Lyrics are Music’s Poetic Language

Back in the day, the written word carried an important cultural weight. Written art wasn’t just read, but analyzed and studied, digging into the hidden messages of the author’s ideas, leaving room for interpretation of deeper meanings. Even though these pieces of art are timeless and available to almost anyone today, only a small percentage of people seem to take the time to break these down, whether it is their job or a devoted hobby. Poetry appears to be underrated, qualified as boring and outdated. Especially in a world ruled by technology, books fall into the same category. What people seem to be missing these days is that they might be listening to poetry when listening to music. The use of literary elements and rhyme schemes are similarities shared by poetry and lyrics. Most authors incorporate these devices to play with words and create a superficial storyline, which will be masking a deeper idea or emotion, leaving enough doors open for interpretation. The true meaning can easily get lost to those who don’t pay close attention.

“And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.” (15-16) are the last two verses of Robert Frost’s famous poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, in which he uses the element of repetition. Not only does the incorporation of this literary device provide the reader with a better understanding of the poem, it allows Frost to emphasize a specific point too. Taking a better look at the verses, the author also uses diction to end his masterpiece by using the word “sleep” twice. The denotation of the word is “A natural periodic state of rest for the mind and body, in which the eyes usually close and consciousness is completely or partially lost”, where as the connotation of sleep is death. The narrator is playing with the profound meaning to the original definition of the word, allowing the poem to have two different ways of interpretation.

In the song Beach Chair, the American rapper Shawn C. Carter uses diction in the form of colloquialism, to create double meanings. In the beginning of the song, “Thirty odd years without having my cake up / So I’m about my paper” (3-4) the word “paper” refers to money and “cake up” is alluding to a growing financial income. Throughout his lyrics, he implements connotation to give a more profound meaning to the original definition of the words, allowing the listeners to understand the song in a whole different way. The chorus “Life is but a dream” is a form of repetition, in which the main message or topic is pointed out with emphasis. Carter’s metaphor implies that life is what you make of it if you dare to dream, envisioning what you want to be. Turning back to Frost’s final couplet turned into a metaphor when he incorporated repetition and connotation too, by giving “miles to go” an interpretation of life and “sleep” a meaning of death.

Both authors use symbolism, granting the audience to infer what is happening in the storyline, and endowing particular images or objects with symbolic meaning. Thus, they attempt to evoke rather than primarily describe. Frost wrote “My little horse must think it queer” (5) and the word “horse” can symbolize something that guides him through life or his conscience and companion. He uses “woods” symbolically in the beginning of his poem “Whose woods these are I think I know.” (1) and first verse of the forth and last stanza “The woods are lovely, dark and deep.” (13). In the poem title “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” the word “woods” has a particular relevance, as it transforms the headline into a metaphor. Where as the title of Carter’s song is referencing “Beach Chair” as a metaphor for a relaxed lifestyle based on the accomplishments he has made so far in his life and career.

In the third stanza, Robert Frost uses the literary device of personification, “He gives his harness bells a shake / To ask if there is some mistake.” (9-10), giving the horse human attributions. Note how the author chooses the pronoun “he” versus “it” and gives the animal the capacity to talk and to know between right and wrong. Shawn C. Carter incorporates the same element by writing, “Gun shots sing to these” (29) in the second verse. He also includes a simile in the line 68 “This song is like a Hallmark card”.

Both authors include imagery into their words, to create a connection with the audience. Throughout the entire poem, Frost helps the readers understand where the narrator is located “To stop without a farmhouse near / Between the woods and frozen lake / The darkest evening of the year.” (4-8) and creates a visual image of the setting. Therefor, the audience is able to comprehend how the narrator feels about the place described in the poem. Compared to “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” the rapper incorporates imagery in his lyrics. Carter uses words related to the beach setting in his second verse, which are directly connected to the song title “Beach Chair”, such as “wave” (34), “Hawaiian” (35), “surf” (36) and “shell” (48). Due to his words being lyrical poetry, auditory images are used throughout the entire song. Hence, the audience can interpret the message on different levels and adjust to personal experiences.

Apart of the prevalent literary devices used in both pieces, the poem and the lyrics share common themes too. Robert Frost’s poem is about life and death. The narrator feels empty and depressed, knowing that the choice is within. Every decision has a consequence that follows and sometimes the conscience is the only companion. There is no fear to death implied in the poem but rather a temping feeling towards it. However, the narrator assumes the responsibilities yet to be taken care of, and decides to live and resume life as functional in “promises” to keep. Shawn C. Carter expresses how he has succeeded in life, even though he is not sure if he has achieved happiness. Now that he can look back from an accomplished position, his conscious mind seems to haunt him due to the things he had to go through to reach where he is at today. He has prepared himself for the consequences. Although, he doesn’t fear death, he worries about his legacy and wants to provide a carefree lifestyle for his future generation.

Whether one is better than the other, will completely depend on the audience. Shawn C. Carter’s lyrics could be very hard to swallow for those who don’t like the hip hop genre. At the same time, people tend to relate to the artist and judge their talent, based on what they may think the person’s character is like. If the artist is someone the audience dislikes as a person, they most probably will dislike what he has to say through his lyrics. To the contrary, there is not much sensationalism surrounding poet’s lives when they wrote their masterpieces decades or hundreds of years ago. Therefor, readers will tend to relate to the author’s words and strictly judge their artistry based on what they read and interpret.

The way today’s media has a nag of intruding in the lives of people, who are known to society for whatever reason, makes it very hard to stay focused on what is really valuable. It is almost impossible not to cross that fine line between artistry appreciation and personal judgment, which will taint the recognition of quality we might have for someone’s work. Consequently, this will lead to fallacious favoritism in which the art adopts a second place or might not even be relevant at all to the audience. Poetry is present in the music the nations listen to; blend in a different scheme compared to the written word and accordingly renamed “lyrics” or “lyric poetry.” Nevertheless, it is poetry. Just because I stopped eating, doesn’t mean I’m not hungry, right? It is very important for this generation to understand, that poetry is not an outdated form of literary art, so that future generations give back the attention and appreciation it deserves. The most amazing thing about a poem is that it can be interpreted in so many different ways. The audience can even adjust it to personal experiences. There is no right and wrong to it. Readers accustomed to identify poetry with lines based on rhyme and a specific meter, which isn’t incorrect. However, poetry is also a tradition that used different means to create rhythm and euphony. Never forget, that even the most simplistic poem on surface can be extremely complex in depth. It requires an excellent precision to juggle with words but yet, it is beautiful in its imperfections. Poetry embodies the capacity of minds to play with language and thoughts, not only the minds of the authors, but the readers as well. A poem has the magical capacity to give the reader the feeling that it is the first time it’s being read, every single time, due to the fact that there is always something new to discover.


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