April 4, 2022
Happy National Poetry Month! I’ll be honest – did not know that was a thing. But now that I do, I love it! I’ve seen the hashtag NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) floating around, and if any of you are fiction writers like myself, you’ll recognize the play off NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The challenge for NaPoWriMo is to write 30 poems in 30 days. So to those of you partaking in the challenge – good luck! Remember:
So in honour of NaPoWriMo . . .
No, I’m not writing poetry. Happy to help poets with their stuff, but I’m not great at working on poetry from scratch.
Instead, I thought I’d do something a little more fun than the solely instructional things I’ve been doing the last few weeks (although those posts will continue to make an appearance).
So . . . poetry and songs!
I’ve probably had this realization many times, likely since high school, but I keep thinking more about how songs are basically poems put to music. (Although some give me stronger short story vibes than poetry vibes. Looking at you, Carrie Underwood.)
Think about it – the conventions are largely the same. Some poems are even eventually turned into songs (like many of Yeats’s poems).
A lot of songs include rhyming, strong imagery, smart line breaks. There might be more repetition in the average song thanks to choruses, but still. Look up some of your favourite songs, especially the ones that really flow and invoke strong emotion, and you might find that they could easily be poems from a collection.
I looked at this late last year on Instagram, but I think it’s a cool thing to consider, so I thought why not dig up some songs I find particularly poetic?
Without further ado, in alphabetical order (because that’s how they’re listed in my music library), here are six gives-me-strong-poem-vibes songs*.
*These are songs that, when I look only at the lyrics, I can imagine being printed as part of a poetry collection. Had to narrow this list down somehow, right?
Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
Now I’ve done my best, I know it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come here to London just to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand right here before the Lord of song
With nothing, nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
I’m honestly surprised this wasn’t a poem first. Although it’s not surprising I’d think that, since Leonard Cohen was also a poet. The way these verses flow? The swelling and the falling that’s evident even without music, thanks to the line lengths? It’s fantastic.
(So is Pentatonix’s cover. Check it out if you haven’t heard it before!)
It’s Nice to Have a Friend by Taylor Swift
Light pink sky up on the roof
Sun sinks down, no curfew
Twenty questions, we tell the truth
You’ve been stressed out lately? Yeah, me too
This is one of those songs that tells a story (I know I said some give short story vibes more than poem vibes, but some can do both. Poems can do both. It’s an in-flux definition and feeling :P). It’s short, simple, and freaking adorable. I melt every time I hear it. The simplicity of the lyrics and the way they’re crafted have always made me feel like the relationship between the characters was inevitable because of how easy it sounds. It’s comforting, hearing something so simple and so pure.
Jenny of Oldstones by Florence + The Machine
High in the halls of the kings who are gone
Jenny would dance with her ghosts
The ones she had lost and the ones she had found
And the ones who had loved her the most
Where are my Game of Thrones fans at?
This is another song I melted at the first time I heard it. (Tbh, the first and second time, since I heard Pod sing it first. And then this version. Both make me stop breathing properly.) It’s hard for me to separate this one from the music (which I’ve tried to do with all of these). The music is just so haunting, and matches with the lyrics so very well. But I do think the haunting elements come out in the lyrics themselves. Jenny sounds so lonely and lost, even without the haunting chords.
My Immortal by Evanescence
When you cried, I’d wipe away all of your tears
When you’d scream, I’d fight away all of your fears
And I held your hand through all of these years
And you still have all of me
Let me just console my bleeding heart for a moment while I think about this song. It was probably one of the first outside of a Disney movie that I ever bawled to. Another one where the haunting music ties so perfectly with the lyrics. But it’s the lyrics we’re focusing on here. The triple rhyme followed by the fourth outlier works so well for me. It puts more emphasis on the “me,” which only helps shine a light on the fact that this person is lost within the other. The first three are things they’re doing for the other person, and the last brings it back to them even while still being tied to the person who’s now gone. I just . . . I can’t. This song. Ugh.
Rise Up by Ben Barnes
Rise up glorious sun
Bathe me deep in your glow
Crown my brow, glorious one
Brighten surely, take it slow
First of all for those of you who are wondering – yes, that Ben Barnes! Prince Caspian and the Darkling and all the other wonderful characters he’s played! I digress.
This one almost feels more traditionally poetic than many others on this list. He’s not one to shy away from writing poetry and posting it to Instagram, so I’m not surprised. The pattern is familiar, and simple, and almost comforting, kind of like the feel of “It’s Nice to Have a Friend.” Given the theme of the song is rising up strong, I appreciate that choice of style, grounding an important message in something known.
Wild Mountain Thyme by The Corries (originally by Francis McPeake)
I will build my love a bower
By yon cool crystal fountain
And ’round it I will pile
All the wild flowers o’ the mountain
Turns out I don’t have too many thoughts on why this one works for me – it just does. I think I tend to put folksongs in the “this feels like a short story” category, but this one leans into the poetry vibes for me. I can even kind of see it fitting with a collection like Yeats’s.
Also, I’m in love with the Celtic Woman cover. I get all emotional and my heart feels all swollen (in the best way) when I listen to it.
And there we have it! Six songs that give me strong poetry vibes. Now I need to go and listen to all of them again 😛
What are some songs that give you strong poetry vibes?
2 thoughts on “Songs as Poetry”
Since many/most cultures have a history of literary poetry diverging from their initial poetry accompanied by music it’s possible to argue that literary poetry is poetry stripped of musical accompaniment. Which is not to say that literary poetry on a page can more easily work some effects that are hard to carry off when you hear it in “real time” as a singer delivers it.
There’s a tradition of “art song” where composers take literary poetry and create musical settings. Sometimes that can create beautiful combinations, but other times (or in this listener’s shifting moods) it can create overly complex melodies that seem to use the sung words as decoration. My own six year project has been to mesh words (mostly literary poetry) with a variety of music in a variety of ways.
That’s a great point – so interesting what that diverging resulted in, and how some composers are almost trying to retroactively recreate what was standard poetry/song creation.
That sounds like an amazing project! I love seeing how people can combine different art forms and styles.