It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
But it don't snow here
It stays pretty green
I'm going to make a lot of money
Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby cry

He tried hard to help me
You know, he put me at ease
And he loved me so naughty
Made me weak in the knees
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh, I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby say goodbye

It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
Singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on


Lyrics submitted by Novartza, edited by raymondjii

River Lyrics as written by Joni Mitchell

Lyrics © Reservoir Media Management, Inc.

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

River song meanings
Add Your Thoughts

30 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +13
    General Comment

    There's a very important fact about this song that I noticed you've all neglected to mention: Joni Mitchell is Canadian but she moved to California to be a hippie and pursue her music career, the song is about her spending christmas in a place and a way that is so foreign to her -- no snow no ice skating... (honestly, I'm jewish so whenever christmas comes along I feel like I'm being smothered in cheesyness, but I have spent it in canada a couple times and parts of it really are magical like she describes---- the snow, ice skating, amazing lights everywhere etc.) It's a song about wanting to get away from everything and go back to simpler more innocent times!!

    L-E-7on January 06, 2005   Link
  • +12
    Song Meaning

    I think you had to have been raised in a cold climate to really appreciate the subtleties of this remarkable piece. I say that because whenever I hear it, the mention of ”a river I can skate away on” evokes this powerful memory from when I was about 10 years old. I grew up across the street from the Naugatuck River in Connecticut, and spent a large part of my childhood winters skating on the thin ice that formed there. Out there on the ice by myself one cold January day, I ventured farther downstream than I had ever gone, past the rocks and rapids, until I found myself on a long, very smooth expanse that stretched down the river as far as I could see. It was like a road leading out of my small town into the great big world. The wind was at my back, so I opened my jacket as a sail and blew about two miles down the river — it felt just like flying. I was more exhilarated than I had ever been in my young life, and truly felt as though I could fly. And somehow, I got this glimpse of the long life I was about to embark upon.

    I’m a hard-hearted 55 year old man, and yet this evocative piece never fails to bring a tear to my eye because of that memory. By the way, there is a version of River on Herbie Hancock’s tribute to Joni Mitchell called the Joni Letters. On this CD, he performs the song with Corinne Bailey Rae on vocals, and it is absolutely wonderful. The two of them simply find the tune. Enjoy.

    soulrevueon April 20, 2010   Link
  • +10
    General Comment

    it's the worst when he's left you, and you know everything was your fault. you just want to go away from everyone -forever.

    Empirer85on November 03, 2004   Link
  • +7
    General Comment

    I think the 'best baby' referred to here is definitely a lover, rather than a child, if you read the context. Little Green is the song that deals explicitly with the daughter she put up for adoption.

    In Hotel California by Barney Hoskyns it points out that Blue was written very quickly after Joni's break-up with Graham Nash (of Crosby Still Nash and Young fame, and the Hollies). Apparently it was partly her jealousy and dedication to her music that drove them apart, though she loved him deeply.

    caryatison January 22, 2007   Link
  • +5
    My Interpretation

    Such a beautiful song! Christmas time is such a bittersweet time - it is a time for joy, celebration, family and loved ones...but it is also a time when you think of those you're not sharing this special time with - people who have passed away; people who are far away; or someone you loved, hurt and have lost.

    I love how clever Joni was with her music, the piano beginning that has a hint of "Jingle Bells" in it, just to set the mood - I love it!

    MissElleon September 17, 2011   Link
  • +4
    General Comment

    This is one of those songs, like many others, that fill you up with so much emotion you feel like you are going to burst. It makes you feel too many different things, and you end up in tears. Its just... too much. To me, this song represents someone caught in a situation where everyone is happy and celebrating something(christmas)and the person is going through the loss of a relationship and its the only thing on their mind... and they just want to escape everything... skate away

    laayylaon August 22, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    I can't believe that I just found out about this song. It's wonderfully sad, there is just so much emotion. Her voice is perfect and the sole piano lends just enough background.

    A masterpiece.

    toadtwson September 02, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    First song I ever heard by Joni. And its breathtaking each time I listen to it. The emotion in this song runs so deep. The use of the river as a metaphor for escapism is amazing and shows pure talent in the lyrics.

    beforeromancedieson June 27, 2003   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    It's quite simple song and a quite beautiful one. The singer feels completely out of place (no snow, crazy place), and the hypocritical ceremony (joy&peace vs. cutting) doesn't help. She's so lost and sad, that even a man who really loves her cannot stand it, and now she has the additional pain of being responsible for driving him away. Isn't it tragical. (Well, and don't we all know this...sigh)

    ledaethon July 25, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment

    For me, this is a song epitomizes a particular feeling you hold for a particular relationship; a turning point where "things weren't supposed to be this way" and you wish things were undone almost as much as the ever-present instinct to flee and cut out those feelings. The metaphor of Christmas is very powerful to this understanding where there lies very strong nostalgia of timing and histories juxtaposed by hope for the future and the reighn of magic in the air. Perhaps there is even an allusion to the one who is undone or doomed, was betrayed by the loved one, a "you brought it on yourself" dilemma of being the root cause of coldness in such a warm and loving relation. It single-handedly raises the question: can the overwhelming sadness of one party destroy the potential for life between you? Can they ever understand where you've been or that you've known, or the mark you wear the rest of your life that you wish they'd understand or life with that aspect of you. If you've hurt someone, won't you just do it again, and like a child wishing for a snowday out of a unstudied test won't continue running from yourself and indeed them. This is one of my favorite songs.

    truesamwiseon November 01, 2004   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

More Featured Meanings

Album art
Son Şansın - Şarkı Sözleri
Hayalperest
This song seemingly tackles the methods of deception those who manipulate others use to get victims to follow their demands, as well as diverting attention away from important issues. They'll also use it as a means to convince people to hate or kill others by pretending acts of terrorism were committed by the enemy when the acts themselves were done by the masters of control to promote discrimination and hate. It also reinforces the idea that these manipulative forces operate in various locations, infiltrating everyday life without detection, and propagate any and everywhere. In general, it highlights the danger of hidden agendas, manipulation, and distraction, serving as a critique of those who exploit chaos and confusion to control and gain power, depicting a cautionary tale against falling into their traps. It encourages us to question the narratives presented to us and remain vigilant against manipulation in various parts of society.
Album art
Mountain Song
Jane's Addiction
Jane's Addiction vocalist Perry Farrell gives Adam Reader some heartfelt insight into Jane’s Addiction's hard rock manifesto "Mountain Song", which was the second single from their revolutionary album Nothing's Shocking. Mountain song was first recorded in 1986 and appeared on the soundtrack to the film Dudes starring Jon Cryer. The version on Nothing's Shocking was re-recorded in 1988. "'Mountain Song' was actually about... I hate to say it but... drugs. Climbing this mountain and getting as high as you can, and then coming down that mountain," reveals Farrell. "What it feels to descend from the mountain top... not easy at all. The ascension is tough but exhilarating. Getting down is... it's a real bummer. Drugs is not for everybody obviously. For me, I wanted to experience the heights, and the lows come along with it." "There's a part - 'Cash in now honey, cash in Miss Smith.' Miss Smith is my Mother; our last name was Smith. Cashing in when she cashed in her life. So... she decided that, to her... at that time, she was desperate. Life wasn't worth it for her, that was her opinion. Some people think, never take your life, and some people find that their life isn't worth living. She was in love with my Dad, and my Dad was not faithful to her, and it broke her heart. She was very desperate and she did something that I know she regrets."
Album art
When We Were Young
Blink-182
This is a sequel to 2001's "Reckless Abandon", and features the band looking back on their clumsy youth fondly.
Album art
Amazing
Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran tells a story of unsuccessfully trying to feel “Amazing.” This track is about the being weighed down by emotional stress despite valiant attempts to find some positivity in the situation. This track was written by Ed Sheeran from the perspective of his friend. From the track, we see this person fall deeper into the negative thoughts and slide further down the path of mental torment with every lyric.
Album art
Page
Ed Sheeran
There aren’t many things that’ll hurt more than giving love a chance against your better judgement only to have your heart crushed yet again. Ed Sheeran tells such a story on “Page.” On this track, he is devastated to have lost his lover and even more saddened by the feeling that he may never move on from this.