John Denver's Nostalgic Ode to West Virginia

John Denver’s famous hit country song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was released on April 12th, 1971. Considered as John Denver’s signature song, it was co-written by himself and his good friend Bill Danoff and surprisingly isn’t truly about West Virginia.

To show the poetic meaning of the song, one must look into the context of the writing of the song, as is similarly seen in poems. Bill wrote the song about his home state Maryland, reminiscing about its curving, winding roads. In a state of nostalgia mixed with home sickness, Danoff wrote the piece and presented it to his friend and artist, John Denver. Adding his own twists and turns, Denver created his now most prominent piece, “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.

Almost Heaven, West Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River

Life is old there, older than the trees

Younger than the mountains, growing like a breeze

Denver singing to a simple beat, starts his piece with a quatrain. Right away, Denver compares West Virginia to heaven. Denver is using imagery to paint a picture to his listeners. He describes oddly describes life as old followed by describing a breeze as “growing”. I find this odd use of language combined with his detailed features of West Virginia as poetic to his listeners. His singing gives the feeling of nostalgia, a bright look on the past of a country he loved.

Denver’s lines in his hit song also reach multiple dimensions such as the imaginative, sensual, and emotional. This can be seen in the following lyrics.

Misty taste of moonshine

West Virginia, mountain mama

The line “Misty taste of moonshine” gives the listener a sensual feeling. Taste is not normally described as misty, thus the listener imagines the moonshine as misty. The following line “West Virginia, mountain mama” also oddly describes the state as the mother of mountains. Upon hearing this line the listener imagines the mountainous state and can feel the nostalgia that Denver is singing about. This nostalgia is emotional for the listener themselves as they start to recall their own hometown or other matters they are nostalgic about.

Overall, John Denver and Bill Danoff created a poem of nostalgia, that shakes the bones of the listener, painting a picture within their head, and emotionally calling upon their own nostalgic experiences and past.

You Can Drown Yourself In Metaphors: Vanilla Curls

I first listened to Teddy Hyde’s song “Vanilla Curls” by accident, when it showed up in my Spotify recommended, but the seemingly simple happy song had more depth than I thought, and is a clear example of a musical poem. Telling of it’s inner poetry, the songs first line states the literary device used throughout:

I could drown myself in metaphor

I could crown your head and catch the floor

Lookin’ up at a yellow girl

She won’t cut me free of her Vanilla Curls

Hyde uses these opening lines as just a glimpse into the atmosphere he creates with the rest of the song. He does indeed use a plethora of metaphor throughout the lyrics, describing an almost dying relationship that has left him set in confusion, but also uses clever literary devices such as personification:

Equipped with private eyes, her stare declared me missing

Tried to talk myself out of it, but I never listen

Hyde’s use of literary devices isn’t the only thing that makes this song very poetic, but I would argue his use of diction and imagery does as well. He juxtaposes the melancholy feelings and doubt he has regarding his relationship with playful and silly imagery. Such as describing his significant other as food.

In a minute she already put my feelings in their place

I hate vegetables, but I’d put that stringbean on my plate.

His use of “stringbean” in this line has a deeper meaning as well, as in other songs of his stringbean is used as a term of endearment, like “honey” or “baby”. His seemingly silly wording and phrases creates a sense of childishness, which is interesting as the lyrics have a more to them. For example, near the end of the song he says:

She caught me by the ear and left me lying here in writhing fear

If I get any deeper, I might need diving gear

Hyde has a wonderful way of playing with wording and internal rhyme, while also telling a story of conflict and hurt. But, without looking closer at the lines, you would never guess the precision and thought put into the structure of the sentences, something shrouded by the light airy melody that shapes the song as a whole. Hyde does a seamless job of making the complexity of the lyrics and poetry seem easy and natural, culminating in a lovely tune with a hidden emotional meaning.

Is "Beloved" a Ghost Story?

In reading “Beloved,” a question arose in my mind. Is “Beloved” a ghost story? Clearly, there is a ghost or spirit of some sort in the form of Beloved. While Beloved is a spirit, what was Morrison’s motive to include a ghost in a story about post-slavery America? While one of Beloved’s main purposes is to haunt Sethe, what more does she represent?

There are a lot of questions there. But in my opinion, “Beloved” is not a ghost story. Personally, I think to call it so is simplifying Beloved as a character. To call “Beloved” a ghost story is to overlook many important events in the novel. As readers, we see many different time periods and events throughout African-American history throughout the book. We see a newly post-slavery United States through the “present” eyes of Sethe and Paul D. We also get to see flashbacks of Sethe’s and Paul D’s back to Sweet Home and slavery. We even get flashbacks to Sethe’s childhood and her mother, who spoke a different language, where Sethe would have been around people who could’ve remembered the middle passage. Morrison uses Beloved to fill some of the gaps missing in this history. As readers, we get vivid, horrible, brutal images of the middle passage through Beloved’s description. This is a part of the history that would not have been included in the story otherwise, but is very important in understanding the history of slavery in America. Beloved is also the one who asks Sethe so many questions about Sweet Home, providing the reader with more information about Sethe’s experience as a slave. Although Morrison could have found other ways to delve into Sethe’s past, Beloved is a natural and interesting tool that Morrison can use in order for us as readers to learn more about Sweet Home.

In this way, I think Beloved as a character serves a much larger purpose than just to be a ghost in the story and haunt Sethe. For this reason, to call “Beloved” a ghost story is a bit of an insult to the book because it holds so much more than that.

Did Beloved Really Exist?

In the novel, Beloved, by Toni Morrison, Sethe and the other main characters in the book are haunted by Beloved. Beloved is the child that Sethe killed to prevent from returning to slavery, who rises from the dead to live with Sethe, Denver, and Paul D.

Although Morrison portrays Beloved as a physical reincarnation, one may interpret that Beloved is just a memory so prevalent to Sethe that she believes Beloved is real. For instance, Beloved appears after Paul D’s return. Paul D is a fragment of Sethe’s past, so when he reenters her life he unearths a lot of her memories of life in slavery.

Ultimately, Beloved metaphorically consumes Sethe as she forces her to remember her life at Sweet Home. The more time Sethe spends with Beloved, the more she loses herself in her memories, which makes me think that Beloved may not actually exist in the physical sense at all. Beloved could be a metaphor for Sethe’s past.

In a broader sense, Beloved could also represent the collective experience of slavery that formerly enslaved people tuck away after becoming free (as in Paul D’s “tobacco tin”). Beloved only leaves once Sethe is so entirely consumed in her past that she literally relives the day she killed Beloved when she sees Mr. Bodwin riding up to her house. These occurrences lead me to believe that Beloved may not exist as a person, but instead as a memory so strong that it manifests itself in a physical form.

Beloved's Last Appearance

Although she disappears after Sethe left her side to attack whom she thought was Schoolteacher, Beloved’s presence is very much felt during the last chapter. Beloved has left town and the townspeople (after finally coming to Sethe’s aid) try to put the memory of Beloved to rest. They keep repeating that Beloved’s story was not one to pass on to future generations. Yet Toni Morrison concludes the novel with the word “Beloved” alone as it’s own paragraph.

This represents the everlasting reminder of the horrible past our country has. Beloved represents the pain and suffering from Sethe’s past coming back to her constantly and she is never able to escape it. Although the townspeople want to escape the past and end the memory of Beloved, she is there in the end and continues to remind people of our brutal past.

Aurora's "Winter Bird" Resembles Sethe's Journey

In Beloved, Sethe spends a good portion of the novel remembering her hazardous trek to 124 after she had escaped from Sweet Home. She recounts how she had to walk through cold and trying conditions while she was pregnant with Denver. The stunning imagery that Toni Morrison uses to describe this journey parallels the lyrics and overall tone of the song “Winter Bird” by Aurora.

When listening to this song, a few lines caught my attention in particular. The first I noticed was, “like the naked trees.” Aurora then goes on to ask if they will ever wake up again or if they have dreams. I found this line to parallel Beloved‘s motif of trees during Sethe’s journey. The trees themselves serve as a symbol for the overall mechanism of slavery, while the tree Aurora describes symbolizes her own dreams and curiosities.

Another line that struck me as similar to Morrison’s novel was the phrase “lay me by the frozen river, where the boats have passed me by.” This line stood out to me because it reminded me of when Sethe was giving birth to Denver in a boat. She has to have her baby in such horrid conditions because most of the white people do not care enough to help her, similar to how Aurora feels that the boats do not see her as important enough to stop for.

When Aurora sings the main line of the chorus “all I need is to remember, how it was to feel alive,” I couldn’t help but think of Sethe’s journey from Sweet home to 124. Specifically, this reminded me of the scene that Sethe recalls when Amy was massaging Sethe’s feet. Amy states that “anything dead coming back to life hurts.” Similar to Aurora, Sethe’s feet probably don’t remember the feeling of being alive.

Finally, the last line that stood out to me was “only wake each morning to remember that your’e gone.” I found this line to be especially powerful because it resembles Sethe’s emotional journey after she leaves Halle. She constantly wakes up every morning hoping that he will come back to her, but after a while, she knows that he is gone forever. She also looses her children later in her story and knows they will not come back to her.

Along with the lyrics themselves, the sad and heavy tone that Aurora sings this song with contributes to its similarities with the book Beloved. The book is not a happy one, so the tone of the book also has a heaviness to it. All in all, the tone and the words of this song paint a similar picture to that of Sethe’s memory.

“Winter Bird” by AURORA

A Ghost's Purpose

Throughout the story Beloved by Toni Morrison, a few questions were constantly in the back of my head… Why do ghosts haunt certain people? And, why ins’t there millions of ghosts haunting millions of people? Do only some dead people get to come back as ghosts?

After doing some research and finding some strange websites, I found a lot of ghost stories and a lot of different opinions. One opinion believed by J.K Rowling worshipers is that ghosts are only wizards or witches that choose to come back after death, but “muggles (humans)” can not come back as ghosts. So maybe all ghosts are wizards and witches and kept it a very good secret. (https://www.wizardingworld.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/ghosts)

Another article had the idea that if people die in a place, they will come back in haunt that place. So what about hospitals? Why aren’t there a ton of ghosts in hospitals? (https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/historical-ghost-stories)

After asking Google a bunch of ghosts questions, I got a lot of different ghost stories, and found that ghosts aren’t very consistent. Some ghosts appear in certain places or haunt different people, or maybe they are late wizards.

To connect this back to Beloved, Beloved, who haunts 124, seems as if she is just at the house because she likes the company of Sethe and Denver. However, towards the end of the story people start going crazy and Sethe ends up killing Beloved in order to save herself and her daughter.

In conclusion, from reading a couple of ghost stories and Beloved, none of them seemed like Casper the friendly ghost. Ghosts seem to be scary, spooky creatures at the end of the day, even if they seemed nice at first.