From both sides now…


I’ve always liked that song. But I never really reflected upon its meaning. Recently, I’ve been in need of some kind of guidance. Something to quell my paranoias and fears. Amidst writing in graduate school, there are real human emotions that need to be addressed, we are not simply made to sit all day and type and argue.

I was listening to the radio and the song “From both sides now” came on at least 3 times. Both the Judy Collins version and the Joni Mitchell version. And again, today, the song came on the radio again. I couldn’t believe how many times a song so old could reappear in my life. I thought I’d better check out the lyrics.

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds * that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev’ry fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

© 1969; Siquomb Publishing Company

I never really understood the song. Then, I went on Joni Mitchell’s website where an interview with her is transcribed in which she talks about the meaning behind it. Apparently she was reading the book “Henderson the Rain King” by Saul Bellow — who talks about not needing to fear death in an age when we can be both below and above the clouds — from both sides.

So I’ve listened to it again and again. And I still don’t get it. She leaves me confused. Each verse, whether about clouds, love, or life, ends with “I really don’t know ___ at all” — well then what’s the point? If she’s going to leave us hanging? Shouldn’t there be some sort of conclusion, some sort of epiphany at the end of the song? Some realization?

But today…I was humming the tune. I started to sing the lyrics. As I was singing, tears were pouring down my face. I couldn’t explain to you why — but all I know is that something about the lyrics touched me deeply. Perhaps it was simply a soul moment. As though my heart understood, even though my mind didn’t. And so it hit me — I’ve looked at the song from both sides now. Both the physical and the spiritual. To understand the deeper meaning, I needed to let go of thoughts, reflections, and rational ideas. That’s just it, even in grad school, sometimes you need to let go of the rational meaning and truly understand it with your heart. Then everything falls into place.

Thanks Joni..;)

All pictures taken with my iPhone around Montreal (except for one in Ottawa!) in the past year.

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