Skip navigation

The Core Curriculum

"The Circle Game" by Joni Mitchell, 1968.

Relates to: 

Another famous song, “The Circle Game” takes a similar theme from Ecclesiastes, though Mitchell doesn’t quote it directly like Seeger. The chorus is in tune with the “vanity of vanities” of Quohelet: “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.”

Keil and Delitszch comment on Ecclesiastes 7:2, “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart” that this “house of feasting” is also a house of “carousing,” or drinking. Mitchell’s image of the Carousel of time hauntingly echoes this image, though in a softer light than the Biblical imperative. Mitchell lulls us with the sad idea that we’re trapped in this carousel, just as the “end of all men” is this house of carousel. The song’s melody helps reconcile us to this idea that fun can’t really be fun. When we hear it we “lay it to our hearts.”

Youtube, Joni,