Song Lyrics

The Dawntreader

by Joni Mitchell

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Peridots and periwinkle blue medallions
Gilded galleons spilled across the ocean floor
Treasure somewhere in the sea and he will find where
Never mind their questions there's no answer for
The roll of the harbor wake
The songs that the rigging makes
The taste of the spray he takes
And he learns to give
He aches and he learns to live
He stakes all his silver
On a promise to be free
Mermaids live in colonies
All his seadreams come to me

City satins left at home I will not need them
I believe him when he tells of loving me
Something truthful in the sea your lies will find you
Leave behind your streets he said and come to me
Come down from the neon nights
Come down from the tourist sights
Run down till the rain delights you
You do not hide
Sunlight will renew your pride
Skin white by skin golden
Like a promise to be free
Dolphins playing in the sea
All his seadreams come to me

Seabird I have seen you fly above the pilings
I am smiling at your circles in the air
I will come and sit by you while he lies sleeping
Fold your fleet wings I have brought some dreams to share
A dream that you love someone
A dream that the wars are done
A dream that you tell no one but the grey sea
They'll say that you're crazy
And a dream of a baby
Like a promise to be free
Children laughing out to sea
All his seadreams come to me

© February 9, 1968; Siquomb Publishing Corp

Footnotes to Dawntreader

Copyrighted as 'Sea-Dreams' on February 9, 1968. On June 10, 1968 the copyrighted name was changed to The Dawntreader.

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Theo Dillon on

This is perhaps the most beautiful song I know, and without a doubt my favorite. It's absolutely breathtaking. Here is my interpretation/appreciation. I don't know what exactly the lyrics mean, but here is how I interpret them, and how they appear meaningful to me - all I know is that this is my favorite song in the world. With the beginning of the song: "Peridots and periwinkle blue medallions / Gilded galleons spilled across the ocean floor", Joni paints a picture of another world, where the sea holds recked riches (peridots being jewels, with medallions and gilded sea ships). They're spilled across the ocean floor, as they sunk, but the word "spilled" builds them into the environment.

One of my favorite parts of the song is the repetition when she sings "The roll of the harbor wake / The songs that the rigging makes / The taste of the spray he takes". The tempo and melody of the lines are the same, and Joni sings them slowly, conjuring images of a boat rocking slightly, the waves lapping up upon its side like the breaths that the ocean takes.

"Mermaids live in colonies / All his sea dreams come to me" - There's nothing to say here, one is too instilled with awe of Joni's songwriting : The fantastical and the intimate, brought together.

And here to the greatest part of my song, in my opinion: "Come down from the neon nights / Come down from the tourist sights / Run down till the rain delights you / You do not hide". Like a siren with nothing, the lover in this song calls you away from modernity, away from the staged attractions, he calls you into the truth and calls you to renew yourself in that which is true: The rain and the sea. And is he the truth? Is he of the same caliber as the ocean and it's truth-uncovering powers? Is he as true as the sunlight that renews your pride?

There is also repetition, of the promise to be free, which is followed by the lines: "Mermaids live in colonies / All his sea dreams come to me" (The first section), "Dolphins playing in the sea / All his sea dreams come to me" (2nd), and "Children laughing out to sea / All his sea dreams come to me"(last). The promise in each section is accompanied by something + his sea dreams - I think that what Joni describes in the penultimate line of each section is what the man's sea dreams are, that come to her. Mermaids, dolphins, and children, they are all but dreams of the sea? What does this mean? I don't have an answer, but this type of repetition happens a lot in the song: "The roll of the harbor wake / The songs that the rigging makes / The taste of the spray he takes" mirrors "Come down from the neon nights / Come down from the tourist sights / Run down till the rain delights you", which in turn mirrors the last section's "A dream that you love someone / A dream that the wars are done / A dream that you tell no one but the gray sea"

This song must surely be one of the most illustrative and beautiful songs ever written.

tulcak on

People talk about the song having a meaning. She is singing of the time she spent in the world we experience in dream... waking or sleeping. It's the world that lives alongside and with our 'waking' experience.

The meaning is the story of that journey.

She's been there. She's describing her journey there.

Our art , all of us, we do to describe this familiar and old place.

JulianDay on

I recently rediscovered this song after many years. I was walking home from a private concert where the singer had done a cover of Blue. For some reason I looked for Sisotowbel Lane to listen to along the way but landed on The Dawntreader instead. The sublime trancelike vocals, the exquisite lyrics, and the haunting diatesserons of the accompaniment hit me straight in the plexus and I burst out crying right there in the street. I've read that Joni attributes her phenomenal artistic blooming in the late sixties to a kind of sublimation of yearning for her forsaken child. No other song represents that blooming quite like this one imho.

danno on

this is such a stoner song. if you've ever sailed a lot on a 32 footer on the great lakes or ocean with a beer or joint in hand, this is a song/album to play... along with carly simons album 'have u seen me lately' the song 'life is eternal' and the sun on the waves baby.