Some of My Favorite Poems are Songs… Or Some of My Favorite Songs are Poems

Music is a pretty pervasive part of my life. I’m always hooked up to headphones, and I’m addicted to Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlists—they are what get me through my Mondays. Although I don’t always listen to songs for their lyrical quality (in fact I listen to a lot of songs with no lyrics at all), I find that some of my favorite poetry is that which I discover in a song. I don’t mean to equate song lyrics to poems—I’m sure some artists consider their lyrics poetry, others might shudder at the notion. However, there are some lines of some songs that hit me so hard with emotion that I don’t know another way to describe them: they are poetic. For example, take Akron/Family’s song “River”:

And you are no longer river to me
And you are no longer river to me
Though your coarsing remain
Eager to acquaint me
And you are no longer docile stream
And you are no longer docile stream
Though your patience proves you into ease

And once this spark met kindling
Forgets its gentle ambling
Becoming heat, becoming steam
Becoming luminescent glee
Atoms splinter, sparkling
Alive and nimble symmetry
And all along, this glistening
Blankets we and everything
Shadows dance triumphantly
A wordless whisper sighs and pleas
Little deaths envelope thee
You and I and a flame make three
You and I and a flame make three
You and I and a flame make three

And you are not glassy bay to me
And you are not glassy bay to me
Though my tired fleet abides in your gentle breeze
And you are now vast and open sea
And my mind travels you endlessly
And you beckon, toss and toss and swallow me

And once this spark met kindling
Forgets its gentle ambling
Becoming heat, becoming steam
Becoming luminescent glee
Atoms splinter, sparkling
Alive and nimble symmetry
And all along, this glistening
Blankets we and everything
Shadows dance triumphantly
A wordless whisper sighs and pleas
Little deaths envelop thee
You and I and a flame make three

It’s a beautiful freaking song, and you should all listen to it. I wonder, though, if a lot of what makes songs like this one speak so much to me is not just the quality of the words, but the way these words sound as they are performed vocally, accompanied by instruments. If this song were performed as a twangy country tune (I hate country music), would I have even noticed the lyrics enough to appreciate them? Further, those lyric-less songs I mentioned earlier, many of them have a similar emotional importance to me, so much so that, again, I don’t know a way to describe them other than poetic. But there are no words. So, does poetry, or at least my notion of what allows something to be “poetic” extend beyond language, or rather, beyond the language of words? Words are so important to me, the sentence is a comfortable and familiar friend. So this notion that maybe poetry can be expressed outside words is really strange. What do you think?

Also, while we are talking about music… I know Lytton created the Spotify playlist to go along with this class, but I think it would also be really cool to create a collaborative playlist with any Spotify users in the class. We could add music that is poetry, inspires poetry, reminds us of poetry, or that we’d just like to share with our fellow poets. Let me know if you’d be down!

2 Replies to “Some of My Favorite Poems are Songs… Or Some of My Favorite Songs are Poems”

  1. Hey Chloe,

    I also listen to a lot of music, and I love the questions you are posing here. I think there is definitely something to be said about poetic things transcending language. For me, the gap between poetry and music is bridged by melody. I believe that the way lyrics are sung – the composition of the notes themselves – form our perception of what is being sung. Your example with “River” as a country song defines that point really well. I agree, there are definitely songs in my music library that I would have passed over had it not been for the way they are played and presented.

    I also love the idea of starting a collab playlist with the class, count me in!

  2. Okay, so this has been a big issue for me since the dawn of time (or at least since I first began writing poetry).

    I can’t help but form an impenetrable dichotomy between poetry and songs. Though they’re often expressed as two sides of the same coin, I believe that straight poetry needs to live and breathe for me both on the page and as spoken word, not really sang to a rhythm and chord, chorus and refrain. I don’t think that poetry readings performed at your local open-mic-night accompanied by a guitar playing in the background counts as music, just like I don’t think my poems could simply go along with any old tune. There is a strong method to both means and I think that’s why I hated Gamelan by Diggs so much. It was musically inspired and I couldn’t view it for what it was on the page.

    I love music. I’ve written songs. I’ve tried to turn some of my poems into songs on more than one occasion. But the fact that I had to transform these pieces into something else shows me that poetry and song can coexist, but aren’t the same thing. For me, they’re two different ways of thinking.

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