I'm watching the movie "Mary Poppins Returns".

At one point Marry Poppins sings:

Too much glee leaves rings around the brain

I'm not quite sure what "rings around the brain" means. From context I can imagine it means that too much delight/joy will diminish your logical thinking capabilities and degenerates your intellect. Putting imagination/joy/creativity in contrast to rigorous mathematical thinking. I also assume that the phrase "rings around the brain" comes from the idea that when you are hit on the head you feel rings/stars/birds circle around your head, like in cartoons.

But I'm lost and these are all assumptions that may be the result of too much glee and imagination.


1 Answer 1


This is a metaphor. When we take a bath and we are very dirty, the particles of dirt washed from our bodies float on the surface of the water. When we pull out the bath plug, the water level descends, and a 'ring' of dirt can often be seen clinging to the sides of the bath ('bathtub' in US English). It is a residue which tidy people remove, and its occurrence is a sign that the bath user should wash more often (or works in a coal-mine). Too much glee, asserts Mary Poppins, leaves an undesirable residue in the brain. The following line confirms this: "Take that joy and send it down the drain". The washing metaphor, and references to baths and mental 'cleanliness' or 'tidiness' occur repeatedly in the song, e.g. "For intellect can wash away confusion".

  • So you're saying that the 'rings around the bathtub' is a sign of the (erstwhile) ill-effects, displayed when an overdue remediation is applied. But of course, the remedy has worked (you're clean). However, rings around the brain being left sounds like there is still need for ... er, deliverance. // Poetic licence, one supposes (but is it any wonder students of English have trouble with the language?) (And as for people labouring under the 'if it makes you happy, it's bad for you' misapprehension ... .) Feb 1, 2020 at 12:31
  • Well, the songs in "Mary Poppins Returns" were inferior to the songs in the original "Mary Poppins" movie. This example shows, perhaps, that the attempts to include lessons in the songs was less successful the second time around. Compare the lesson of "Too much glee leaves rings around the brain" with "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down".
    – GEdgar
    Feb 1, 2020 at 12:47
  • I always feel slightly like vomiting whenever I hear a song from 'Mary Poppins'. Feb 1, 2020 at 13:28
  • @EdwinAshworth "But of course, the remedy has worked (you're clean)." The metaphor might collapse if we push it too hard, but surely the brain is the bath[tub] which retains grimy marks from too much glee? Remediation doesn't come into it. Feb 1, 2020 at 14:43
  • 1
    Most metaphors are much more resilient. No doubt your explanation is correct, but the overall lesson here must be 'Don't expect standard usages / reasonably well constructed new metaphors in song lyrics.' Feb 1, 2020 at 15:20

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