Friday, May 20, 2016


April is the poet’s month. It provides them with inspiration: everything from Wordsworth’s daffodils to Chaucer’s “shoures soote,” his sweet showers. Now here comes May, the lyricist’s month. Though their work be lyric, not all poets are or were lyricists – but all lyricists are poets. Well, maybe not some of these modern fellas. Most of Lennon and McCartney, yes. Most of the current lyricists, doubtful, at least to most of the seniors around us. With some of the newer stuff it’s hard to make out, much less understand, the words being sung. There are exceptions in every instance, but we’re here to appreciate something about which we’ve usually given little thought: the beauty of the words to the tunes we love.

What’s your favorite song? What is “our song” to you and your spouse? Are you humming right along when you hear what’s playing in the supermaket? Songs from the Big Band Era, Country & Western, Blues, Folk, and Rock and Roll – pick one, it’s probably a poem set to music. Or is it music set to a poem?

Like the chicken and the egg, it isn’t always evident which came first, the lyric or the music.  For duos like Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein it could go either way – Rogers wrote the music, Hammerstein took care of the book and the lyrics.  For writers like Cole Porter or Johnny Mercer they came almost simultaneously: as a rule, both wrote both the music and the lyrics, and who could say which popped into their heads first for any one song.

But we’re here to appreciate the poetry in the songs – especially the love songs. Here are two fine examples. Think of Sinatra singing -  

         You go to my head
         With a smile that makes my temperature rise 
         Like a summer with a thousand Julys 
         You intoxicate my soul with your eyes
         Night and day, you are the one
         Only you beneath the moon or under the sun –
         Whether near to me or far
         It's no matter, darling, where you are
         I think of you day and night”

Now, those lyrics are poetry. Rhyme and meter: all the hallmarks of a lovely poem. Ah, you like free verse? Did you realize that the words to Moonlight in Vermont don’t rhyme?  As all poetry should evoke a distinct feeling, emotion, or mood, or give us a mental snapshot, these lyrics paint a picture of the seasons:

Pennies in a stream - Falling leaves a sycamore - Moonlight in Vermont
Icey finger waves - Ski trails on a mountain side - Snowlight in Vermont
Telegraph cables, they sing down the highway and travel each bend in the road.
People who meet in this romantic setting are so hypnotized be the lovely...
Evening summer breeze - warbling of a meadowlark - Moonlight in Vermont

So next time you hear or sing a great song, a song from most any era, pause to appreciate the craft of the lyricist and the words that go so well with the tune. (Or does the tune go so well with the words?)

No comments:

Post a Comment