Song of the Day #3,928: ‘The Circle Game’ – Joni Mitchell

This early Joni Mitchell song is one of her most popular, having been covered by more than 200 artists. It follows a boy through childhood, comparing the passage of time to a carousel.

Mitchell released this song on her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon, a few years after it had already shown up on albums by Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tom Rush.

I know my share of Joni Mitchell songs despite not being much of a fan, but this one is totally new to me. It’s pretty, though not as good as several other songs I can think of on this topic (by artists from Taylor Swift to Dar Williams to Travis).

Yesterday a child came out to wander
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

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,928: ‘The Circle Game’ – Joni Mitchell

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    You’ve never heard this before? Not even the covers? Wow! You really do maintain some blinders on when it comes to one of the best songwriters ever.

  2. Amy says:

    The songs you list as liking better all we’re written by songwriters who likely would cite Mitchell’s “Circle Game” as partial inspiration. I can’t recall when I first knew this song, but it was used in an episode of thirty something in a way that left an indelible impression. That was some 30 years ago. I’m certain you must have heard it in films or tv shows, as it’s a staple. Also, did you not do your HW diligently when we did the songwriters contest? I’m sure this was on my Mitchell tape! 😉

  3. Clay says:

    I’ve probably encountered it but I guess it didn’t make much of an impression.

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