Reading Between The Lines: Music In National Poetry Month
Sarah Kikel | Thursday, April 4, 2019
Okay, Paul McCartney, sure there’s nothing wrong with silly love songs — but don’t undermine music that flows like divinely-crafted poetry, songs that are so refined they resonate deep within the listener.
While poetry worked into music enables poets to better disseminate their work to the public, it also adds another dimension to the art, incorporating sound to words in harmony. From the silence of poetry comes voices of passion and accompanying instruments that join together to awaken the energy within the words. Music expands the boundaries of poetry, opening new frontiers of literature. While it isn’t always convenient to carry books of poetry around with you, modern electronics allow us constant access to poetry within music. Repeated listening (even if only done half-heartedly) results in a greater understanding of the song’s meaning.
So this month (April is National Poetry Month), don’t just read your Whitman, Dickinson and Frost. Delve into Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” Admire the tapestry of southwest desert and sky that Joni Mitchell weaves in “Amelia.” Enter into the rolling hills of illusion created in Simon & Garfunkel’s “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall.” Attempt to make sense of the jumbled mix of images in Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Bring on the Dancing Horses.” Converse with the poets mentioned in The Smiths’ “Cemetry Gates” and Better Oblivion Community Center’s “Dylan Thomas.”
Looking for narratives? Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Want a metaphor? Nickel Creek’s “The Lighthouse’s Tale.” Prefer epics? Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” (5th verse!!). Like pastorals? The Byrds’ “Wasn’t Born to Follow.” Feeling patriotic? Cathy Richards’ “Here Come The Irish.”
Let the words swell around you, merging in harmony with the instrumental background to create a poetic world, and make that world your own.
Too often we fake our ways through songs, learning only the chorus or just humming along to the melody, but this prevents us from receiving the full experience that the song offers. Art unanalyzed is art unappreciated. Poets breathe life into their work, but their poetry requires an audience for revitalization. Poems are meant to be examined, pondered upon and disagreed with. In analyzing song lyrics, we interact with the art in a deeper way. When we impart our own interpretations into our understanding of the music, we form a personal connection with the songs. Research scholars’ explanations, check out Genius, ask your friends’ opinions. But create your own interpretations. Examine the lyrics in silence, and then read them along to the song. The poetry isn’t just found in the words, but within the arrangement as a whole.
When we fully engage with music, the lines of artist and audience are blurred. We, as the listeners, become active participants in songs’ lives. It’s our duty to keep them alive.
So put on Dylan, sit back, and start decoding the liner notes.