Rows of lights in a circle of steel
Where you place your bets on a great big wheel
High windows flickerin' down through the snow
A time you know
Sights and sounds of the people goin' 'round
Everybody's in step with the season

A child is born to a welfare case
Where the rats run around like they own the place
The room is chilly, the building is old
That's how it goes
The doctor's found on his welfare round
And he comes and he leaves on the double

Deck The Halls was the song they played
In the flat next door where they shout all day
She tips her gin bottle back till it's gone
The child is strong
A week, a day, they will take it away
For they know about all her bad habits

Christmas dawns and the snow lets up
And the sun hits the handle of her heirloom cup
She hides her face in her hands for a while
Says look here child
Your father's pride was his means to provide
And he's servin' three years for that reason

Rows of lights in a circle of steel
Where you place your bets on a great big wheel
High windows flickerin' down through the snow
A time you know
Sights and sounds of the people goin' 'round
Everybody's in step with the season

Lyrics submitted by redundantman

"Circle of Steel" as written by Gordon Lightfoot

Lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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Circle of Steel song meanings
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  • 0
    General CommentGame of life, where the losers lose their life, in a figurative sense.

    Using a roulette wheel and a time for giving (Christmas) to show the plight of the poor. The father's in prison for stealing to provide. Jean Valjean! No one cares, no one gives a damn, and this is how the poor are treated year around. . .expecially when it's Christmas time!
    sammyblueon June 20, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt might be figurative, but I was thinking about it and he might literally mean some people waste their money trying to get rich by gambling, instead of helping out the poor with that money.
    briguy27on November 02, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI always understood the first line to refer more to the proverbial "wheel of fortune" (and not the game show), rather than a roulette wheel.

    the juxtaposition of the holiday season - a joyful time spent with family against the lonely new mother who's counting the days until her child is taken from her - along with the wintery gray and snowy cold make this song very dreary and sad.

    This is a sad story of somebody who has nothing at all (to the point of her only valued item being an "heirloom cup") losing the only thing she has left, her newborn child. The losing bet on the wheel of fortune.

    As a new father, the "a week, a day they will take it away" rips my heart out every time. This song depresses the heck out of me.
    the EYEon February 14, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIndeed, one of the saddest Christmas songs ever written. It may be even more depressing than Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas" (Emerson Lake & Palmer also did a version). I agree with "The Eye's" comment about the juxtaposition of what should be a happy time with the despair of the new mother. My favorite couplet in this song is "Your father’s pride was his means to provide/
    And he’s servin’ three years for that reason." The father had to steal in order to provide for his family.

    But in reality, Christmas can be one of the saddest times of the year for many. Songs like these are needed. They make me realize how good I have it and not to take what I have for granted.
    Susan_The_BassPlayeon November 25, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentBeautiful song and reminds us why Lightfoot is a master at poetic verse.

    The song like all poetry can mean many things to many people. but I think its simply about the loss of a child and the suffering of a family torn by gambling and greed. The sadness of a single mother raising a child in poverty and the juxtaposition of the holidays (Christmas) where family is so important shows us that often times we forget what's important. But it is also a tragedy when we learn the father is in jail for trying to provide for his child. leaving the mother to cope. Tragic songs like this are so powerful when they involve children because they remind us that often they are the innocent victims of society.

    In the age of greed we live in today where so many are living in poverty while a minority seem to be making more and more money, its important for all of us to remember that the poor and our children are all of God's children and its up to the rich and all of us to care for them.
    john6c9on November 17, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOur family was discussing the problems of residential schools and my wife commented on the childhood experiences of Anne Sullivan, a lady who taught Helen Keller. She was reading a biography of Anne, who spent time in an orphanage / school, and Edna brought up a rat issue and related it to a Gordon Lightfoot song she recollected. I did a google and linked “Circle of Steel”, where the rats ran around like they owned the place. I had heard the song dozens of times, but not in recent years. I gave a renewed listen and puzzled some over the words, found this website, and it sank in just how brilliant the song is. I had never really considered the observations and thoughts that Lightfoot so skillfully crafted into the song. It seemed providential that all this happened on Dec. 25 – purely by fluke – but it was a novel glitch for me.

    It is a thought provoking song – a brilliant observation and statement of contrast by Lightfoot. Truly, a possible view of Life is to see a circle of hard and cold steel with a selection of choices / perhaps gambles that all of us are confronted by. (Be always too soon, be never too fast, at the time when all bets must be laid! House You Live In) I feel the song drives home the fact that individuals, so often, are the product of choices made, in some cases, generations back. It is clear that bad bets have been placed but to hang the cumulative result of the blunders on one individual is foolish. I find it amusing how so much religion comfortably hangs its hat on the Christmas ritual yet we can observe the grass roots reality of Life vs so much religious thinking and action. I do feel that artistic folk like Lightfoot often have a capacity to make brilliant observations and then convert those thoughts into a form that effectively slaps the rest of us. The poor family is the result of bad bets from the past. I feel that the Christmas scene might well illustrate the same principle. Religious folk often feel they have the full deck but Lightfoot’s thoughts might clump everyone in the same gambler’s bucket. The song is a brilliant thought provoker!
    george9785on December 26, 2015   Link

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