"Shadows And Light" as written by and Joni Mitchell....
Every picture has its shadows
And it has some source of light
Blindness, blindness and sight
The perils of benefactors
The blessings of parasites
Blindness, blindness and sight
Threatened by all things
Devil of cruelty
Drawn to all things
Devil of delight
Mythical devil of the ever-present laws
Governing blindness, blindness and sight

Suntans in reservation dining rooms
Pale miners in their lantern rays
Night, night and day
Hostage smile on presidents
Freedom scribbled in the subway
It's like night, night and day
Threatened by all things
God of cruelty
Drawn to all things
God of delight
Mythical god of the everlasting laws
Governing day, day and night

Critics of all expression
Judges in black and white
Saying it's wrong, saying it's right
Compelled by prescribed standards
Or some ideals we fight
For wrong, wrong and right
Threatened by all things
Man of cruelty-mark of Cain
Drawn to all things
Man of delight-born again, born again
Man of the laws, the ever-broken laws
Governing wrong, wrong and right
Governing wrong, wrong and right
Wrong and right


Lyrics submitted by pumkinhed

"Shadows and Light" as written by Joni Mitchell

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Shadows And Light song meanings
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  • +1
    My InterpretationThis is Joni's commentary on the duality of "wrong and right" that characterizes humankind. Man is capable of cruelty and murder (as illustrated by Cain), but also of good and delight. However, the lyrics aren't that simple. Despite humans being "born again", the laws (both divine and human) go "ever-broken". Joni is also saying how finite human judgment is – our "prescribed standards" make it so. In the end, "wrong and right" is determined and governed by individuals making judgment calls.

    I'm reminded of The Count of Monte Cristo.
    Dionysuson January 11, 2014   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationWhile ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ album begins in a bright and breezy way looking at the simple pleasures of a teenage girl, by the time we reach this track at the end the mood has become altogether more sombre, slow and considered, conveying the nuanced complexity of a mature wisdom. The experiences during the intervening years have brought with them a hard-won understanding of the contrasts at work in the nature of things. There’s still a brightness here, but also a recognition of shadows everywhere. It’s not a sad perspective, though - more a balanced one which allows a deep and rich examination into the workings of reality.

    Shadows and Light isn’t a song with a protagonist as such. It comes across more as a reflective philosophical statement about maintaining the ability to appreciate the light in the world while recognising the darkness which is also at play.

    The song can be imagined as being the thoughts of a painter who immersed herself in life and has now stepped back from it. She’s painting quietly by herself, reflecting on all she’s been through and the things she’s learned from it.

    The first verse begins by stating that, as in a painting (possibly the painting she’s working on), every aspect of life has its areas of light and shadow. Some things are out in the open, easily understood, while others are hidden, obscure or impenetrable.
    People who wish to help us can bring with them collateral damage, while those determined to drain us can provide benefits.
    Everything is both a threat and an attraction, associated in this verse with the devil, who is also seen as governing blindness and sight. This presumably refers to the devil in Eden (in the form of the serpent, continuing the album’s snake imagery) who leads Eve to a knowledge of good and evil, so opening her eyes from blindness to sight within the framework of the ever-present laws.

    The second verse contrasts the conditions of the rich and comfortable, whose easy existences lived in the light allow their skins to tan, with those of miners whose lives of hard toil in subterranean tunnels lit only by helmet lamps turn their skins pale. It’s a nighttime world that the miners inhabit, while the rich live in a world of sunny daylight.
    But all may not be as it superficially appears. Presidents on society’s top rung may be concealing tremendous worries behind their easy demeanours (hostage situations are given as an example), while those on the bottom rung (spraying graffiti in subways, and in that sense subterranean like the miners) are able to exercise a degree of freedom (using, significantly here, a kind of art).
    God, the creator of day and night (who can possibly therefore be seen as the ‘source of light’ of the first verse), can appear cruel and/or beneficent. Meanwhile the eternal physical laws maintain the ongoing succession of day and night.

    The last verse exhibits an antipathy towards critics (a coterie Ms Mitchell has suffered from unduly over the years, and who would generally pan this album on its release), and extends this more widely to any criticism of any creative work, and perhaps to anyone making critical remarks without understanding. Critics, being generally pro- or anti-, miss the nuances and so lack the competence to judge anything fully and fairly. While creativity constantly attempts to push beyond existing boundaries, critics, comfortable only within the limits of the already-known, feel threatened by anything new and react against it. Though if they manage (using the Biblical imagery of being ‘born again’) to push their discernment beyond what is familiar and comfortable, they may find delight in these things.
    Critics, and fallible humankind in general, warp the fundamental laws in order to manipulate what is seen as wrong and right. So not only do critics defile the creativity of artists, but they (and humankind in general) defile the creativity through which God made the world and set up the eternal laws.

    The three verses of the song parallel each other in structure and content, and the imagery within them draws a good deal on the Book of Genesis. The first verse deals with the devil and ignorance and knowledge, the second with God and day and night, and the last with man and wrong and right. Each verse has its cruelty and its delight; everything is threatened by everything and drawn to everything; the laws change from ever-present to everlasting to ever-broken (the latter, naturally, by man).

    The ultimate message of the song? Perhaps it’s that, if we want to understand the whole picture of anything, we must take into account not only the extremes (and possibly what lies beyond even these), but also the nuanced complexity of all the elements within.
    TrueThomason February 07, 2016   Link

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