Song Lyrics

I Think I Understand

by Joni Mitchell

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Daylight falls upon the path
The forest falls behind
Today I am not prey to dark uncertainty
The shadow trembles in its wrath
I've robbed its blackness blind
And tasted sunlight as my fear came clear to me

I think I understand
Fear is like a wilderland
Stepping stones or sinking sand

Now the way leads to the hills
Above the steeple's chime
Below me sleepy rooftops round the harbor
It's there I'll take my thirsty fill
Of friendship over wine
Forgetting fear but never disregarding her

Oh, I think I understand
Fear is like a wilderland
Stepping stones or sinking sand

Sometimes voices in the night
Will call me back again
Back along the pathway of a troubled mind
When forests rise to block the light
That keeps a traveler sane
I'll challenge them with flashes from a brighter time

Oh, I think I understand
Fear is like a wilderland
Stepping stones and sinking sand

© August 22, 1966; Gandalf Publishing Co.


Joni introduces the song this way on July 7, 1969 at the Mississippi River Festival:

"A few years ago I read a trilogy by an Englishman named Tolkien. It left a big impression on me because there are so many different ways that you can read your own things into it... and get your own hope and light and everything from it.

"My favorite character, of course, was a lady wizard by the name of Galadriel. And when the travelers came to her kingdom before they had to venture off into very dangerous places and everything, she gave them a vial of light and she said 'take this vial and whenever you're in a dark place take it out'.

"Well, being into metaphors a lot myself I decided that what she probably was giving them was a memory of a beautiful time and with that interpretation and her hope and her memory, well... I borrowed a phrase from him... 'the wilderland' which was a place they had to go through. And the wilderland is just like it sounded, it's a wilderness and full of all kinds of hoary monsters and things. Just like life.

"So I call this song, I Think I Understand, Fear is Like a Wilderland."

Transcriptions of I Think I Understand

I Think I Understand has been recorded by 8 other artists

  • Deste, Marcel (- )
  • Lewis, Arwen (from "Under the Stars" - 2023)
  • McCarthy, Jacqui  (from "Courting and Trees" - 2002)
  • Monika Herzig & Janiece Jaffe (from "Both Sides Of Joni" - 2023)
  • Parker, John (from "PazFest - The New Orleans Tribute to Joni Mitchell at the Howlin' Wolf" - 2002)
  • Sullivan, Christine (from "Bloom" - 1999)
  • Waddell, William (- 2015)
  • Wundrock, Tracy (from "Sea Dreams - A Tribute to Joni Mitchell" - 2013)
  • [more information on recordings by other artists]


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Poet on

While performing at the Mississippi River Festival in Illinois during July of '69 Joni explains that the inspiration for this song was a character in Tolkien's Tilogy named "Gladriel". To hear the background and inspiration behind this beautiful metaphorical lyric (as well as a good live performance in her 20 something voice) you can go to:  [ed.]