Lyrics or Poetry? (Driving thoughts)

Is there a difference between lyrics and poems? Listening to music in the car lately, I have paid greater attention to the words to try and make a determination.

I know you’ve deceived me, now here’s a surprise
I know that you have, cause there’s magic in my eyes

A simple rhyming couplet. What does it mean? No idea, for the refrain is a mere repetition of

I can see for miles and miles …

I was surprised to find that rhyming was nearly ubiquitous in the songs but also that a single line repeated over and over again was the most common refrain. An example of this repetition is

All that she wants is another baby [x4 with small additions]

But other high-powered songs could get more clever with the lyrics, for example,

Monday left me broken
Tuesday I was through with hopin
Wednesday my empty arms were open
Thursday waiting for love
waiting for love

Thank the stars it’s Friday
I’m burnin like a fire gone wild on Saturday
I guess I won’t be goin to church on Sunday
I’ll be waiting for love
waiting for love
to come around

ace of base 2One of the questions I asked while listening to these songs was, “Would I find enjoyment in reading these words, even without their accompaniment?” At the same time I wondered, “Is poetry generally meant to be set to music?” I also thought about how much more our age listens to recorded music than it hears recited poetry. As I read Song of Hiawatha by Longfellow the other day, I wondered if there was anyone else in the world reading it at the same time. I’m inclined to think so. But the latest Taylor Swift album? There may be millions of people listening to it this very moment. Some songs are rich in allusions, but use plain vocabulary.

I am a lost boy
from Neverland
usually hanging out with
Peter Pan
and when we’re bored we play in the woods
always on the run from
Captain Hook

Run, run, lost boys
they say to me
away from all of
Neverland is home
for lost boys like me
and lost boys like me are free

Although this song is lyrical and full of allusions, I don’t think it translates well into a poem. One of the challenges I found for myself is how to space up the words: whether I should imitate the rhythm of the song (I am inclined to do this) or to make the rhyme and meter more visible.

It ain’t no joke, I’d like to
buy the world a toke
And teach the world to sing in
perfect harmony
And teach the world to snuff the
buyers and the liars
Hey I know it’s just a song, but it’s
spice for the recipe


It ain’t no joke,
I’d like to buy the world a toke
And teach the world to sing in perfect harmony

And teach the world to snuff
the buyers and the liars
Hey I know it’s just a song, but it’s spice for the recipe

smash mouthAnother phenomenon I’ve observed is that unfamiliar covers of familiar songs often draw more attention to the lyrics than they would otherwise receive, for example, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by David Byrne (of the Talking Heads) or “I Will Survive” by Cake.

A couple more points: I wrote down the words to these songs as I heard or remembered them, not looking up the words. Unlike written poetry, which one usually encounters by reading, the typical medium of song lyrics are sound waves. This seems to be an advantage for song lyrics. The other great advantage is that they are more easily remembered. Apart from poems I recite nearly every day, I have almost no poetry memorized. But song lyrics? It would be embarrassing to know the extent to which I know the lyrics for songs.

The following playlist contains all the songs referenced above:

3 thoughts on “Lyrics or Poetry? (Driving thoughts)

  1. I believe music makes song memorised, however, poetry which is taken seriously, it is hard to remember. Still, I have to admit that I found some poems remain easy to be remembered.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Apart from “The Song of the Strange Ascetic” by Chesterton, “Usura” by Ezra Pound, and some particularly poignant lines from T.S. Eliot, I must admit that hardly a line of poetry exists in mind, unless I’ve heard it sung many times (this includes both pop music and hymns).

      Liked by 1 person

      • For me, I remember some of Poe’s poems and “A Poison Tree” by William Blake. Yet, I remember memorising some Keats back in June. As for songs, I learnt most of Westlife and Imagine Dragon lyrics, so no fear if wi-fi was not here.


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