"The Circle Game" as written by and Joni Mitchell....
Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like, when you're older, must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town
And they tell him,
Take your time, it won't be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There'll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

And go round and round and round
In the circle game


Lyrics submitted by Lainy04

"The Circle Game" as written by Joni Mitchell

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

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The Circle Game song meanings
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12 Comments

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  • +1
    My InterpretationAgree with ericbob503, severely underrated track, one of my favourites of Joni's. For me, this song relates that all-too common sensation of wanting to slow down the hands of time, of how the young want to be older, and how the old want to be younger. "Youth is wasted on the young" as the old adage goes. I find it reassuring too, after all, this song would seem quite daunting if it was not for the mention of "dreams", that there will be plenty of them, even if they do lose a bit of grandeur the older we get.

    Beautiful song.
    tomskion September 27, 2009   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI'd always thought it described the feeling of time moving around and past people, as if people feel as if they are a standstill point in a chaotic world. And that the illusion is broken when they look in a mirror and it all comes rushing back; time hasn't stopped moving, and will continue to do so.
    matt003on November 14, 2016   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's a great song about moving on in life and growing up. I quoted ti for my friend who was sad about moving away and how everyone changed when she left, and it helped some.
    nightkite13on June 09, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis is such a great song..i heard it for the first time on the television show "providence"..i would love to adopt it as a graduation song.
    punk_in_canadaon August 30, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commentat 16... cartwheels turn to carwheels.. good song about growing up... way underrated
    ericbob503on February 17, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentwonderful song. i agree w/ punk_in_canada, it would make the perfect graduation song
    nelia_slye_on September 24, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt's a really great song about the cycle of life, and being desperate to grow up to fulfill your dreams, only to grow up and lose the grandeur of the dreams that once drove you. It would be a great graduation song, actually, its just a song about time and how you feel you want it to quicken... Then it goes too fast and you need it to slow down.
    Stoned Immaculateon February 27, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song was written in response to Niel Young's "Sugar Mountain."

    The last verse is a little jacked though... Here's the way it is supposed to be:

    "So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
    Though his dreams have lost some grandeur
    Coming true
    There'll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
    Before the last revolving year is through"
    threearmedmanon January 10, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI remember listening to this song holding my son when he was just 3 days old and tears of joy rolling down my cheeks. One of the happiest days of my life that I will never forget. I wish Joni would finish it someday and take the lyrics past 20...to 50 or 60 perhaps. Oh what a tale that would be :)
    altbobon July 22, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Commentoh my god, i remember when i first heard this song, i was at camp, and i remember thinking that i had never heard a more beautiful song, not even from celtic thunder or celtic woman. i still stand by that today
    celticgirl4on July 23, 2009   Link

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