The Real “true love”

In J. Cole’s album 4 Your Eyez Only we observe a different side of him that hadn’t been revealed in his past albums. This album displays shared experiences within the black community and allows listeners to dive deeper into the meaning of his music through his lyrics. The reason this album feels far more personal than any of his previous albums is because it is also a tribute to his childhood friend, James McMillan Jr who passed away at the age of 22 leaving behind a daughter and his wife. I consider all songs on this album to be art, but the song “She’s Mine Pt. 2” specifically stands out as a poem itself. In his song J. Cole opens up about his experience becoming a father and how it altered his views on life and love. He speaks to his newborn daughter through his lyrics; writing in present tense, as if she were to be listening in the future. He begins the song by saying he wishes things were different in society and criticizes those who focus on material things. He writes saying:

If I had a magic wand

To make the evil disappear

That means that there would be no more Santa Claus

No more to bring you Christmas cheer

Cause what he represents is really greed

And the need to purchase shit from corporations that make a killin’

Because they feed on the wallets of the poor

The writer uses the metaphor of feeding on the wallets of the poor to emphasize the downsides of consumerism among those who don’t have much to give. Although this might seem like a negative approach, I think it is very realistic for him to include this. I interpret these lines as a story of a selfless father who acknowledges the imperfections of society as he is bringing a child into this world, and his only desire to protect his child from all evil.

Reminisce when you came out the womb

Tears of joy I think filled up the room

You are now the reason that I fight

I ain’t never did nothing this right in my whole life

As he begins to describe the birth of his child the tone and diction of the songs shifts. He changes from being direct and pessimistic to fully engulfing in the idea of being a father. In the second line above when he says, “tears of joy I think filled up the room” the writer is using figurative language to capture the excitement and happiness of that moment. The shift in tone is significant because it symbolizes the drastic change that comes with becoming a father, this adds to the overall meaning because it shows how having a child can transform your perspective on life.

Am I worthy of this gift?

Am I strong enough to lift?

Into a place that I can see

Someone more important than me?

(2x)

In the following lines he provides a deeper reflection of his experience. He questions himself, doubting if he can take on such a responsibility. The use of rhetorical questions in this song, reflect the internal conflict of the speaker. This also further explains the meaning of the song. By repeating these four lines the speaker sets an eerie feeling and prolongs the thought. The last line stands out because it shows how becoming a father has showed him new priorities. At the end he wraps up his thoughts by saying, “someone more important than me” this demonstrates a deeper understanding of love. This ties into the overall meaning of the song because he is expressing how his experience of becoming a father has shown him that he could love another human being far more than he loves himself.

I’m gon’ do a humble stunt, act like I meant this shit

That’s the ego taking credit for what God made

F**k this album shit, “Hey mama, look what God made”

J. Cole mentions his tendency to let his ego get in the way, but when it comes to his child his attitude changes, instead of crediting himself he looks towards god and credits him for his daughter. He sees his child as a gift from God and he feels that he a special new purpose as father. He proves that the birth of his child has taught him true love. No material thing holds the same importance anymore because the love he feels for his child is greater than anything he has ever encountered. Throughout this song the message of love and family is prominent, but not in a traditional way. J. Cole shows us that love can go deeper than just relationships, because the love he feels as a father has impacted him beyond his previous beliefs of love and society.

Reading Poetry is Self Care: An Analysis of “Self Care” by Mac Miller

August 3rd, 2018 – About a month before Mac Miller died of an accidental drug overdose, he released his fifth album entitled Swimming. This album is full of poetic songs, one of which is the song “Self Care.” In this song, Mac Miller uses multidimensional language to convey his conflicting emotions and fight to overcome his personal struggles. Mac Miller often sings about obstacles in his life. In this particular song, he focuses on finding his path to happiness, and like the title states, caring for himself. He starts with the chorus:

“I switched the time zone, but what do I know?

Spendin’ nights hitchhikin’, where will I go?

I could fly home, with my eyes closed

But it’d get kinda hard to see, that’s no surprise though

Self Care is simultaneously hopeful and sorrowful. He ends the first two lines with fairly open-ended questions, asking about the direction his future may take. The “time zone” and “nights” refer to his current state of fame in the music industry. This can be interpreted both literally and metaphorically. He is now able to travel and has the money to do whatever he wants. Furthermore, he talks about how he spends his time and how he changes his mentality. In the last two lines of this quote he is talking about returning to his true self. He knows himself well, as exemplified by the image that he doesn’t need to see in order to “fly home.” However, Mac Miller also acknowledges that it is becoming harder to do so as he sinks deeper into addiction and strays further from his roots in Pittsburgh. He keeps with this theme as he continues:

“When it’s feelin’ like you hot enough to melt, yeah (melt, yeah)

Can’t trust no one, can’t even trust yourself, yeah (self, yeah)

And I love you, I don’t love nobody else, yeah (else, yeah)”

The first line presents the image of the immense amount of pressure Mac Miller felt from fans, his music production and record label company, and himself. During these times of stress, he shares that he feels like he can’t rely on himself or others. Additionally, he shows that despite this, he loves one woman. He speaks directly to her, strengthening the impact of how central she is to Mac Miller’s songs. Another verse that is repeated is:

“Tell them they can take that bullshit elsewhere (yeah)

Self-care, I’m treatin’ me right, yeah

Hell yeah, we gonna be alright (we gon’ be alright)”

In this section, Mac Miller is reassuring himself that he will come out of the darkest times. He is prioritizing himself, instead of listening to the criticism that others have for him. He doesn’t define self-care traditionally, instead conveying the message that he is on a journey to become a better person. He wants to improve himself, and do things that are good for him instead of the self-destructive path he used to be, or still is, on.


Finally, the tone and speed of the song changes as Mac Miller ends the song with the word “oblivion.” Oblivion is defined as the state of being unaware or unconscious of one’s surroundings. He raps that it is both a “beautiful feeling,” and “didn’t know what I was missin’,” implying that while he may be happier when he is not present, he actually regrets not fully being there. Addiction played such a big role in his life and consequently his music, emphasized through the repetition of the word “oblivion.” It illustrates that although he wants to change, it is difficult due to the nature of addiction. Overall, Mac Miller beautifully portrays his struggles with fame, addiction, and putting himself first in the song “Self Care.” He is deliberate in the way he uses language and sound to make the listener feel his emotions while writing. This song truly deserves to be called poetry.

Was I just there?

In the breakup song Romantic Homicide, the central protagonist has already emotionally moved on. Glancing at the song’s lyrics, it’s arguable who triggered the separation; it appears more that his partner made the decision, but the singer believes it was the right one. That is clearly indicated in one phrase in particular: I don’t mean to be complacent with the decision you made, but why? These lines suggest that the choice was taken by another party. It would also explain his despair in the opening words, by which he says that he thinks the other person doesn’t care:

I don’t mean to be complacent
With the decision you made, but why?

However, d4vd here seems to address the breakup differently than most folks do in the initial stages. To have reached a stage where he had successfully processed the breakup of the relationship. He expresses two things in a way that distances the other person from him or her emotionally:

I’m scared, it feels like you don’t care
Enlighten me, my dear
Why am I still here, oh?

The two ideas mentioned above are typically two crucial steps in processing a breakup: erasing that person from our lives in order to fully accept that they are no longer a part of them, and developing natural hatred for them in order to make up for any remaining feelings of love that may still be present in our hearts. These two actions enable us to emotionally detach.from that individual and begin to rebuild our lives. That does not imply that d4vd is content with who he is. At some point later in the song, he also expresses grief, in addition to his earlier expression of fear:

In the back of my mind
You died
And I didn’t even cry
No, not a single tear

We won’t create barriers to our destiny if our self-love remains unaffected and if we continue to feel that we deserve love and will receive it. And before a breakup, we should all act in that manner. After all, you left me alone, and I won’t chase you—this is the true meaning of the lines in Romantic Homicide. You are dead to me because I despise you. I begin the reconstruction and move forward with these two ideas in mind: love will come knocking again at the appropriate moment.

A Love Story Across Time…and Space?

“Berenstein” Lyrics

My song, “Berenstein” by THE BAND CAMINO, was released as a single in 2017. In trying to keep my selection relatively random, I just chose this song because it was one of the first songs that happened to pop up on my phone. I’ve always enjoyed listening to it for its sci-fi, synth sound and mysterious lyrics which I’ve never really dived into that much. I would encourage you to listen to the whole song to get the whole “feel” of it, but here I’ll give some of my thoughts on it:

Essentially, the speaker, audience, and occasion are pretty standard in a sense; a lover, the person he loved, and thinking back on what could’ve been; a “lost” relationship. The meaning, if only “x” things were different, we could have been together, but it never worked out. A classic theme across many songs. However, the song quickly takes on a more compelling meaning starting with its refrain, 

“At another place in time

You were infinitely mine

Relatively alright

When Berenstein was fine”

The inclusion of “Berenstein” is an allusion to the Mandela Effect, a phenomenon where a significant number of people insist that they remember something happening when it never did. Famous examples include Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 80s when he really died in 2013, or for people who grew up reading the “Berenstain Bears” children’s books, an insistence that they were pronounced “Berenstein Bears”. A popular explanation for this phenomenon is the existence of parallel universes where these small details really exist the way we remember them. In this way, the song’s allusion to Berenstein actually cuts deep, the speaker is possibly alluding to a different universe or “another place in time” where “You [the speaker’s lover] were infinitely mine” and “Berenstein was fine”. The song then is a love letter across realities with a wish to travel between time and space to that universe when Berenstein, rather than Berenstain, was fine. The subtle inclusion of just one word changes the song from a catchy pop tune to a multidimensional love letter that contemplates reality. 

To further emphasize the existence or significance of this idea of an alternate reality, the song employs personification to describe said reality,

“You were always certain that it did exist

Imagination so intrinsic all at stake

All the things we said when we were younger

Did it bend or did I break?”

“It” being the alternate reality is described as something that may have “bent”, not a literal term we would associate a reality of having, but one that gives us more context into the song. Perhaps a relationship never worked out for the speaker because of some event in their reality that “bent” the potential for said relationship the wrong way. Then again, just as in one universe things may bend the wrong way, in another they may have bent the right way and the speaker would have experienced the relationship he dreams of. The personification of reality “bending” gives more power to the idea of multiple universes and/or the idea that such realities are malleable, and in turn, the things or relationships across those realities could also be malleable. Once again, the inclusion of certain elements in this song leaves the listener thinking about more than just a romance between two people but questioning the properties of love and reality. The personification of a universe being “alright” or a reality “bending” gives the idea that love is a malleable thing with many different variations across realities.

Finally, the song employs a constant motif of time and age to tie together its elements of love and parallel existences. In addition to its constant refrain,  

“At another place in time

Only parallel to mine

The universe was alright

When Berenstein was fine”

The song also references time stating, 

“Wait for me, wait for me there

I’ll die if you die, wait for me I swear

Wait for me I’m still somewhere

You’re getting older without me, I’m scared”

Or 

“All the things we said when we were younger”

Did it bend or did I break?”

The explanation of time within the speaker’s relationship makes it clear that the speaker has known their lover for a long time, and they probably regret both the timing of their relationship in their reality and yearn for a better timing in a different reality. The theme of time is literally important to understand the speaker’s relationship across their own life and whatever parallel lives they may have, but I also think it is meaningful for sparking a reflection on what time really signifies in a relationship. In our reality, time is linear and moves in one direction, if things didn’t work out in the past, that’s just how it was destined to be, and it’s fixed in the past. This perspective lets the reader challenge that, if one could jump between realities as the speaker wishes to, time would no longer be linear; relationships that never worked out could be re-explored and re-lived “at another place in time”.

Overall “Berenstein” by THE BAND CAMINO uses the allusion to one word, “Berenstein” to open a trove of poetic devices and philosophical wonderings. The song illuminates the multidimensionality of a relationship, capable of being lost between two individuals in our world, but also capable of being lost between realities. Whether it is the time motif, personification of realities, or the initial allusion to the Mandela Effect, Berenstein takes its listeners on an unorthodox journey through time, space, and love.

It’s Not Goodbye

The Alexander 23 song “See You Later“, the first track of the album I’m Sorry I Love You released in 2019 is a song of poetry. The song “See You Later” expresses the difficulty of saying goodbye to someone you love, but it does not mean they are gone forever. Through his use of lyrics and first-person perspective, he deepens our understanding of what he feels because he puts us in the experience that he is going through, an experience that we can relate to by listening to the song.

I don’t want to go
But I can’t afford to miss this flight

This is the first line of the first verse. Throughout the whole song, Alexander 23 uses a first-person perspective. Using the first-person perspective allows us as the listeners to be part of the experience that he is going through of having to leave someone he cares for. He follows Perrines’s definition of poetry as Perrine states “Its function is not to tell us about an experience but to allow us to imaginatively participate in it”. He later writes in the chorus,

When we’re both crying
In this broke down elevator

Alexander 23 puts us in the experience that he is going through because we see the emotions that he is feeling and we are experiencing the journey and emotions with him. Not only do we experience it with him, but we feel what he is feeling and we can relate to that feeling.

Furthermore, Alexander 23 uses personification to exemplify the conflict and emotions that he is going through. We can see how is going through a hard time of having to leave the person he loves. Instead of just writing that, he uses what his heart is saying but what his legs are doing to represent the difficulties he is in. He writes;

Yeah, my heart says “Stay”
My legs are walking on their own

Finally, he uses an oxymoron, as he writes in the first verse, he contradicts himself by saying

Sometimes the only way to get over hurt is to hurt

However, by using this we can see that he is in pain and we see the struggles that he is going through. This line represents the meaning of how hard it is to say goodbye to someone but to get over that feeling, you can not push it away, you have to experience it.

Finally, he uses repetition of the line “see you later”. This is also the title of the song, but this line is repeated many times in the song, it emphasizes the meaning of the song, that it is so hard to see someone you love leave, but it doesn’t mean that they are gone forever, you will see them again.

A Song That Will Never Escape Your Mind

Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” is an expertly crafted poem that draws you in and refuses to let go. It tells the story of a man’s life, his relationships over the years, and his journey to get back to one person in particular. By the time you’re finished listening to the song, you feel like you’ve lived the speaker’s life right alongside him. The song achieves this effect through its unorthodox usage of perspective and time.

Dylan has a tendency to alter his lyrics in live performances and on different recordings, so there are several different iterations of “Tangled Up in Blue.” The most significant, aside from the album version, is an earlier recording that makes the theme of perspective evident. On the album version, the narrator speaks in the first person in each of the seven stanzas, but in this alternative recording, stanzas one through three and six refer to the same events in the third person, as if the narrator were retelling stories he heard second-hand. This difference in point of view establishes Dylan’s interest in playing with perspective, which is made more evident in the song’s final lines (which are the same in both versions).

But me, I'm still on the road
Headin' for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

Dylan uses the song’s fairly repetitive structure to sweep the listener up into the flow of time, positioning them in the shoes of the speaker as his memory drifts around from one point in his life to another. Each of the seven stanzas is composed of eight lines that set the scene for whichever stage in his life the speaker is remembering, followed by four lines that resolve that stage, followed by the refrain “Tangled up in blue,” which describes the speaker’s state of being tangled up in his memories.

The stanzas flow together, but they aren’t in chronological order. The first stanza establishes the moment the speaker presently occupies before he starts his walk down memory lane:

Early one morning the sun was shining
I was laying in bed
Wondering if she'd changed at all
If her hair was still red

However, the only lines that are actually in present tense come in the final stanza:

So now I'm going back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They're an illusion to me now

This frames the stanzas that come between as motivation for the speaker’s current journey. The stories/memories that are told in these stanzas range from moments on one specific night to accounts that condense what could be years of the speaker’s life, but they all make the same argument to the speaker: he must return to the woman he left years ago.

The most poetic stanza of the song is the fifth:

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
"I thought you'd never say hello," she said
"You look like the silent type"
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Like it was written in my soul
From me to you
Tangled up in blue

This verse perfectly encapsulates the meaning of the song (the song is so purposefully crafted that you could make the same argument about any section) by turning a seemingly mundane interaction into a moment of enlightenment that holds great significance in the speaker’s memory. In it, Dylan describes a moment where he was struck by the beauty of a poem in the strikingly beautiful lines of his own poem. He signs the verse “from me to you,” as if he is giving the listener the same gift that the woman gave him in the book of poems.

Double meanings in Ultraviolence

Lana del Reys second album, Ultraviolence, shocked people after its release due to its surprisingly melancholic tone and slow pace. One of the most significant songs in the album is arguably the song “Ultraviolence”. The song uses repetition, symbolism, and double meanings in order to convey an abuser’s manipulation. In an interview, Lana del Rey explained that the song was about a past abusive relationship with a cult leader. The song opens up with,

He used to call me DN/That stands for deadly Nightshade/Cause I was filled with poison/But blessed with beauty and rage 

The mention of deadly nightshade introduces the motif of alcoholism and drug abuse. Deadly nightshade, also known as Bella Donna, is known for its controversial theories surrounding its effects on alcoholism, with some believing that it cures alcoholism. The lyrics after, about being filled with poison, can be interpreted as being filled with alcohol. 

He hit me and it felt like a kiss/Jim brought me back, reminded me of when we were kids

The violence inflicted on Lana feels like a kiss and the combined unbalanced power dynamics convey that the man is idolized so much that his violence is seen as affection. The abuser is manipulating the victim to the point where they end up believing that love is shown through violence. 

I can hear sirens sirens/he hit me and it felt like a kiss

Sirens refer to both police sirens and mythological sirens. In mythology, sirens would lure their victims into the water with their alluring voices and then kill them. The metaphor and double meaning of sirens show that while she hears sirens, the siren-like allure of the cult leader solidifies the control he has on her, which is further shown through the lyric about his violence being like a kiss being repeated throughout the song. 

I can hear violins, violins/Give me all that ultraviolence

Violins are sung in a way that makes the word sound very similar to violence. Violence and violins are also near homophones. The second lyric saying violence further shows the hidden yet obvious double meaning.  This lyrical choice seems like a portrayal of a cry for help, with the indirect wording of violence under the guise of talking about a violin. 

The Tartness of Cherry Wine

Hozier’s Cherry Wine is one of my personal favorite songs from his first album, Hozier. The album is riddled with meaningful songs that cover many different messages, some more obvious than others. Cherry Wine is a song that sounds incredibly romantic, the softness of Hozier’s tone and calmness of the guitar in the background disguises the dark reality of the lyrics and their story.

“Hot and fast and angry as she can be
I walk my days on a wire”

Cherry Wine, Hozier

Cherry Wine in its most basic form, is a song about abuse, both physical and emotional. However, unlike many other songs that discuss domestic abuse, Hozier explores a narrative that is generally passed over. The song details domestic abuse with the man as the victim. Lines such as:

“Thrown at me so powerfully
Just like she throws with the arm of her brother”

Cherry Wine, Hozier

The metaphor’s used little hide the physical abuse Hozier, who acts as the speaker and victim, experiences. The use of ‘thrown’ and ‘throws’ could be used in the literal sense, where she could be throwing an item at him. But, it could also mean that this behavior might be normal in her family as well.

The chorus of the song is what makes the abuse especially transparent, But the chorus lyrics also create hold some of the best portions of the song in terms of poetic verse.

“The way she tells me I’m hers and she is mine
Open hand or closed fist would be fine
The blood is rare and sweet as cherry wine”

Cherry Wine, Hozier

The title and final word of cherry wine plays into the idea of the speaker’s romantic relationship as a whole as well. One the outside it looks sweet, a happy couple without any issues, while their actual relationship is actually extremely bitter. This is the beauty of Hozier’s music, using whimsical wording and sound he can hide the reality of a song, but like how we never really know what relationships are like behind closed doors.

Crazy Man Michael

The song “Crazy Man Michael” (full lyrics here) by the band Fairport Convention is undoubtedly an example of lyrical poetry. But before we can talk about the actual content of the song, we should have some context.

Crazy Man Michael is an original composition written in the style of a folk song, similar to other songs on the same album (Liege & Lief), which are all either an adaptation of folk material or original compositions in a similar style. It was composed following a tragic bus crash that killed Fairport Convention’s drummer, Martin Lamble, and guitarist Richard Thompson’s girlfriend.

With this knowledge, we can more easily see the what of the poem. The song narrates the story of a man (Michael) who consults an oracle to try to see the future or at least seek comfort from it. The oracle (a raven) tells him that he will kill his true love. Michael, in a fit of rage, kills the raven, believing it has cursed him. Then he realizes that the oracle was his true love all along, and has fulfilled its prophecy. Michael was punished by the oracle for trying to see the future, and he struggles to cope with the grief he feels for the death of his love.

The poem conveys this message in multiple ways, but the most prominent is the use of metaphor, as can be seen in the lines

The bird fluttered long and the sky it did spin
And the cold earth did wonder and startle

“The bird fluttered long” indicates that it did not die quickly, adding to the trauma of the situation. “…the sky it did spin / And the cold earth it did wonder and start-o” could signify the earth spinning around the raven as it falls to the ground, or more poetically, Michael’s shock and confusion cause his perception of the world around him to distort and “spin.”

Crazy Man Michael he wanders and calls
And talks to the night and the day-o
But his eyes they are sane and his speech it is plain
And he longs to be far away-o

Michael, in disbelief, wanders and calls aimlessly into the night and day. He is clearly in grief and unable to cope with what has happened.
“But his eyes they are sane and his speech it is plain” My interpretation of this sentence is that Michael has lost his passion for life, he speaks very simply.
“And he longs to be far away-o” Michael longs for an escape from not only his surroundings, but the memory of what happened, but this cannot be, as is revealed in the next passage.

Michael he whistles the simplest of tunes
And asks the wild wolves their pardon
For his true love is flown into every flower grown
And he must be keeper of the garden

Michael desperately seeks forgiveness from the wild wolves, though he knows they cannot give it to him. He now sees his love in everything around him (every flower grown), and Michael has set himself to the task of “keeping her garden,” which can be interpreted literally as a garden (possibly where she died), or as some other way of preserving her memory.

Now that we can see the how of the poem, we can even clearer see the message it gives. Clearly, it was composed following the band’s tragic accident, and the character of Michael embodies the feeling of guilt the author had. It conveys this experience beautifully through the medium of a folk song, and uses (as is usual for most folk tales and songs) a lot of metaphor to help the listener better swallow the message. I believe this is not only an example of poetry in lyrical form, but is also one of the best examples in it’s contemporary folk genre.

Real people love; love deeply

Hozier is known for his soulful music and his lovely lyrics. “Like Real People Do” is from Hozier’s eponymous debut album that combines the genres of alternative/indie, electropop and country. It is a seemingly simple song that houses a lot of complex emotions, typical to Hozier’s lyricism.

I had a thought, dear
However scary
About that night
The bugs and the dirt
Why were you digging?
What did you bury
Before those hands pulled me
From the earth?

Hozier begins the song by presenting a detailed image of a person digging through the depths of the earth to find a person. On the surface level, the lyrics make the song an exploration of folk themes, something Hozier loves to do. The imagery of unearthly hours, unquiet grave and bog bodies is evident in the person who comes to the graveyard to bury their secrets and accidentally exhumes a dead soul. This soul doesn’t ask them to reveal their secrets and sympathizes with their dire situation, yearning for a kiss instead.

Digging up the dirt, that person was looking for something they’d buried and said goodbye to. Instead, they met this soul and unearthed him. This indicates their dark past and the awful things they’d been through. There is an unmissable touch of romanticism in the way his soul had been feeling “dead” after being “buried” without love but the seeker’s hands pulled him back to life. Surely, love has found him once again.

“Honey just put your sweet lips on my lips
We should just kiss like real people do”

Their love turns its back on the ghosts of the past and decides to bloom right now. He says they should kiss like real people do and this refers to normal happy couples who live without worries. Even though they haven’t been able to attain that picture-perfect contentment in love like “real people” before, they can certainly try to live like them now. Their love will now grow organically and healthily in a place far away from the shadow of their misery. In this way, they teach each other the joy of loving and living again which their previous relationships were not able to provide them.

Mitski’s “I Will”

Everyone wants a person that they love to write them a love song. “I Will” from Mitski’s 2014 album Bury Me At Makeout Creek is exactly what she wishes that someone would say to her. The “you” she sings to in her song is herself and the lyrics are everything that she would need to hear from someone else to make her feel safe and comfortable and loved. She begins her song  by establishing the unconditional love she already has for “you.”

“I will wash your hair at night

And dry it off with care

I will see your body bare

And still I will live here”

These lines clearly have a deeper meaning than just literally seeing “your body bare” and still staying. These lyrics represent seeing you for everything that you are and accepting you not despite your flaws but because of them. This concentrated phrase expresses loving you for every part of yourself. These poetic lines have a clear emotional and deeper meaning of what comfort in a relationship really looks like. The next part of the song goes beyond just unconditional love. These lines bemoan all of the issues that you carry throughout the day and offer to take this load off of your hands for you.

“And all the quiet nights you bear

Seal them up with care

No one needs to know they’re there

For I will hold them for you”

These lyrics make you aware of the fact that you are no longer alone, that this relationship is a true partnership where your load is carried by your partner. And these lyrics also imply an unspoken promise that you will carry some of your partner’s load as they carry yours. In life, most people need someone to tell them” that it will all be okay” when they are going through an experience that takes an emotional toll on them, and in this song where Mitsuki is expressing everything that she wishes that she was hearing from someone else. These lines are saying to her that everything will be okay because I am here and you are safe. These lines do not just tell you about someone carrying your load they place you into the experience. Whether one reads the lyrics or listens to the songs they live the “quiet nights” and experience sealing them up. At the end of the song Mistki sings.

“And while you sleep

I’ll be scared

So by the time you wake

I’ll be brave”

These last lines are so powerful. They express to you that your partner is willing to postpone their own feelings in order to “be brave” for you. Mitski’s song “I Will” is most definitely poetry.

champagne problems

On December 10, 2020, Taylor Swift announced her 9th studio album, evermore; released at midnight as a “sister album” to folklore. Swift’s last few albums have departed from her own experiences and delved into those she’s crafted stories about and imagined. The song “champagne problems” is the second track on evermore, composed by Taylor Swift and William Bowery, who fans have pleasantly learned was the pseudonym for her adored boyfriend, Joe Alwyn. The knowledge of these lyrics having both a female, Swift, and male, Alwyn, perspective helps listeners better understand both parties in the song.

The story is set in a pristine estate, filled with family and friends who are anticipating a marriage proposal. Little do they know that the fiance-to-be will turn down her long-time lover. The song takes us through unrequited, lost love, the damage it causes and the hope that one day it can be mended. Mental illness is also touched on in this song which Swift has spoken out on, including her own battles with it.

You booked the night train for a reason

So you could sit there in this hurt

Bustling crowds or silent sleepers

You’re not sure which is worse

It’s clear in this first verse that someone is running away from something that has caused them tremendous hurt. Listeners learn that this is the person who was rejected. The first two lines suggest that they’re deeply ashamed, embarrassed and disheartened which is why they’re on the night train, fewer people, yet possibly knew all along that this would be the outcome. He was easily able to escape from the pitiful eyes of his loved ones by having this ticket. The last two lines, however, make it seem that he’s questioning whether being on a quiet train was the right decision because it allows him to wallow in his sorrows and contemplate everything.

Your mom’s ring in your pocket

My picture in your wallet

Your heart was glass, I dropped it

Champagne problems

The narrator now takes us back to before her partner proposes to her and when he has the world or his future in his pockets. It’s certain that he’s intending to propose and not just that, but with his mother’s ring which illustrates how important she is to him. Additionally, he has a picture of her with him wherever he goes, driving the point of his love for her even further. The tone shifts in the third line because this is the moment when she denies the engagement. The narrator held his heart in her hands but ultimately shattered it, leaving him in despair and everyone else in utter shock. The last line and title of this song make reference to the problems and issues of the upper-class, nothing in comparison to what others face on a daily basis. Swift reiterates the line throughout the song, suggesting the ability to overcome the ordeal, yet not discounting the man’s feelings because this is probably the largest problem he’s faced so far.

One for the money, two for the show

I never was ready, so I watch you go

Sometimes you just don’t know the answer

‘Til someone’s on their knees and asks you

The first line dates back to a children’s rhyme and signifies a countdown. In this context, it might be the narrator counting down the time left with her ‘lover.’ In the second line, the narrator seems to allude to a battle that she’s had with herself for a long time, being mentally checked out and yearning to leave, but not physically being able to commit and take that step forward without him. She seems to get that clarity and strength when he finally proposes and she’s left with no other choice but to stay in a one-sided relationship or take that leap of faith despite all odds and voices surrounding her. In this story, the narrator makes a heartbreaking decision for all parties, but one that she believes is best for everyone in the long run.

But you’ll find the real thing instead

She’ll patch up your tapestry that I shred

The narrator essentially closes their relationship by ensuring her past lover that he will find someone who’s right for him and will say “yes” when he proposes. This new person will fix all of the cracks and fill all of the holes in his heart that the narrator left. She understands the situation she left him in and the sadness she caused and hopes this small piece of assurance will be enough.

This song, despite not having a happily ever after, leaves listeners wondering what could have been and what will be for these two characters. There are so many possibilities for both of them which is what happens when you close a chapter in your life.

Musical Poetry: “You’re On Your Own, Kid” by Taylor Swift

“You’re On Your Own, Kid” is the fifth track on Taylor Swift’s newest studio album, Midnights. The song offers a vivid, though somewhat intangible, tale of growing up, which is interspersed with specific anecdotes that ground the song in a truly poetic way. 

Opening the song, Swift sets the scene by singing “Summer went away/Still, the yearning stays.” This is an example of a technique Swift uses often, where she uses seasons and seasonal imagery to convey the passage of time. The idea of summer fading into fall signifies the passing of a phase in one’s life, and could be argued to allude to a summer romance mentioned in several of her other songs. In the second half of that stanza she continues: “I wait patiently/ He’s gonna notice me/ It’s okay, we’re the best of friends/ Anyway.” These lines sharpen the image of a young girl waiting for an anticipated dose of male attention, and even sacrificing her own emotional wellbeing in the interest of waiting for him to “notice her.” The tone is bittersweet as she longs for affection while simultaneously trying to grow up and realize herself. 

Later, in the second stanza, Swift continues to narrate the disproportionate emotional labor done by a teenager with a crush: “I hear it in your voice/You’re smoking with your boys/I touch my phone as if it’s your face.” This scene conjures up an image of the narrator pining over this guy, while he is unaware of her pain simply living his life without her. The simile of her touching her phone “as if it’s your face” is an especially vivid image for gen-z teenagers: when your phone is your connection to someone you care about, it can sometimes feel like it takes on a greater significance as your link to them. Taylor goes on: “I didn’t choose this town/I dream of getting out/ There’s just one you could make me stay.” This part gives the listener more detail in their mental image of the pining teenager. She has big dreams far beyond her hometown, but her feelings for this boy who doesn’t value her are still holding her back. 

Taylor continues the motif of seasons and images of growing up in the pre-chorus with the line “From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes.” These images show another transition from summer to winter, whereby sprinklers represent playing outside in summer and fireplaces represent winter. But at the same time, sprinkler splashes imply a certain youthfulness and fireplace ashes conjure a more mature image. Going a layer deeper, it could also be argued that a sprinkler splashing gives life and beginning while fireplace ash represents the end of something and what remains after a struggle. The repetition of this line adds a powerful meaning to the song about growing up and about the story of this girl letting go of the guy she pines for and finding her own identity. 

She begins that process of letting him go in the next verse with, “I see the great escape/So long, Daisy May/I picked the petals, he loves me not/Something different bloomed/Writing in my room/I play my songs in the parking lot/I’ll run away.” Here Swift alludes to “Daisy May,” an innocent young girl who she feels she is leaving behind in order to realize her dreams. She then references an old childhood game little girls play, where you pick leaves off a flower and with each petal say “he loves me” then, “he loves me not” for the next petal. The phrase that lands on the last petal of the flower is supposed to tell the fortune of if a crush likes you back. Swift uses this allusion here to conjure up childlike innocence

while showing that the narrator, presumably Swift herself, has learned that she can’t make this man reciprocate her feelings. She then talks about writing and performing songs, showing that she has moved on to chasing her dream of being a singer-songwriter and realizing her own goals.  

She then presumably throws herself into her career to a stressful extend, because by the next verse, after another “From sprinkler splashes to fireplace ashes” she narrates “I gave my blood, sweat, and tears for this/I hosted parties and starved my body/Like I’d be saved by a perfect kiss.” She has now poured everything she has into performing, only for it to destroy her in the process. She also comments on how she still craves male attention, to the extent of body image issues that cause her to starve herself. This sentiment is shared by many women trying to survive in an industry where their success is so often reliant on sexualization and male approval. She continues this idea in the next stanza with “The jokes weren’t funny, I took the money/My friends from home don’t know what to say” to show that she has given into some of the shadier parts of the music industry and feels like she’s lost herself in the process. 

In the bridge, however, the song has a sort of volta where Swift transitions to talking about finding joy in life that both comes from within and focuses on what is happening in the moment. She sings: “‘‘Cause there were pages turned with the bridges burned/Everything you lose is a step you take/So make the friendship bracelets/Take the moment and taste it/You’ve got no reason to be afraid.” These lines mean that everything we lose and hurt ourselves with in the process of growing up is a learning experience that shapes our future. So the only real way to get through it is to focus on each day—to “take the moment and taste it.” 

Swift closes the song with a last repetition of the chorus line and a closing statement: “You’re on your own, kid/Yeah, you can face this” This manta highlights that the maturity and self-realization she’s been narrating can only come from within, and no one else can do it for you. 

For these reasons, the emotional journey this song takes the listener through is visceral in a way only poetry can be. To classify this work as anything else would be borderline disrespectful to its beautiful lyrical message. 

L.A.

Recording artist Brent Faiyaz’s debut album Sonder Son shows the harsh reality of the inevitable loss of innocence that everyone goes through in life. The word “Sonder” is a neologism and it translates to the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. The whole album is based on this neologism, and how we respond to it throughout times in our life. The seventh song “L.A.” speaks about a specific part of people’s lives when they move to a new big city or place and try to make it into the career they’re chasing. And what often comes with moving to a big city is learning the new environment you’re now stuck in and how to survive on your own. “L.A.” speaks in the first person from Faiyaz’s experiences of being an up-and-coming R&B singer in Los Angeles and the struggles he’s going through while also expressing how he wouldn’t give it up for anything else.

The song begins with an introduction, “City of Angles, Land of God. The City of Demons, Looking for Us(2x).” Faiyaz begins by setting the tone for the rest of the song by saying how the “City of Demons” is looking for the “City of Angels” showing how Los Angeles is composed of good and bad people. The song immediately separates people into categories already showing how different people are compared to each other. Next, he sings, “L.A., L.A., The Place of All Places. Drug use and dark faces can make or break you.” Faiyaz is explaining how even though Los Angeles is the most popular city in the world and people make it big here, you can still be brought into dark times by bad people trying to use you for your new fame. But even still, knowing the risks he chose to achieve his goal of making it big in music.

When Faiyaz later sings, “Yeah, I’m proud that I’m chasing something. ‘Cause I don’t know better than being broke, bored, and back at home.” He wants people to understand that he chose this life of nothing but drugs, violence, and money willingly all for the intoxicating feeling of chasing his music dreams. This status that Faiyaz is chasing can only be attained through hard work and dealing with the good and bad people in your life. He then sings “But oh, what a feeling (How it feels). Oh, what a thrill (You will kill). To look down from these hills. Put the life I knew behind.” Faiyaz is expressing that the life he’s chasing consists of so much excitement and thrill that people would “kill” for his position. This balance between danger and fame is exactly what Faiyaz was chasing from early on in his career. The lyrical phrase, “to look down from these hills,” is to refer how Faiyaz has made it to the top and is looking down on all the people who haven’t made it to fame yet. However, fame means a lot of people are going to come into your life and some of them will be bad. Towards the end when Faiyaz sings, “And everybody wanna know me, Just to say you own me,” he means people want to be friendly with him just to get some of his fame. Fake people in Los Angeles are coming for him to take some of his fame like leeches sucking him dry. Overall, the song expresses Faiyaz’s emotions and events going on while he pursues his career. While doing so he is learning that everyone around him lives a vastly different life with very different goals and he has to cope with this feeling of being alone because he is so different but also there is a feeling of being together because we are all so different together.

Bird or Paper Bag?

Paper Bag by Fiona Apple is an aching song about struggle and subsequent disappointment, inspired by an actual moment in which Apple thought she saw a dove in the sky but it ended up being a plastic bag. The song quickly became a hit, resonating particularly with young women struggling with their mental health and earning Apple a Grammy nomination, and for good reason.

Verse 1

I was having a sweet fix of a daydream of a boy
Whose reality I knew, was a-hopeless to be had
But then the dove of hope began its downward slope
And I believed for a moment that my chances
Were approaching to be grabbed
But as it came down near, so did a weary tear
I thought it was a bird, but it was just a paper bag

We start out by being thrust into the image that inspired Apple to write this wong in this in the first place. The bird represents a lot of things here but namely hope. Historically, in literature, birds have represented hope and love for those who see them, and at the moment before realization of what it really is, Apple finds comfort and hope in this image, only to have that crushed when reality hits. Her unnamed lover is also represented by the perceived bird; it seems like he’s great at first but when they get closer, it’s clear that everything that seemed great about him was just a misguided daydream. Apple even admits before this that she knows he is hopeless but still clings to that chance. The use of “sweet fix” is also particularly powerful as it conveys the weight of her almost obsessive feelings–these daydreams are like a drug to her even if she knows they are hopeless.

Chorus

Hunger hurts and I want him so bad, oh, it kills
‘Cause I know I’m a mess he don’t wanna clean up
I got to fold cause these hands are too shaky to hold
Hunger hurts, but starving works
When it costs too much to love

In the past, around the release date of this song, Apple publicly spoke about her issues with eating disorders, another prevalent aspect of this song. Starving oneself is an act of trying to exert control over your life even though it ends up killing. In Paper Bag, Apple is resigned to the fact that she will feel pain in her current situation no matter what she does or who she brings into her life, so she may as well have a semblance of control. It’s almost as if she’s more drawn to this situation’s struggle with control than this unnamed interest. The use of the word “starving” in this song could be a more literal reference to food, which would definitely explain the shaking hands, or it could be something more abstract like being starved of comfort and love.

Verse 2

I said, “Honey, I don’t feel so good, don’t feel justified
Come on put a little love here in my void,”
He said “It’s all in your head,”
And I said, “So’s everything” but he didn’t get it
I thought he was a man but he was just a little boy

The last line of this verse is also the literal version of what Apple means when she previously spoke about the bird and the paper bag; she thought this man could be hope but he’s really just another disappointment. This verse is also about trying to fill the metaphorical void by surrounding yourself with people who you think will soothe your pain but ultimately end up disappointing you. Apple is searching for a balm for an ever-aching wound, specifically in a man who will do nothing more than disappoint her and not understand her jokes. Despite this, she still finds herself hungry for love, starved for it even when it’s hopeless from the start.

Cleansing the Soul

TW: Depression and suicide. Bright Eyes songs are quite recognizable for one reason: their deep lyrics that seem to transport the listener into a unique moment and allow them to fully experience it. Like any poet, Conor Oberst allows his audience to feel as if they are one with the song they listen to. “Cleanse Song” is no exception to this, but a rather recognizable and powerful example of Oberst’s poetic nature.

“Cleanse Song”, as implied by it’s title, discusses a cleanse and rebirth of the narrator, specifically on the narrator’s journey of sobriety. The song begins quite chaotically,

See the new Pyramids down in old Manhattan

From the roof of a friend I watched an empire ending

Head it loud and long, the river’s song

Time marching on, to a mad man’s drum

Immediately, the listener is thrown into the chaos of New York City. One can feel the city moving quickly around them, and feel as the speaker feels stuck and left behind from the development while struggling with addiction. Quickly, the speaker begins to acknowledge that they need to make a change,

And if life seems absurd

What you need is some laughter

And a season to sleep

And a place to get clean

Maybe Los Angeles

These lines feel very honest and raw. The listener has finally accepted that their current life is holding them back from reaching sobriety. For many struggling with addiction, a change of location and even leaving behind an entire community that might remind you of your addiction can be a completely. The tone is also completely different from the first set of lyrics, which feel chaotic. Now, the tone is calmer as the speaker is coming up with a plan to get sober. The following two stanzas are perhaps the most powerful in the song:

On a detox walk

Over Glendale Park

Over sidewalk chalk

Some rope read “start over”

So I muffle my scream

On an Oxnard beach

Full of fever dreams that scare me sober

First off, the lines provide a physical location for the audience, both Glendale Park and an Oxnard beach, both locations in California showing that the speaker made the move and is also progressing on his journey to sobriety. The rope the speaker sees on his walk is very multi-dimensional. It physically tells him to start over, which to a struggling and recovering addict could be taken as a sign to continue going sober and push through the difficulties or to relapse, showing the constant battle that anyone who has had to quit something addictive has faced. Furthermore, the rope could also be taken as a symbol of the speakers depression and suicidal feelings. A rope is commonly used to represent someone ending their own life, so it’s appearance on the speaker’s walk could also reveal his struggle to stay alive. The themes of depression are further developed in the following stanza, where the speaker is screaming on a beach while facing ‘fever dreams’. When going through withdrawals, flashbacks and painful memories can be common. This is often why many people attempting sobriety quit. By saying that these ‘fever dreams’ scare the speaker sober, the speaker reveals that his past addiction was such a dark time that even the troubles he is facing while going sober are not going to scare him into relapse.

At first glance, the calming melody and title of “Cleanse Song” make the song appear to be a soothing song about beginning again. However, when the poetic lyrics are examined closer, a darker story of a man struggling with depression and addiction is revealed, with lyrics alluding to suicide and the cycle of substance abuse. The poetic songwriting allows for the multi dimensions of the song to shine through and heavy themes to be explored.

Hold It Horizontal

Throughout his career, Donald Glover’s various works serve as significant critiques of societies long-lasting, or profound effects on humanity. Under the musical persona of Childish Gambino, specifically on his second major studio album Because the Internet, Glover is able to unpack the animalistic behavior stemming from the dehumanizing nature of social media and the internet. Despite sounding on the surface like a traditional 21st century hip-hop track, his song “II. Worldstar” follows the albums central character, “the boy,” losing his sense of humanity, being consumed by his obsession of the idea of temporary internet stardom, using the popular mid 2010’s social media app Worldstar to do so, hence the name of the song. Through Gambino’s metaphorical lyricism, along with interludes from his brother, Glover gives the listener a sense of the consuming nature one experiences by attempting to achieve online fame.

I’m more or less a moral-less individual
Making movies with criminals, tryin’ to get them residuals

Within the first verse, Gambino is able to establish the boy’s fall to the captivating force of the internet, detailing how his time spent trolling internet goers on previous tracks of the album has led him to being less more or less a “moral-less” person than what he once was. Furthermore, within these two lines, Glover is able to display the crude motives of the boy, emphasizing his desperation to make money by filming fights with criminals through Worldstar.

When I hear that action, I’ma be Scorsese
My nigga, hold it horizontal, man, be a professional
Damn, my nigga, be a professional, what you doing, man?

Later in the first verse, Donald inserts a metaphor between the boy and Martin Scorsese in order to emphasize the boy’s enjoyment and excitement on recording fights on Worldstar that he deems to be on par with action movies directed by Martin Scorsese. He then couples this metaphor with the interjection of his brother Steve G. Lover demanding the boy to hold the phone horizontally as to seem more professional and to capture the maximum footage of the fight possible, upping their chances at a viral video.

Let me flash on ’em, we all big brother now

Towards the end of the second verse, Gambino further emphasizes how upon exposing those in physical confrontation to a flashlight from a phone or a device, it makes the person recording a sort of omnipresent force, giving them full control of the privacy of those in the altercation, essentially making them “Big Brother.”

[Interlude: Steve G. Lover]
Yo, bro, man, check out that video I just sent you, man
This shit is hilarious, man, it’s like this kid, man, he got like sh–
He got like hit on the side of the head, man, he’s like freakin’ out
Like, heh, it’s like he think he completely lost blood and shit
Hahaha, it’s hilarious, man…

Finally, proceeding the outro of the song, Glover introduces a second interlude from his brother, detailing the comedy in a Worldstar video he saw online. This final stanza is used to emphasize the overall theme of the corruption the internet brings in regards to overall humility in reacting to the violence portrayed on social media.

The importance of Cool It Now

Cool It Now is a hit song from the 1980’s by the band New Edition. When I first listened to this I instantly knew why it was a hit song. From the catchy beat and the amazing usage of words telling a story of the lead singer Ralph and his obsession with a girl. With his friends trying to keep him in check the song creates a poetic feature of how Ralph wants to live his life.

My friends say I'm love sick 'cause I
All I keep thinking about is her in my arms
(Got to see what love is all about)
And I won't be the same until she is mine
And my friends keep telling me to

This is the speaker or Ralph speaking about how his friends think that he is in love and he doesn’t know what he is doing. But in reality he does and he is just really attracted to a girl. With the fact that he is telling himself that he wants to get with this girl really bad and that he won’t be the same without her. Which is a multidimensional aspect of the story because his physical relationship would start with a woman. While achieving the mental aspect of winning the girl he has been desiring and really wanted to get with.

Cool it now
You got to cool it now
Oh watch out
You're gonna lose control
Cool it now
You better slow it down 
Slow it down
You're gonna lose control

This section is right after the first stanza of the song which is the one above. This section is the chorus of all Ralphs friends and telling him to cool it and be cool. But also at the same time trying to get him to not fall in love because he is so young. As well as what he says later in the song as trying to control his life and what he does. It could be some type of jealousy but it is defensibly his friends just looking out for him because he is so obsessed with the girl.

Why you all coming down on me
Tryin' to tell me how my life is supposed to be 
I know you're only trying to help me out
Tryin' to show me what life is really about 
But this time I'm gonna make it on my own
So why dontcha fellaz just leave me alone
Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike
If I like the girl who cares who you like

This is towards the end of the song and it cuts back to Ralph and him explaining that he can make his own decisions. By telling his friends that he has it under control and that he wants to try to get with this girl. And he tells them that he knows they are trying to help but he has it on his own. Also naming all of them showing that he cares about this girl and doesn’t care what his friends have to say or what they like in general when it comes to the girl he wants.

Altogether, the band New Edition makes an amazing song that is definitely a poem through the powerful messages and the way it was created with the diction together and really gives us an understanding of a young life and being able to cool it.

Significance of “Sign of the Times”

Harry Styles’ first ever released album, Harry Styles, includes his poetically genius song “Sign of the Times” as the second track. His debut album explores his mix of angst, frustration, and wonder about the future after his band separated and he became a solo artist. This album was released in 2017, but he released “Sign of the Times” earlier as a debut solo, and to this day, he sings it at every concert even after releasing two other albums.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, he revealed that the song was about the fundamentals of life, such as struggles of equality, race, and rights in our world, and is written from the point of view as if a mother was giving birth, and although the child would be fine, she was not going to make it. Through the song, Styles touches on his belief that it is not the first time the world has been through a hard time, and it is not going to be the last. In his lyrics, he uses the story of the mother being told she will die, but her child will survive to show that the mother is aware and saddened that her child is being born into a troubled world, but that they will meet again. This song is about the mother using her last breaths to tell her child to go forth and conquer, in her last five minutes of living.

“Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times”

In this opening line, we can assume that the baby comes out crying, therefore symbolizing the message that the child knows he or she was born into a troubled world, and the mother is affirming this to the child. The “sign of the times” are the troubling events that are occurring in the world, which shows Harry’s frustration with the state of the world and that it is a sinister place. The mother telling the baby to stop crying is a symbol of reassurance, that bad things happen in the world, but it will all be fine.

“Why are we always stuck and running from/The bullets?/The bullets”

These lines seem to show the mother talking to herself, questioning why the world is the way it is. Styles also is getting at the idea that we have overcome hard times before, and that we just have to push through them, like the child needs to push past this moment with the mother, and how we cannot be afraid of the world nor try to escape what is happening. The significance of the repetition of the bullets throughout the song shows that there is always something wrong occurring in the world, and it can metaphorically be seen as the things that come into our lives that we cannot stop from happening, like the mother finding out she will die after the birth. The bullets themselves can also be interpreted to represent the hardships of the world, so Styles uses that to convey the mother’s concern for the world she birthed her child into.

“Remember everything will be alright/We can meet again somehwere/Somewhere far away from here”

These lines are introduced in the middle of the song, and the mother is telling the baby that it is only the end for now and that they will meet again. It can also be inferred that Styles is making a reference to his ex-band here (what most of his fans like to think), meaning that they will meet again sometime in the future. However, his clever use of anadiplosis in these lines causes the listener to focus on where the mother and baby will meet and be able to be happy together.

All in all, the Harry Styles fandom seems to have many different interpretations of this song, such as his love for an old band member of his, but the song has much more meaning. Styles himself said it was the song with the most personal lyrics to him and his feelings about the inequality in our world.

Wish You Were Here: A Conversation With Your Former-Self

The namesake of Pink Floyd’s ninth studio album, “Wish You Were Here” is one of five songs on the English rock band’s concept album released in September, 1975. Wish You Were Here was the first album released by Pink Floyd following lead guitarist Syd Barrett’s departure as a result of mental health and drug abuse problems. In response to Barrett’s leave, band-members and songwriters Roger Waters and David Gilmour dedicated their next album to him, with heartfelt slow-burns such as “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” reminiscing over the camaraderie that was lost amidst Barrett’s absence. While the song “Wish You Were Here” may have been written an ode to Syd Barrett, over the years the lyrics have merited a more universal interpretation of it as a documentation of the loss of innocence and the changing outlook on the world as one ages.

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell?
Blue skies from pain?
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

In the first stanza of the song, the speaker ponders on one’s ability to distinguish between juxtaposing ideas, such as heaven and hell or blue skies and pain. The juxtaposing words have positive and and negative connotations; heaven, blue skies, green fields, and smiles are all associated with happiness and hopefulness, whereas hell, pain, cold steel rails, and veils are more representative of uncertainty, punishment, and disappointment. The speaker employs these juxtaposing ideas in order to show that to some people, these ideas are not so back and white. Especially as children, many have naive outlooks on the world, blurring the lines between things that are considered good and bad. Even into adulthood some people choose to remain ignorant in difficult situations, rather than have their hopeful outlook on the world shattered. It would seem that the speaker is addressing their past self through reflection and reconsideration of what they had once falsely thought to be “heaven” or “blue skies”.

Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
A walk-on part in the war
For a leading role in a cage?

In the second stanza, the speaker shifts from asking questions about distinguishing between emotions to pondering over the loss of innocence over time. Continuing the theme of juxtaposing ideas, the speaker compares soothing, warm thoughts with cold, uncomfortable ones. The loss of innocence is often associated with a changing, increasingly negative outlook on the world. The line “Your heroes for ghosts” is an example of the loss of innocence through the idealization of things as children which transitions to pragmatism and acceptance of reality when one gets older. Heroes, in this case, are symbolic of the glorified and magnificent world seen by children, whereas the ghosts are symbolic of these dreams crushed by reality. Change is also an effect of the loss of innocence. To have to trade “cold comfort for change” is often a result of growing older, since as age increases the weight of responsibility does as well. To continue the theme of loss of innocence, the line “A walk-on part in the war/ For a leading role in a cage” represents the shift from the glamorized idea of hardship as a young person to the suffocating reality of it as an older person. Through this stanza, the speaker expresses the loss of innocence as a result of trading realism for romanticism. 

How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here

In the final stanza of the song, the speaker reveals their gradual understanding of the ways of the world. While the speaker used to view the word as gloriously full of opportunity, they have reached a point in which they’ve found that life is merely tedious, confining, and repetitive. By using metaphors comparing the speaker and the audience to lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, the speaker connotes the idea that human beings are trapped by the degrading nature of life. Despite changing and aging, the speaker finds them-self confined to the same situation as they had before. In the final line, “Wish you were here” the speaker expresses their desire for their past self to return so that they can regain a little bit of the innocence that they have lost.

In effect, “Wish You Were Here” takes the listener not only on a journey into the speaker’s loss of innocence, but also forces the listener to reflect over their own outlook on life. This song dispels any romantic idea of life, causing the listener to reconsider their own heroes, blue skies, and cold comfort.