Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now: the lyrics and meaning

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Both Sides Now is one of the most beloved songs ever made by Joni Mitchell. The Canadian singer wrote the song at the end of the 60s, and she placed the track at the closing position of her album Clouds, which represented her first commercial breakthrough. A big part of the lyrics talk about the clouds, but they have a greater meaning. In this article, we will explore the content behind the song.

You can find the official streaming of the song below in the 2021 remastered version.

Joni Mitchell - Both Sides Now (2021 Remaster) [Official Audio]

Both Sides Now: inside the lyrics and their meaning

Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell is about the disillusionment of love. The singer uses poetic lines to describe the romantic way of seeing things and the realistic way that comes after, when you realize that everything has a darker side.

The first lines of the song are elegant and full of poetry:

Bows 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

With these lines, Joni Mitchell immediately presents the two sides, the two ways you can see everything in life. She uses the clouds as a metaphor for how things can look different while you get more mature about them. Clouds can provide optical illusions, and we may tend to see something inside them and project what’s inside us, precisely as it can happen with love. Then you grow up, you gain more experience, and you can see clouds in another way, as dark presences that block the sunlight, representing an obstacle to your life, to your joy.

The chorus expresses a sharp thought about how often Joni has watched clouds from all perspectives; nevertheless, she’s unable to understand them fully.

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

The second part of the song refers to love explicitly. Joni mentions, “Moons, Junes, and Ferris wheels,” implying the first, innocent vision of love we all have, which can be full of chichés. She looked at love that way, as she says. The disillusionment comes when you realize that people leave.

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way that you feel
As every 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

The show’s metaphor relates to her life as a music artist, of course, but it’s about love relationships: you spend a certain amount of time with a person, then you break up, and each part goes in its direction. Like fans leave the concerts after the show is over. What if you cared about the person you loved? Well, keep it for yourself. Don’t expose your weakness.

In the last part of the song, Joni thinks again about when she was expressing love proudly. She’s not regretting that part of her: her romantic side leads her sometimes, entrusting herself to love, and that’s ok. People will look at us differently when things change, and there is nothing we can do about it.

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

After all, this is the real meaning of the lyrics inside Both Sides Now: love can be a vast illusion, and when things get real, you may discover the bitter side of it. But there is no reason to regret the time when you loved. Those are also two sides of us, two parts that allow us to be romantic and realistic at the same time. At the end of the day, what do we know about clouds, love, and life?

Read other popular song lyrics meaning on Auralcrave

The complete lyrics

Bows 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 that you feel
As every 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