Lyric Poetry

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What does Joni Mitchell's song "Circle Game" convey about identity and its related theme and conflict?

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Joni Mitchell’s lyrics to her song “Circle Game” employ a common motif in poetry and music, the cyclical nature of life and the passing of youth.  The lyrics begin with a young child innocently playing outside.  It ends with that child now a 20-year old adult.  Unlike many poems that follow this theme, however, Mitchell’s lyrics do not present adulthood, and the responsibilities that implies, as the end of life.  After all, she does assure that young man that “there’ll be new dreams maybe better dreams and plenty/Before the last revolving year is through.”  “Circle Game,” however, does present the theme of life as a series of circle while employing circular motion and objects as metaphors for the revolving nature of life.  The refrain in “Circle Game” that observes “And the seasons they go round and round/And the painted ponies go up and down/We’re captive on the carousel of time” all emphasize that life is determined by the seasons and that the passing of every season is accompanied by the passing of a stage of life.  Witness the motif and the use of circular motion and objects as a metaphor in the following passage:

“Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now

Cartwheels turn to car wheels thru 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”

The natural and inevitable process of aging is described in terms of the passage from Corinthians, “the time has come to set aside childish things.”  Toys are replaced by the tools of adulthood.  The passage also includes perhaps the most melancholy lyrics of the song: “. . . take your time it won’t be long now/Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down.”  Most middle-age adults will lament that the years seem to go by faster the older they get.  The years don’t, in fact, go by faster, it just feels that way, and, while one can’t slow down the passage of time, we can certainly make the most of the time we have left.

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