Brown Eyed Women

Ever since 1965, the Grateful Dead has been producing revolutionary music and shaping the way rock is perceived. Out of the 317 cover songs created and the story’s they tell, the song “Brown Eyed Women“, from the album Europe ’72 is poetic in every sense. This song is a little special for a variety of reasons, “Brown-Eyed Women was never recorded on a studio album, but it was included on the live album Europe ‘72 and was played at 340 concerts. The song was first performed on August 23, 1971 at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago”(genius.com). Additionally, “Brown Eyed Women” displays a story, and through a variety of literary techniques, it draws the listener in. As the song begins, the listener is presented with a story about a man named Jack Jones. The lyrics follow:

Gone are the days when the ox fall down

Take up the yoke and plow the fields around

Gone are the days when the ladies said “Please

Gentle Jack Jones, won’t you come to me”

Overall, the song tells a story in era of the Great depression. As the song begins to flow, the listener is brought to a time were the focus character, Jack Jones is now old. As the songs states, “when the ox fall down”, this is a representation of the fall of the mischief in his early life. As the song progresses so does time and Jacks life. As life continues, rough times of the Great Depression kick in and Jack is in a financial crisis, the lyrics write:

The bottle was dusty, but the liquor was clean

Sound of the thunder with the rain pourin’ down

And it looks like the old man’s gettin’ on

While in the midst of the prohibition and the Great depression, Jack goes to the streets to make a buck off of liquor. As the lines include “Sound of the thunder” the thunder shows of Jacks situation and how bad things keep falling. Following this, poor Jack is hit with another crisis. The song writes:

Delilah Jones was the mother of twins

Two times over, and the rest were sins

All in all, Jack Jones loses his wife Delilah. Following her death, Jack becomes depressed and the relationship with his twin sons becomes poor. As the lyrics state, “the rest were sins” the “sins” in the line represents the falling relationship with the rest of his family. Overall, many of the Grateful Dead’s songs tell stories. Through these stories, the diction and syntax deliver powerful messages and add meaning to each story.

https://genius.com/Grateful-dead-brown-eyed-women-lyrics

Homecoming King

Most of Kanye West’s songs would be great options for this prompt, and the one I chose just happens to be one of my favorites at the moment. “Homecoming” from Kanye’s Graduation album, may be part of the greatest collection of songs on a single record.

One of Kanye’s greatest strengths as a rapper or a poet, is the way he can manipulate words. He can use the same word multiple times, in one line after another, and they can possess completely different meanings.

But, my name is Windy and I like to blow trees”
And from that point I never blow her off

I guess that’s why I’m here and I can’t come back home
And guess when I heard that? When I was back home

If that isn’t poetic, then I don’t know what is.

Throughout the song, Kanye chooses to develop a story about his relationship with a childhood friend. He compares their relationship to aspects of the city of Chicago to develop a nostalgic tone.

  • But, my name is Windy and I like to blow trees
  • And when I grew up she showed me how to go downtown
  • Knew I was gang affiliated, got on TV and told on me
  • I guess that’s why last winter she got so cold on me

All of these lines possess notable aspects of Chicago “Windy”, “downtown”, “gang affiliated”, and “winter”. In order to put the listener in his shoes, to appreciate the nostalgic feeling he gets when he thinks about the girl and his hometown. He is trying to get listeners to think about their home town so that they can understand what he feels when he thinks about this girl.

The job of a poet is to give new experiences to audiences. And since Kanye is obviously not utilizing prose, it is safe to say that his music is poetry.

Take Me to Church

The song “Take Me to Church” By Hozier is part of his Take Me to Church E.P. The song was inspired by the oppresion of the LGBTQ community in Russia. At the time there were anti-gay propaganda laws passed in parliament that suppressed the LGBTQ community for expressing their natural rights in public. In fact, parliament upheld a public display of homosexuality to the same severity of beastiality and pedophelia. As a nation, Russia felt the need to “protect” the children from non-traditional sexuality. Therefore, there was a vast array of attacks by neo nazi gangs. 

Hozier’s song focuses on the expression of one’s sexuality and how religious organizations advocate for the suppression of such a natural act. In fact, through the song Hozier expresses that he feels closer to god through sexual acts rather than abiding to organizations or policies that value prejudice. 

Towards the beginning of the song, as Hozier introduces the disapproval of the Christian church. He follows this by repeating the statement “I was born sick.” This figurative sickness is mentioned in order to establish the hateful attitude of the church towards the LGBT community. According to the Christian church it is seen as a sin. However, as Hozier repeats the line a second time he states, “I was born sick, but I love it.” He repeats the line in such a way to suggest that he will not support organizations that discriminate the natural act of expressing love for others. 

This then leads to the chorus of the song that reads as follows:

“A-amen, amen, amen

Take me to church

I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies

I’ll tell you my sins, and you can sharpen your knife”

Through the chorus, Hozier uses juxtaposing diction and overall develops his argument through such a contrast. First, the juxtaposing diction is evident especially in the line “I’ll tell you my sins, and you can sharpen your knife.” By structuring the language in such a manner, he continues to develop the idea of oppression. If someone apart of the LGBT community were to express their feelings to the church, they would be faced with immense resentment and possibly violence, as seen through the metaphor of the knife. The whole point of the song is for Hozier to express his disapproval of these oppressive institutions. Therefore, by writing the chorus in a format that sarcastically worships the church, he show the negative effects that would be imposed on someone like him.   

Towards the end, Hozier speaks more about the liberation he has found in expressing his identity and loving who he wants. Specifically he states:

“There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin.

In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene.

Only then I am human” 

Through speaking about an “earthly scene,” Hozier shows that the church would consider homosexual intercourse a sin, however, he sees it as an act of liberation. He uses this portion of the song to sum up his argument. Faced with such hateful events in places like Russia, that don’t allow for expression of natural human acts, he explains how truly satisfying it is to love. Expressing one’s natural human rights and love for another is far more fruitful than worshiping an harsh institution.

Obsessions

Obsessions” is the debut single of singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis, formerly known by the stage name Marina and the Diamonds and currently known by the stage name MARINA. It also appears on her debut album, The Family Jewels. In the song, a speaker, who seems to suffer symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), compares the impact a toxic romantic partner has on her life to the impact her own disordered thoughts have on it. By keeping the line between the demands of the speaker’s partner and the demands of the speaker’s own obsessive thoughts ambiguous through various literary techniques such as shifting point of view and diction with multiple connotations, the song explores how an unstable mental state and an unstable romantic relationship can feed into each other. 

The song begins by setting the occasion: the speaker waking up in the morning after a night spent with a romantic partner. The singing is soft, slow, and deceptively gentle as the speaker describes the moment: “Sunday, wake up, give me a cigarette/Last night’s love affair is looking vulnerable in my bed/Silk sheet, blue dawn, Colgate, tongue warm.” However, it quickly slips into a much more rapid tempo as Diamandis drops the pitch of her voice significantly, as if to imitate a male one, and sings, “Won’t you quit your crying? I can’t sleep.” In this line, the point of view of the song seems to shift briefly to that of the original speaker’s male partner and the occasion seems to flash back to the previous night, as the original speaker is crying and her angry partner displays no sympathy. While some of the prior lyrics hinted at the issues to come later in the song, this line is the first one in which the audience realizes that the relationship in the song is one characterized by conflict and unhappiness. This becomes absolutely clear in the next line, which is back in Diamandis’ normal voice, the voice of the original and primary speaker: “One minute I’m a little sweetheart/And next minute you are an absolute creep.”

In the next verse (I’ll come back to the chorus later), with the toxic, hot-and-cold nature of the relationship established, the song begins to explore the mental instability of the speaker. With an increasingly frenzied pace and repetition of harsh consonant sounds, the song describes the speaker going to a grocery store and being unable to pick out a box of crackers because she is so paranoid that there might be something wrong with one of them:

Supermarket, oh what packet of crackers to pick?

They’re all the same, one brand, one name, but really they’re not

Look, look, just choose something quick

People are staring, time ticker-quicking

Skin is on fire; just choose something, something, something

In this verse, the panic of the speaker is conveyed through the repetition of harsh consonant sounds, especially the “k” sound (as in supermarket, packet, crackers, pick, look, quick, ticker-quicking, skin). These sounds heighten tension by being so abrupt, almost evoking through their sharp yet gutteral sound the noise of somebody choking, as if the speaker is struggling to breathe smoothly. Words are repeated as well (particularly “look” and “something”), intensifying the sense of the speaker being “stuck” and unable to move on enough to even find new words, let alone take action and choose a box of crackers. This verse poignantly conveys the extent to which the speaker is debilitated by irrational and anxious thoughts.

Once the audience is aware of the two main conflicts in the song, the unhealthy romantic relationship and the speaker’s unstable mental state, it becomes clear how these issues play into each other. One way in which the song demonstrates this is through multilayered diction. For example, there is a great deal of diction that connotes common symptoms of OCD, such as a fear of germs and contamination. This diction is often used in reference to the speaker’s romantic partner, giving the impression that the speaker’s partner is the source of many of her intrusive, unpleasant thoughts. In the first chorus, the speaker says, “I want to wipe out all the sad ideas/That come to me when I am holding you.” The word “wipe” connotes cleaning. Excessive cleaning can be a compulsion for some people with OCD, who may use it to ease negative, fearful thoughts about germs or disease that will not go away. However, the speaker in this song wishes to ease the negative thoughts that are a direct result of her relationship (they appear when, as she says, “I am holding you”–when she is physical contact with her partner). The speaker also uses diction that evokes bugs, germs and disease when referring to her partner, such as “creep,” “sick,” and “weak.” It is almost as if she obsessively fears her partner the way certain people with OCD might obsessively fear germs. 

Diction is not the only tool used to show the link between the speaker’s romantic relationship and her mental state. The song also uses imagery and contrast, particularly in the line, “Silk sheet, blue dawn, Colgate, tongue warm.“ In this line, the cool, clean feelings evoked by the beginning section (“silk sheet, blue dawn, Colgate”) contrasts with the squidgy tactile imagery evoked by “tongue warm.” It is as if the crisp cleanness of the beginning of the line is ruined by a messy, human aspect, as symbolized by an actual human body part. Interestingly, it is unclear whether the speaker is referring to the feeling of her own tongue or her partner’s (don’t worry, I’m not going to get too graphic here). It could be either her own issues or the presence of her partner that ruins her desired cleanness and perfection. 

This is not the only instance in which the speaker leaves it unclear which of her issues stem from her relationship and which are entirely her own. She also uses diction that connotes germs and illness when referring to her own thoughts without mentioning her partner, such as when she says, “I want to erase every nasty thought/That bugs me every day of every week.” In this line, she admits that her thoughts are “nasty” and “bug” her. These words connote contamination of sorts (germs are gross and “nasty” and can also be referred to as “bugs,” as in a “stomach bug”). However, the speaker does not specify what sort of “nasty” thoughts she is having, only that they bother her and she feels she cannot get away from them (as is made especially obvious by repetition of the word “every”). It is unclear whether or not these thoughts have anything to do with her partner. Likewise, it is unclear whether the speaker’s breakdown in the grocery store in the second verse has anything to do with pressure being put on her by her partner or simply her own issues, as it is ambiguous whether lines such as “Look, look, just choose something quick/People are staring…” are spoken by the primary speaker to herself or her partner to her. 

Another way the song uses ambiguity is the fact that the speaker leaves it unclear which party in the relationship–herself or her partner–is more troubled. In the first chorus, she says, “We’ve got obsessions/All you ever think about are sick ideas/Involving me, involving you.” By using the first person plural, the speaker shows that both herself and her partner suffer from upsetting, inescapable thoughts. When she says, “All you ever think about are sick ideas/Involving me, involving you,” she hints that her partner (“you”) may suffer symptoms of OCD as well, particularly constant intrusive thoughts with disturbing sexual or violent content. However, another way this line could be interpreted is the speaker is fearful that her partner will harm her in some way, an interpretation supported by when she calls him a “creep” earlier in the song. 

One final set of lines that heightens the ambiguity of the song is when the speaker says, “Can’t let your cold heart be free/When you act like you’ve got an OCD.” In this line, it is unclear whether she is talking to herself or to her partner, as both of them seem to have issues letting go of control and letting their hearts be “free.” However, it interests me that she says whoever she is speaking to acts “like they have an OCD,” suggesting they do not actually suffer from OCD, they merely act like they do. This could be interpreted to mean that the people in the song would be mentally healthy if not for the toxic relationship they are in. However, it is also true that there are a wide range of mental disorders and even non-disordered patterns of thinking that share some similarities to aspects of OCD, and the fact that the speaker and her partner have obsessive thoughts does not mean they have actual OCD. So they might have issues completely outside of the relationship as well, just not clinically diagnosed OCD. 

Overall, it is clear that the primary speaker in the song has mental health issues of her own, but it is also clear that her relationship is an unhappy one. The song keeps it purposefully ambiguous the extent to which the relationship is exacerbating her issues and the extent to which her poor mental health is harming her relationship. I believe this is on purpose, as these lines are not always so clear in real life either. Our relationships, if toxic, can hurt us, but our own personal issues can also contribute to the toxicity of those relationships.

Limit To Your Love

The song “Limit to Your Love” by James Blake is from his premier album James Blake. The speaker of the song seems to be a heartbroken person who is trying to understand and analyze why his audience does not fully love him. The audience is the person the speaker is most likely in love with. The song is very self explanatory. It is extremely concise with only three verses that detail how limited his audience’s love truly is.

The song highlights just how truly hopeless the speaker seems to be. Although, the song is three verses they are made up of the same 5 lines, which are:

There’s a limit to your love

Like a waterfall in slow motion

Like a map with no ocean

So carelessly there, is it truth or dare

There’s a limit to your care

The combination and repetition of the verses reinforces the feeling of hopelessness the speaker feels. You can tell through the lyrics that they are frustrated their audience does not care so deeply for them.

Of the 5 repeated lines, two of them utilize similes. “like a waterfall in slow motion” and “like a map with no ocean.” The careful choice of metaphor clearly depicts how their audience’s love is not complete. Waterfalls are loud and fast and a waterfall in slow motion would hardly be a waterfall at all. A map without an ocean would hardly be complete and lead one to be confused if they were trying to use a map to direct themselves or find an area. The metaphors show how lacking the love is the speaker is describing.

The speaker also utilizes what I would call “rolling diction” (which is a term I just made up). The L sounds that are used repetitively in “limit, love, carelessly, slow, waterfall and like” quite literally roll off the tongue. The contrast in the softness of the L sound and the cutting tone of hopelessness portrayed in the actual meaning of the words displays just how complex the speaker feels. Their audience has no love for them, but they compare it so such beautiful things but they are still trying to figure out the true depth of this limited love.

In My Life

In less than 10 years, The Beatles produced over 200 songs, which often makes it hard to come up with a favorite. But,  when I heard “In My Life” for the first time, I just loved it. I think those are the most powerful and even poetic songs: the ones that immediately speak to you, transcend your pain, and stay with you all those years later (and of course what Perrine said too). I have memories even now listening to this with my sister while dropping her off at college, with my dad on any given night, and with myself during stressful moments. 

This is the song that when people tell me they aren’t Beatles fans I tell them they should listen to. Though I’m not as big of a fan of their earlier work, this song is the highlight of their 1965 album Rubber Soul. It’s credited to both Lennon and McCartney, but Lennon wrote most of the lyrics here. It tends to be a favorite among many Beatles fans, and, well I think that’s because it’s one of the most beautiful songs ever. 

Like poems, I this song is best read by looking at the full verses, or stanzas in case, without long pauses. Take the first verse for example:

“There are places I’ll remember

All my life, though some have changed

Some forever, not for better

Some have gone, and some remain

All these places had their moments

With lovers and friends, I still can recall

Some are dead, and some are living

In my life, I’ve loved them all”

Lennon said that this song was the first time he put his “literary self” into music, and I think that really shows. It has such a reflective and nostalgic tone. He effortlessly discusses the different influential people in his life and how much love he had for all of them. The tone of this song converys the reflection Lennon was doing while he wrote it and pulls the listener in. It makes you stop and reflect on similar people in your own life.

While he begins the song by reflecting on past moments, places, and friends, he quickly transitions to the present in the 2nd verse. He switches to addressing his current, “imaginary” lover (this is pre Yoko Ono). He writes, “But of all these friends and lovers/There is no one compares with you.”

That shift in time is something we’ve seen in a lot of poems. In “Those Winter Sundays” the author shifts from writing about what he remembers to what he understands. Lennon does the same here. I think that shift is an example of multidimensional language as it adds to the overall reflection of the song. He is able to convey how much his current best friend and lover means to him in contrast to past people.

As with many Beatles songs, there is a poetic flow. The lyrics are beautiful and descriptive and the melodies only make it better. On their own, the lyrics are poetry to me because they conjure up images of friends and specific places that Lennon was thinking about at the time.

Towards the end of the song he writes, “For people and things that went before/I know I’ll often stop and think about them/In my life, I’ll love you more.”  “Penny Lane” is famous for literally describing a place, but this song does the same. The images that Lennon creates here are extremely powerful because where his own memories are more vague, you as the listener fill in your own. Perrine, in describing poetry, discussed how it’s about experience and this song fits exactly that. Lennon makes it easy for the listener to understand his experience while reflecting on their own experience with life and meaningful people. 

Eleanor Rigby

The song ,”Eleanor Rigby”, is undeniably a classic. Released on The Beatles’s album Revolver alongside other hits like “Yellow Submarine”, its haunting melody and enigmatic lyrics still grace radio stations and pianos more than fifty years following its release.

As mysterious as the lyrics may seem, the song really serves to highlight the experience of an outcast. It also addresses the hazy border between life an death, and the fact the the outcast is likely to straddle this border. The Beatles likely never intended the song to consist of a true story. They do give a voice to people who likely don’t have much of one because they don’t have others to support them, or are rejected by society. Ultimately, “Eleanor Rigby” is more than just a random story about a person named Eleanor Rigby. The Beatles address the effects that isolation has on a person, and how the lack of acceptance likely causes the person to die leaving no obvious imprint on the lives of others.

Throughout the song, The Beatles intertwine the two stories of Eleanor Rigby and Father Mackenzie. Before describing the two subjects, however, The Beatles introduce the song by including them among “all of the lonely people”. The two characters theoretically know each other because Eleanor Rigby goes to Father Mackenzie’s church, but they don’t ever seem to connect until Eleanor Rigby dies.

Eleanor Rigby

Died in the church and was buried along with her name

Nobody came

Father McKenzie

Wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave

No one was saved

The two stories emphasize the true effects of isolation. Even though the two lonely people coexist, they never seem to find each other until death. The Beatles state that Eleanor Rigby is “buried along with her name”, which supports the theme that these isolated people often go unnoticed until death.

The Beatles’s use of metaphors also build the theme.

Eleanor Rigby

Picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been

Lives in a dream

Waits at the window

Wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door

Who is it for?

When they reference Eleanor Rigby’s face in a jar, they likely mean that she puts on a different personality. Eleanor Rigby can’t be her true self, even though she is an outcast, which develops the idea that isolation negatively affects a person’s well-being. The use of such a gruesome metaphor also adds to the haunting tone of the song, warning people about the consequences of living on the fringe of society.

Nearly half the lyrics in “Eleanor Rigby” are rhetorical questions.

All the lonely people

Where do they all come from?

All the lonely people

Where do they all belong?

Like the metaphors, the questions also develop the eerie tone of the song. However, they do so because they leave the listener to form their own answers. Strangely enough, The Beatles don’t state their theme directly. Instead, the theme emerges through their rhetorical questions, because they leave the listener thinking about possible answers. For instance, one could interpret the answer to the line “Where do they all belong?” as a statement about how society rejects the outcasts. One could also interpret the answer to be commentary on the fact that isolated people are more likely to both metaphorically and literally die.