (‘travel the breadth of extremities’) or sticking to the more standard course (‘straighter line’) of most people’s paths through life. In her current journey she seems to be opting for the straight and safe, both in terms of the highway and of her at least partial retreat from an otherwise adventurous life.
    She sees a couple sitting together on a rock in the cold, and foresees their relationship as either warming them or going icy on them. Though in her sour view of things, she perhaps believes that any relationship is destined to veer off the straighter line into the extremities of hot passion or cold contempt.
    She hears, or possibly imagines she hears, faint music coming through the snowy firs.
    Her website tells us that the four lines beginning ‘I’m porous with travel fever’ are adapted from Camus. She reshapes his words to reveal that, while her mind is glorying in this elevated freedom, and soaking in new experiences, her wilful body yearns to be with somebody again.
    ‘I know no one’s going to show me everything’ could mean that she doesn’t expect anyone to be all-wise (perhaps she’s still thinking of Camus), or perhaps that nobody she’s in a relationship with is ever going to be entirely open with her. But it seems more likely that it’s part of an existential emptiness, since it leads into the line, ‘We all come and go unknown.’ Again, this could mean we come into a relationship not really known by the other person, and leave without ever having been properly understood. But (and she might be thinking here of the story of The Stranger, Camus’ most famous novel, which is seen as an existentialist work) the line seems to be more about mortality, about our time on earth - that we’re born, and we die, and what impact have we really had in our ‘deep and superficial’ lives between birth (the ‘forceps’ of the delivery room) and death (the grave’stone’)? We come into the world unknown, and leave it again without ever really having been understood, and once we’re gone all memory of us fades back into the anonymity from which we came. Each human life, seemingly so full of feeling and experience and impact, is really in the end insignificant (‘...full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing,’ as Shakespeare put it).

    The third verse has her in a churchyard looking (or continuing to look, following on as it does from the preceding existential angst) at gravestones (‘granite markers’), whose inscriptions include the ‘finality’ of the date of death and often a piece of text stating that the deceased lives on in ‘eternity.’ She turns her gaze on herself, writing these lyrics (‘chicken scratching’) in the hope that they, and through them some part of her, will live on after her. But she’s also aware that her songs may ultimately have the transient insignificance of a chicken scratching in the dirt for food, and the meaningless marks it leaves there. The word ‘chicken’, being slang for frightened, also implies that she’s doing this in an anxious way, frightened of death, or of being forgotten, or of having lived a meaningless life.
    She enters the church, where she watches lay visitors lighting candles in memory of those already gone, and the molten wax running down the candles’ sides like the tears of their loss. She thinks of the religious beliefs and practices she’s watched all her life, but seems to see it all from an atheist point of view herself. She continues by stating that we’re only physical particles in constant flux, using an astronomical point of view to imagine herself and the rest of us from way outside our solar system, insignificant small specks on our planet’s surface as we orbit the sun. Yet how can she hold on to that lofty concept when she’s always in a relationship, emotionally attached to someone, orbiting him (perhaps they orbit each other) instead. She knows it’s not the laws of physics that are binding her to the other person, and perhaps this realisation brings her back down to earth at this point.
    ‘Winter chimneys’ again spells out the season, and smoke (possibly smoke from domestic fires in the days before clean air legislation, possibly steam from heating systems condensing in the cold air) rises from them and is caught by the wind, making it look like ‘white flags’ flapping. The moon (a symbol of love and femininity, and perhaps a remnant of her previous astronomical viewpoint) is visible, and she imagines the chimneys are waving white flags of truce at it, as she attempts to make peace with her own romantic longings. She’s seeing these chimneys reflected from the glass walls of a bank building, or from a hotel room window - or perhaps she’s looking out from her hotel room and seeing smoking chimneys reflected in the window glass of a bank. These are two more anonymous locations she’ll be very familiar with in her travelling - the hotels providing her accommodation, and the banks she visits in order to withdraw money (these were the days before widespread availability of cash machines/ATMs, and even the routine use of plastic).

    The last verse is a partial reprise of the beginning, but her reasoning seems to have come full circle, like a car wheel performing a full rotation to arrive at a different position. She’s still fleeing a relationship, or perhaps relationships in general, but realises that in time she’ll fall for someone else and be dragged by her desires (the word ‘sucks’ implies it’s against her will) back into another partly-fulfilling, partly-unsatisfactory coupling, returning to the same old pattern. Perhaps by her interpretation of the winter chimneys she’s prepared the ground for this. And whereas the song began with her travelling only to flee a situation, by the end she realises that this journey is only taking her ultimately to a new but similar state of affairs. Significantly for this song about an ongoing journey, the music doesn’t reach a definitive end, but fades out as it rolls on, as if into the distance.
    TrueThomason September 01, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song pretty much sums up the lyrical content of the wonderful Hejira album. Travel as a metaphor for relationships is explored throughout this album,but never so concicely or beautifully as it is in this song.
    Zubbyon June 16, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentin Arabic, Hejira means migration (in Hebrew, Hagira) the movement of people. It is also has a religious meaning, Muhammad fleeing Mecca to Medina is the Hejira. the Haj is the pimgrimage of the Muslim to Mecca and the wife of Abraham, Hagar, is called Hajarah in Arabic. Mitchell's travels are for her a spiritual movement acting on her sole.
    benqishon November 07, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's strange, but the music suggests a strange combination of blazing sun and snow coming down in drifts.
    pumkinhedon November 20, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI learned more about my self from this record than anything i could learn in college. 32 years later, lessons learned from her still have more relevance in my life than General Accounting. Today I make more money than I'll ever need, but I'm rich having the great fortune of having records like this shape my feelings. Save the money in therapy - listen to this and other of her works.
    boxman54on November 27, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentDitto! Joni is more than just a musician to me.
    jrenfroon February 13, 2009   Link

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