Most, if not all, of Taylor Swift’s music, is poetry. The most popular song on her Folklore album, Cardigan, is just one great example of how her lyrics incorporate poetic devices to weave a story with a deeper meaning.

Cardigan is a song about first love and first heartbreak. The passion and excitement of first love are enthralling. The innocence and the bond between the two young lovers lead to heartbreak as their relationship ended and trust was lost. This song comes from the perspective of a heartbroken young girl, who feels her first love was truly a heartbreak, although she is aware that “when you are young they assume you know nothing.”

First, Swift uses imagery to symbolize the innocence of young love.

I knew you

Dancin’ in your Levi’s

Drunk under a streetlight, I

I knew you

Hand under my sweatshirt

Baby, kiss it better

The youthful scene described here gives a vivid image of the fun, innocent love the two share. It also depicts the nature of their relationship: exciting, intimate, candid. The speaker knows her lover; she remembers every minute of their relationship. This scene perpetuates the idea that she was truly in love with him despite her age because after all these years she still looks back fondly at their memories and is able to recall the specific moments that made her fall for him.

As the song moves chronologically through the relationship, similies are used to describe the depth of emotion of the speaker caused by the betrayal of her lover.

I knew you

Leavin’ like a father

Running like water

She chooses to describe her lover as “leaving like a father,” arguably the most tragic betrayal imaginable, in order to both convey the intense emotion she felt towards him, and to draw a connection between her lover and her father, who also left. The line serves both to describe the level of heartbreak he caused her and to compare her lover to her own father, implying that from the beginning she was worried about the relationship ending in the manner it did, and has consequently lost her trust in men completely.

Taylor ends the song using metaphors to describe the impact the relationship had on her psyche.

I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs

The smell of smoke would hang around this long

‘Cause I knew everything when I was young

In this line, Taylor compares the lingering memory of her lover to the smell of smoke. The vivid memories that haunt her burning relationship have hung around, she still wonders what could have been if things were different. This line reveals that all along Taylor knew the outcome of her relationship would be torture, but was unable to remove herself from it.

This song represents the paradox of young love. Adults judge the naivety of teen romances, but this song argues that young people are very much aware of the pain these short-lived relationships will cause. Despite the struggles, this song defends young love as a necessary experience that teaches those in them more about themselves and helps create expectations and dealbreakers for a forever partner.

This entire song is filled with metaphors, similes, imagery, personification, and so many more poetic devices. The reason I love this song is that it achieves a highly personal, deeply relatable meaning using beautiful poetic phrases. The way she writes her music makes listening to it an experience, you have to pay attention to understand the real meaning behind it. I highly suggest everyone listen to not just “Cardigan,” but the entirety of Taylor Swift’s discography because much of her music is written in a similar manner.

6 thoughts on “Cardigan

  1. Arianna S.

    I don’t personally like Taylor Swift but your analysis made me go back and listen to the song so I could see exactly why this song was so great. i definitely wasn’t disappointed and it makes me feel like I want to explore more of her music.


  2. Calvin R

    Thank you for your commentary. I’ve listened to this whole album, and I always find small, poetic things when I relisten. I never thought to “smoke” as an important element in this poem. I now see how it can encapsulate how a relationship can carry on in an ominous, almost spooky way. . So thank you for that.


  3. Alex G.

    My family listens to a lot of Taylor Swift, and reading this made me think about her older songs like “Trouble” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together” where she sang in an angry tone, almost as if she was venting out her problems rather than carrying the reflective tone she does now with her songs. She wrote her older songs as a young person (she was in her early 20s) and was probably a lot less mature than she is in the present; now that she is older, she is learning lessons by reflecting on her younger self. This was a well-thought-out and interesting analysis that really made me think about Taylor’s discography and its vivid connection to her life, so thank you.


  4. Frankie K.

    Your analysis of cardigan really shows the depth of the song. I’ve found it hard to express how beautiful cardigan is, but you did it perfectly. I always struggled to understand what Taylor meant when she wrote “cause I knew everything when I was young” because it seemed like a contradiction to what the song was saying. Your analysis makes so much sense, and makes the song even more relatable because it describes young love and first heartbreak so well. Swift’s argument that young love isn’t necessarily naive, rather it is deeply complex and can be analyzed with so much wisdom is perfectly expressed here. Great job!


  5. Ann Marie H.

    Your analysis of this Taylor Swift song is beautifully written and really brings into question so much of what her previous years work truly means. She has gotten so many assumptions over the past years about how her songs are only about men and how she breaks up with them then writes an album about them. I really believe that this post contributes to the idea that every little line means something deeper than what is just states


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