We were ring-around-the-rosy children
They were circles around the sun
Never give up, never slow down
Never grow old, never ever die young

Synchronized with the rising moon
Even with the evening star
They were true love written in stone
They were never alone, they were never that far apart

And we who couldn’t bear to believe they might make it
We got to close our eyes
Cut up our losses into doable doses
Ration our tears and sighs

You could see them on the street on a saturday night
Everyone used to run them down
They’re a little too sweet, they’re a little too tight
Not enough tough for this town

We couldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole
No, it didn’t seem to rattle at all
They were glued together body and soul
That much more with their backs up against the wall

Oh, hold them up, hold them up
Never do let them fall
Prey to the dust and the rust and the ruin
That names us and claims us and shames us all

I guess it had to happen someday soon
Wasn’t nothing to hold them down
They would rise from among us like a big baloon
Take the sky, forsake the ground

Oh, yes, other hearts were broken
Yeah, other dreams ran dry
But our golden ones sail on, sail on
To another land beneath another sky

Lyrics submitted by trisweb

Never Die Young song meanings
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  • +5
    General CommentFirst of all, I think this is a great first track for an album. It starts the entire album off with a cymbal crash and an inspirational electric guitar riff. Just great.

    When I first heard this song, I thought it was about two people breaking up. But after listening to it quite a few times now, I think it's about two people who were always perfect for each other and who were able to make it through every hardship that they encountered.

    He talks about being "ring around the rosy children" while they were "circles around the sun," evoking the thought of two people who grew up faster than those around them. He and his friends were concerned with trite games of children (probably meaning "young adults") while the two subjects of the song were onto more important things

    "Synchronized with the rising moon. Even with the evening star" symbolizes their unwavering connection and his point of view that there is something special about this couple.

    And as the turmoil of the world around him and his friends leads to jealousy they allow pessimism to take over and won't "believe they might make it." Instead, they "cut up their losses into doable doses" and "ration their tears and sighs" (quite a poetic way of saying that they were still dealing with the day-to-day struggles in life while this perfect couple lived in blissful union). (I initially thought he was singing "And we who had been led to believe they might make it, we had to close our eyes," which is the main reason I thought the song was about breaking up.)

    "Everyone used to run them down. They’re a little too sweet, they’re a little too tight. Not enough tough for this town" again describes the envy he and his friends felt as they watched these lovebirds continue their happiness.

    "We couldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole. No, it didn’t seem to rattle at all. They were glued together body and soul" is pretty self-explanatory, and "That much more with their backs up against the wall" means is saying they seemed to grow even closer during tough times.

    "Prey to the dust and the rust and the ruin that names us and claims us and shames us all" is confusing to listen to, and you can't really understand what he's saying unless you READ the lyrics. He uses the word "prey" rather than "pray." So, he is not saying they "pray to" or worship the dust and the rust, etc. Instead, he's describing himself and everyone else he knows as the "prey" of this unnamed beast (boredom? selfishness? human nature?) that seems to be stalking them all like the lion stalks the gazelle.

    "I guess it had to happen someday soon" is referring to them getting married. (I originally thought he was talking about them breaking up here, but he's not)

    "Oh yes other hearts were broken" is talking about the other people around him (and himself as well) who suffered from broken hearts, breakups and hardships throughout the relationship of "out golden ones," and he may even be alluding to the fact that other people (he and his friends) secretly loved these two people and that their hearts broke a little bit when the two got married, and it became obvious that no one else could ever have them.

    But by the end of the song, he's let go of any jealousy or pessimism that might have endured and instead expresses hope that this perfect couple will make it, because, if they can, it gives everyone else the hope that they too will find happiness.
    jimmypolecaton August 29, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is beautiful in very way.
    elixir808on February 08, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI agree with basically everything said. But I believe that undue confusion surrounds the word "prey" and the phrases that accompany it...
    The lyrics are separated in writing, but rythmically the phrases:
    Never do let them fall
    Prey to the dust and the rust and the ruin
    That names us and claims us and shames us all

    are sung as one long part.
    Never do let them fall prey to the dust and the rust and the ruin that names us and claims us and shames us all.


    falling prey to the hardships, I think the words separated into stanzas bring confusion when "fall" and "prey" are part of the same phrase.

    just my two cents if that could clear things up for anyone reading this.
    Cortisolon March 03, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentNever Die Young. I keep hearing things that tell me this song truly is about death. From the title on. It's both about young people, (ring around the rosy, circles round the sun) and old people (the 'golden ones'). We are all, young and old, the prey for old age and death. It's about diversity, 'they were' versus 'we were', but comes to a nice realization in finding and cherishing the value in others and conclusion by and in the end of the song.
    binaryplumberon October 29, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI'm actually with tommaso on one detail in particular -- but let's go through it line by line (or at least verse by verse). I'll refer to "stanzas", which isn't quite the usual way I'd describe song lyrics, but since the verse/chorus structure isn't as strict as with most songs, it seems to make a bit more sense.

    There are a lot of contrasts here, which seem to be deliberate, and it starts in the first pair of lines. "Ring-around-the-rosie children" are contrasted with "circles around the sun"; both invoke circles, but the circles "we" (where "we" seems to mean almost everybody) act out are tiny and childish compared to the scope of the pair the song refers to; the two perfect lovers encircle the sun as easily as the rest of us encircled a rose in a children's game.

    The next two lines evoke an inevitability, invincibility, eternity; the subjects of the song will, in particular, neither grow old nor die young and so seem almost immortal.

    There's already a bit of ironic melancholy here, though; the only way to keep from growing old, after all, is to die young, so there must be at least some figurative element here. More on that later.

    In the second stanza the astronomical metaphors return; again, it's a contrast between the cosmic inevitability and stability of the lovers and the earthbound limitations of the rest of us.

    The third stanza brings back a bit of the sorrow that drifts in and out; but it links the sorrow to hope. The unbearable experience against which "we" can only close our eyes is the hope that "they" might "make it", might really have found something transcendent while the rest of "us" are left to negotiate with an imperfect world and try to get by as best we can. We break down our losses, tears, etc. into manageable pieces, while "they" are above sorrow -- which again implies that "they" are not, strictly, living human lives any more.

    The next two stanzas might seem to return to a bit more mundane detail (streets, Saturday nights, a particular town) but the unease here starts to hint at tragedy. "They" simply aren't equipped to live in a world of mundane details; together, they're "too sweet", "too tight", "not enough tough". Through it all, "we" are far enough from them that we can't even hope to touch what "they" have. Still, "they" aren't immune to the harsh realities, in the end -- they have "their backs up against the wall", and if it can't ultimately break them apart, it's still a threat.

    The "hold them up"/"never to let them fall prey to the dust and the rust and the ruin" stanza is, with the following section, what suggests most to me that something, likely fatal, has happened to "them". "They" are set apart here, with a near-prayer hope that "they" be held forever immune to the ravages of time; again, death is the only way around this. Other lovers may go through life together, but the lovers referred to in this song seem to have transcended it entirely. This continues into the last two stanzas...

    Here is where the song moves into what seems to me to be a deliberate apotheosis. "They" don't simply deal with the troubles that "we" face in previous stanzas; they move beyond entirely. They "rise from among us", "take [to] the sky"; and while *other* "hearts were broken", the "golden ones sail on...to another land beneath another sky". This apotheosis -- a near-deification in terms that evoke an exodus to paradise or a union with the stars in the style of Greek mythology -- carries a particular note of melancholy, particularly in the context of the rest of the song. "They" were never suited to this world; "we" can only join together in a chorus (again, Greek-style) to pray that "they" be held up and preserved, a state often associated with exemplary mortals at their deaths.

    So I tend to hear and perform this song as poignantly ironic -- as referring to a couple whose love was spectacularly inspiring but who did, unfortunately, "die young". Rather than dwelling on that death, though, "we", the living, remember the love that inspired us, made us hope that anything was possible, that in the end if we can love like "they" did then no matter what else happens we have lived well.

    This is, of course, only my reading of the song; I won't claim that this is the best or only interpretation, and I certainly don't know what James Taylor intended in writing the song, but I think it's a reading that makes sense in terms of both the lyrics and the tone of the music. I've heard some people suggest that this song specifically refers to a couple lost to AIDS; while the time-frame would fit, while this would certainly make for a poignant added detail to performances/interpretations of the song, and while James Taylor may have done some work for AIDS charities, I haven't read anything to convince me that this is a necessary part of the song. There's definitely enough breadth of meaning here to support a range of readings; I'd certainly like to see more interpretations by different artists. (JT's collaboration on the song with Luciana Souza is definitely worth acquiring, by the way.)
    Professor Mon March 12, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe comments so far seem well thought out and make sense to me. So, I just want to add some comments to what's already been said.

    There are two distinct groups being contrasted here, the 'we' and the "they'. I hadn't considered the AIDS reference but I could see how that could apply as being the identity of the other group. JT has worked with and utilized several musicians in his own bands and recordings who have AIDS and in some cases who eventually died of AIDS such as the drummer, Carlos Vega (who was still alive when the song was written, but the diagnosis may have been made by then).

    I think it's important to note that love is definitely mentioned for this 'they' group, seemingly romantic love at least at first glance. That could indicate a literal romantic relationship, or another type of love. T

    That said, the references to 'circles around the sun' seems almost heavenly in nature to me, such as could belong to a diety, as in 'God' or 'gods'. That is, we may start out thinking nothing bad can happen because God is directing everything, but we soon learn that terrible things happen. "Is God really watching us or not? Apparently not" That would be quite a fall in the eyes of idealistic children. For me that fall had definitely happened by the time I saw the large book of photographs of the devastation in Japan that was caused by the atomic weapons in WWII. That would have been in about 1968 at a friend's house. They had the coffee-table sized book sitting on the phone table by the door. I'm have regained faith as a Christian but it took some time, work, and 'grace' after seeing that.

    In theory, though, it is possible even for humans to both never grow old and never die young. That's the definition of immortality and most humans raised in a so-called 'safe' environment bring that concept with them from the womb. It's been observed and written in print that every group of young people start out this life thinking (first) that their parents are immortal, and (next) that they themselves are immortal.

    As you grow a little older, you first get it that other people get old, but still not you and not your friends. You see old people and think, "What's wrong with them? Why do they do that to themselves? That will never happen to me". But, it does happen. All you have to do to grow old is go to bed at night and get up in the morning (repeat). One day you look in the mirror and see age spots on your own body (a personal reference, "but only on one leg" as I try to reassure myself). You know what that means--"Grandma had those spots on her before she died".

    Anyway, whoever this 'they' group is, they seem to have been viewed as being immortal or at least invincible at one time. But, reality set in as the 'we' group grew-up, and it turns out that other group wasn't immortal or invincible after all. That suggests a couple of 'sets of two' groups to me as far as persons or groups that might be represented, aside from that group of people who contracted AIDS as has already been mentioned:

    His Parents, or the older generation in general as he viewed them when he was a child
    His peer group as children compared to the same group when he/they got older and the deaths among his own peer group began to occur (from any cause whatsoever) that showed they were mortal
    He and wife as 'a forever, indivisible couple' as viewed from the perspective of his own children (in this case possibly referring to the split and divorce as the death of a relationship other than a literal death).

    If that wasn't totally confusing, when I listen to the song itself I get the distinct message that a certain idealism once-held as indisputable is now over for good. That is, what was once most-certainly going to last forever has not done so or at least will not do so in the future. 'They' are either dead or they are going to die. He sang to us about that more than once, "Nothing lasts forever"...Her Town Too.
    ed409on August 17, 2012   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationHi all,

    This beautiful song is quite enigmatic, yes, which makes it even very poetic. Yet, no need to further interprete meanings: it IS about AIDS ! You can read for instance these interesting articles on the subject:


    I could spend lines and lines dissecting why I think it is pretty clear that it is a song about AIDS and gay a couple's "marginality", but you are all clever people and need no further explanation ;-)

    bastokon October 17, 2013   Link
  • 0
    My OpinionYou folks have me agreeing with all of you, so I'll give you a different take.

    Personally—I'll get to the crowd next—I take the song globally, rather than parsing enigmatic lyrics for meaning—and it make me very sad.

    Along these lines, if you look at the song's rating on Amazon and iTunes, it's the least popular song on the album. This could be due to a positivity bias; people prefer happy songs, generally.

    Eavn Mitchell Stark PhD
    evan mitchon July 27, 2014   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationHi folks,

    I thought my interpretation of this song was pretty straightforward until I came here and didn't see it anywhere.

    So I could be wrong but...

    I'm a father with two grown kids.

    To me this is just a song about raising children.

    The first two lines seem like a comparison between generations.

    From there, it's all about watching your children grow and work through the challenges of youth, have their hearts broken, recover and rebound, and finally leave home ("I guess it had to happen someday soon.")

    jake905on October 20, 2015   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationTo me this song implores the listener to live with the beauty and energy we all had as younger people (teens/tweens) and to not let the weight of time ("rust and ruin") and maladies of life tear us down to where we forget who we once were. Most songs that reflect on the past are either very haunting or just downright sad and remorseful, but James' song really celebrates the past instead of being overbearingly reflective and melancholy; think Eric Carmen's "All by Myself", or Paul Anka's "Times of Your Life".
    michaelpzoon January 07, 2016   Link

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