In an earlier post, I referred to song lyrics as being a form of poetry.
There are many songwriters who write deeply poetic songs. Elton John and Bernie Taupin, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Billy Joel— they are among the greats. Today, singer/songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry are among the artists whose songs contain some incredibly powerful poetry.
While it might be fun to come up with more examples, I have no desire to try to list them all – I don’t even think that’s really possible. Chances are, some who make my list might not be included in yours. I just named a few to get you thinking.
While many songs rely on a catchy hook or a beat that makes people want to dance, it’s the poetry of others that gives them the power to move a person emotionally, or to profoundly affect someone’s thoughts and actions.
Consider the influence John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ had on an entire generation. Similarly, Simon & Garfunkel touched hearts and lives worldwide with the soaring power of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, while the poignant emotion of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind” or “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” is still hard to resist.
I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but poetic songs seem to attach themselves to part of my soul and remain there, indelible and timeless.
This line of thinking led me to trying to work out which song contains my favourite “song poetry”. That’s actually a really tough question, so I decided I’d listen to a few of my favourites and try to narrow it down.
A week later, I think I have an answer. (Disclaimer: this answer is likely to change at any moment.)
This song is a brilliant extended metaphor about identity and finding one’s place in the world. The contrast between a rock or an island with the vulnerability of being human, and the paradox of isolation being a form of sanctuary, are ideas which should be jarring, yet they are delivered with such finesse that we’re left thinking, “I totally get that!” They’re ideas and images we all understand, and the poet communicates uses a depth of emotion and human experience to say things that many other people could never bring themselves to verbalise.
The clincher for me is the final verse. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” That’s exactly what I do! I retreat into fictional worlds. I write stories and poems that help me to deal with life. I use poetry to crystallise my thoughts and feelings, and use my writing to communicate what it’s hard to say any other way.
As I was reflecting on that final verse, a poem I wrote last year came to mind. I’m not suggesting that I think I’m as good as Paul Simon, but it does explore similar ideas of hiding behind – or within – the books and words I have written.
It was written during a time of great personal conflict and turbulence, and expresses the refuge I found in my writing. In different poems written during this period, I portrayed myself at different times as a fighter, as a hostage, and as a traveler. At no time did I portray myself as willing to surrender to the storm that raged around me, nor to anything else that tried to do me in. In my writing, I was strong. I was safe.
When I went back to read that poem as part of the process of writing this post, I was stunned to discover the similarity of the ideas to those explored by Paul Simon, even though my poem was neither based on nor drawn from his lyrics.
I was also confronted by the warning of the last two lines. I have to take care when I feel or experience something, or when I write something powerful, that I can’t afford to unpack and live there. I still have to live my life and be who I am, and I still have to deal with whatever life throws at me.
After all, I am neither a rock nor an island, no matter how much I might sometimes wish I were.
‘Safe’ is published in my book, ‘The Passing Of The Night’.
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3 thoughts on “Songs and Poetry”
I am a Rock is a great favourite of mine, too. The words come back to me regularly, even after all the years since I first heard it (about 1966 I think). And I never look out on a winter’s day without singing the first lines to myself. A beautiful, poignant lyric.
A moving piece–from the perspective of song lyrics and your own powerful writing!