My Grandma Just Died, and I Can Only Blame Myself

by Charles Dear

Imagine that your closest relative has just passed away. What do you do? What should you feel? The song “Helena” by American scene band My Chemical Romance is lead singer Gerard Way’s tribute to his late grandmother, and is a perfect encapsulation of all the raw feelings that arise in mourning. This song is part of the album Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, which is a concept album about two lovers who die. One of them runs into the devil after death, who promises that the two can be together again if he receives the souls of 1,000 evil men. Now, this song does not assume the same vengeful tone as the rest of the album, and deals in pure fact rather than Way’s creation. It is the opening track on the album. I think Way did that strategically, putting his painful experiences with death as a lead-off.

As much as this album works as a whole, I feel that “Helena” stands out. Way describes the song this way, “It’s about why I wasn’t around for this woman who was so special to me, why I wasn’t there for the last year of her life…an angry open letter to myself.” He was also a heavy drinker during this period. The best representation of this mentality is in the chorus. It is a simple four-liner: (“What’s the worst thing I can say/Things are better if I stay/So long and goodnight/So long and goodnight”). Anyway, it is evident that Way is caught between staying around and moving on in the wake of his grandmother’s death. He chooses the latter because he can’t say anything, and dislikes himself for it. I would like to expand on the “So long and goodnight” line on its own as well. It is in parentheticals in some versions of the song. As such, I would contend it is its most important line. Humans do not say “So long and goodnight” to each other. Each phrase on its own, yes, but together it seems too ominous and serves to illustrate the damning finality of death.

The pre-chorus also touches on Way’s loathing. It runs thusly: (“And what’s the worst you take/from every heart you break?/And like the blade you stain/Well I’ve been holding on tonight”). Way’s drinking problem is upsetting his family. Simultaneously, he has just been holding on to his life and sanity in the wake of such a tragedy. Since the format of the song is a letter to himself, the “you” and “I” in the pre-chorus refer to the same person.

I love how touching and poignant this song is. It is very hard to cope with the death of a loved one, but Gerard Way does just that in this song, with a delivery that is emotional but not effusive.

The Poetic Understandment of Love

To fulfill or understand the notion of love may be impossible, however when written down the meanings are endless. To some, the song “Blue Eyed Girl” may just be another love song explaining the gratitude one has for his partner, but to the eye’s of poetry: a masterpiece is born within. Written by The Arcadian Wild and released on their first album, The Arcadian Wild, the song relays the importance of unconditional love and the impeccable impact love may have. In the album, “The Arcadian Wild”, love is written in traditional and non-traditional gestures, but mainly it lies in the perseverance of the eyes. The lasting connection that is drawn from one’s eyes helps explain what love means to one another, making this song a poetic masterpiece. 

As the song begins, immediate gratification is brought to the listener’s ears through the lyrics of the first verse. Lincoln Mick, lead songwriter, displays a type of love where one partner can really can the other for the better. In this case, the narrator was a lost person before meeting her, and he was waiting for the day they may be together. 

Well, I’d been writing songs about you

Before our paths ever crossed

And since I’ve been hanging around you

I’ve been feeling a little less lost

The narrator acknowledges the rhythm of her spirit created in him and only wants the world to see this side of her. The story of their love was that she saved him. She saved him from the grey world surrounding him, the dullness filling his life, and finding a will to continue on. He only wishes throughout this song, with revealing a signature feature of hers, that the world will interpret the beauty that lies within everyone. 

Let the colors of your soul spill out for everyone to see

In a world of black, and white, and gray

You paint something beautiful every day

Through words of love and admiration, a poetic masterpiece is being produced. The poetic language being used, one could argue, resembles the truthness to their love story. Each one is to further display what this love from the blue eyed girl has done to impact his life. Instead of stating the obvious and letting the lyrics sit dully, the uses of allusion, diction, and metaphors help enhance the narrator’s meaning and importance of this blue eyed girl.  

I’ll march right along to your beat

And the rhythm of your spirit makes me

Feel much more alive

There’s wisdom in the way you speak

And I see “I love you” in your eyes 

In the particular verse brought to attention above, these uses of poetic language are strongest. The way his love is described to the audience through the diction chosen is very much alive. Using bright words such as spirit, alive, or even I love you all speaks to the audience to feel how he is feeling for the blue eyed girl. The uses of diction create butterflies in one’s stomach that last long enough to envy the love that exists in these verses. The metaphor that is fluent in this quick stanza is the last line, which goes back to the title of the song, “Blue Eyed Girl”. The metaphor that exists in the idea of eyes is represented throughout the song, however in this exact line, the strongest and realest meaning is shown. What the narrator is trying to express for why eyes mean so much to him is answered with this simple line. Knowing the impact of how the blue eyed girl created a new way of life to the narrator has been formed through each stanza, there has been subtle allusion to how she has truly impacted him. Alluding to the wisdom that she speaks is mentioned in this line, it represents how she has worked through personal confections with him. This poetic masterpiece, a sonnet one may argue, relays the everlasting impact of love with only a tone of love.

The Power of Ivy

Ivy” is the product of one of the most successful women to have ever graced the music industry. Track 10 on her 9th studio album evermore, Taylor Swift achieved some of the most beautiful lyricism of her career in this masterpiece. The subject of the poem is highly debated, many fans believing it narrates the love life of acclaimed writer Emily Dickinson, but the basic premise becomes clear as you listen: a married woman is in love with someone who is not her husband, and she grapples with the complex feelings associated with her adultery. Who it is about and Swift’s relationship with this experience is unknown, but one thing is astonishingly clear: the beautiful passion and depth of poetry is epitomized in the words. The poem coalesces many meanings in simple phrases, condensing great emotion into so few words. It uses extended metaphors, clever rhyming and scheme and beautiful imagery to convey a deeply emotional and heartbreaking experience.

The song opens establishing the setting, where the subject meets the lover she is addressing:

How’s one to know?
I’d meet you where the spirit
meets the bones
In a faith-forgotten land
In from the snow
Your touch brought forth an
incandescent glow
Tarnished, but so grand

Like true poetry, so much meaning is condensed so closely in the first 13 words of the song. The line “where the spirit meets the bones” has many layers. As referenced later in the song, this line is about the physical place where they meet, a graveyard.  The meaning is emotional as well, spirit and bone meet in the body, she met her lover with her whole body, her whole heart, her whole mind. The words “faith-forgotten” establish the circumstances under which they meet, the love is clearly adultery as the narrator’s husband is mentioned later in the song. “Incandescent” as an adjective has two definitions: 1. emitting light as a result of being heated and 2. full of strong emotion; passionate. Both definitions are used in these lines. As the narrator comes “in from the snow” she is met by the heat and light of her lover’s touch. A touch which is also full of strong emotion. Coming to her lover “from the snow” implies that her previous love was absent of incandescent glow. Or absent of the passion and warmth she finds with this new love. The final line of the first stanza characterizes the “glow” mentioned in the previous line. Tarnished elicits a feeling of age, a shine that has dulled from years of disuse, an odd word to describe so much passion. Swift follows tarnished with “but so grand”, though the love is “dulled” it is still great and beautiful. All of this emotion, meaning and experience is encompassed in so few words, just the first verse of a four and a half minute masterpiece.

The pre-chorus re-introduces the graveyard, adding more to our understanding  of the budding romance:

And the old widow goes to the stone everyday
But I don’t I just stay here and wait
Grieving for the living

In describing a widow and the stone she visits, Swift brings back the graveyard setting. A woman who mourns the loss of her husband by visiting his gravestone. The narrator, however, does not have a gravestone to mourn a past lover, she stays in the graveyard “grieving for the living”. She is missing someone who is not dead, but somehow lost from her regardless. The most obvious interpretation that can be made from this is the loss of love, trust, faith or contact within the narrator’s marriage. She is grieving what she has lost in the marriage, at the same time, waiting in that graveyard for her new spark, confirmed in the first verse. She waits for new love in the death of her old one, Swift masterfully asserts through the physical and emotional location described in the song.

From here, the chorus is introduced: 

Oh, Goddamn
My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand
Taking mine, but it’s been promised to another
Oh, I can’t 
Stop you putting roots in my dreamland
My house of stone, your ivy grows
And now I’m covered in you

Swift is implying the narrator’s pain is cradled easily in the lover’s hand, that the lover understands and nurses that pain so easily. The description “freezing hand” connects back to the first verse, where the lover’s touch is described as incandescent. The extended metaphor and  contradiction here is difficult to understand at first, how can one both provide warmth and passion, but still themselves be frozen? The lover can not be made warm because they give love so intensely. Perhaps the lover remains so cold because the narrator can not provide the support they give in return, because of the “house of stone” mentioned later in the poem. Connecting one deeply moving metaphor to another, Swift brings us to the line that named the song: “My house of stone, your ivy grows / And now I’m covered in you”. Stone is timeless, strong, cold and unyielding and though it is tested by horrible storms and great tribulations, it stands. This can be wonderful to liken your heart to, because it means it can bear great hardship and still go on. It also means the narrator’s heart has endured quite a lot and therefore will not weaken to love. Except, of course, to this love, who weakens stone through ivy. Ivy is not violent, it doesn’t bring the stone down, it simply grows and flourishes on it and in it’s gentle expression of life, loosens the stone. The narrator’s cold, tested “house of stone” is now covered in the lover’s understanding and life-filled “ivy”. 

The song continues into two more verses, three more choruses and a beautiful bridge that counters the expressions of love with those of anger, bringing emotional complexity to the song. In verse three Swift writes:

Clover blooms in the field
Spring breaks loose, the time is near 
What would he do if he found us out?
Crescent moon, coast is clear
Spring breaks loose, but so does fear
He’s gonna burn this house to the ground

In one short rhyme scheme Swift utilizes multiple poetic devices. Metaphor is used to liken the new love to life of springtime bursting out into the world. It characterizes the nature of the relationship, inciting hope. The repetition of the second and fifth lines, induces a sense of anxiety in the listener. The reader experiences the narrator’s fear of being discovered. The repeated lines end in rhyme with each other, implying the connection between the joy of love and the fear of unfaithfulness are intertwined, emphasizing again the anxiety the repetition created. She concludes this portion of the song with a conclusion about her husband’s actions. That he would “burn this house to the ground”. Therefore extending another metaphor many verses into the song. The house the narrator and her lover have built, one of stone covered in ivy, will be destroyed and therefore the unique trust and love it represents. This line also characterizes the violence of the husband, that he would burn and destroy until there was nothing left. No shelter from the cold that is so often referenced in the song. 

I would need a novel to explain all the poetry and deeper meanings written into this song, so I encourage anyone reading this to listen for themselves and feel the emotion Swift further demonstrates with musicality. This is a poem that needs to be heard to be understood. It is a masterpiece only Swift could conjure up.

“The Blacker the Berry” Paints Vivid Picture of American History

The roots of racism in America can be traced back to the 1500s, when the first enslaved people were brought along the Middle Passage from West Africa to the Caribbean Islands and what would become the southeastern United States. The institution of slavery lasted for more than three centuries in the Western Hemisphere, with the importation of enslaved people to this area of the globe ending in 1808 and the practice of enslaving people ending shortly after the American Civil War. But racism in America, extreme prejudice taken against African-American people, has existed up until today, even through the Jim Crow and Civil Rights Movement era.

Given this context, when an artist writes a song about institutionalized racism in America, it is difficult for it not to sound cliche or dissolve into the basic moral of “everyone is human and should be treated equally.” But Kendrick Lamar’s The Blacker the Berry creates raw images of America’s institutionalized racism from both sides that make the song last in the listener’s mind as poetry.

The song begins with an interlude that seems to be from the perspective of a white slaveowner. At the end of each line, the perspective switches to that of a black person being sold into slavery.

Everything black, I don’t want black (they want us to bow) / I want everything black, I ain’t need black (down to our knees) / Some white, some black, I ain’t mean black (and pray to the God) / I want everything black (we don’t believe)

The Blacker the Berry, Interlude

Each line of the first stanza begins with a white slaveowner who wants to purchase an enslaved person — he “want(s) black” but at the same time does not — and ends with the perspective of a black person thinking the thoughts the slaveowner doesn’t want them to think. The black person knows the manipulation and unfair labor they are about to endure, but cannot speak up to the white slaveowner, who makes all the choices and holds all the power. The idea of songwriting from the perspectives of the oppressor and the oppressed, rather than from a modern-day perspective, is what makes this song vivid poetry.

Lamar’s lyrics shift through time into the first verse, when the black man is a free, independent person who thinks what he wants to think and says what he wants to say. In this verse, he seems to being prosecuted for a crime illustrated in the bridge (“six in the morn / fire in the street”).

I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015 / Once I finish this witnesses will convey just what I mean / Been feelin’ this way since I was sixteen, came to my senses / You never liked us anyway, fuck your friendship, I meant it

The Blacker the Berry, Verse 1

Back in the present, Lamar portrays the speaker as someone who is angry at the treatment of black people throughout history. He seems to be predicting what the white man is about to say (“I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015”). He responds by telling the white man that he has come to his senses since his youth. This heated exchange conveyed through the mind of the oppressed illustrates modern-day racial stereotypes without directly saying them.

Every song is a poem, as long as it does not preach morals by giving the listener direct thoughts from the lyricist’s mind. A song is what you make of it, but you can only make something of it if it forces you to think about the lyricist’s emotions and motive for writing the song.

This is what “The Blacker the Berry” does, and this is what makes track 13 of “To Pimp a Butterfly” pure poetry. Switching back and forth between past and present, Lamar forces the listener not to hyperfocus on present-day racial prejudice (as songs like Lil Baby’s The Bigger Picture do), but to think about the centuries-long institution that made this racial prejudice come to be.

Continuing to switch back and forth between past (“Woi, we feel a whole heap of pain, cah’ we black / And man a say they put me inna chains, cah’ we black”) and present (“You hate me, don’t you? … Muscle cars like pull ups, show you what these big wheels ’bout”), Lamar calls out white people on their generational oppression of black people, pointing to the success black men such as him have today.

Before the outro, Lamar raps his final verse with defiance, establishing pride in his culture and racism as a generational issue.

The plot is bigger than me, it’s generational hatred / It’s genocism, it’s grimy, little justification / I’m African-American, I’m African / I’m Black as the heart of a fuckin’ Aryan”

The Blacker the Berry, Verse 3

In Lamar’s last verse, he creates a call to action for the future, implementing all tenses into an issue that has defined American history.

A Fine Line of Meaning

When Harry Styles released his second studio album, most expected it to be the same type of music as his first. Slow, British rock, with a hint of pop. However, Fine Line was anything but expected. Even with how much more vibrant it was than the first album, it closed off with a 6 minute, melancholy finale, the namesake song for the album. While many of his other songs are pop-focused, “Fine Line” is a stand-alone piece of poetry. The song only has two main verses, but they are jampacked full of meaning. “Fine Line” takes a stab at analyzing the fine line between love and hate, or even more so, the fine line between entering a relationship and leaving one.

Put a price on emotion

I’m looking for something to buy

The song begins with a bold statement, making the listener wonder if there is a price on emotion, and how is it bought, even metaphorically. A reoccurring theme throughout the song, the speaker is struggling with finding the right way to go about love. This is almost a personification of a feeling, it could also be seen as a metaphor. Is love something that can be bought? And what is the cost?

My hand’s at risk, I fold

This is objectively the most meaningful line, or at least most poetic, in the whole song. To view its meaning as an allusion to gambling, like love being dealt like a hand of cards, it emphasizes the risks that come with love. To view this line as a metaphor of love, would be like saying that the second love is a risk, or a relationship is at risk for the speaker, they shut down and don’t know how to respond. This song uses lyrics as poetry to convey, or characterize, what the essence of love is and how easy it is broken.