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Poetry in Music

Are you one of those people who think that poetry is old fashioned and has no relevance in today’s society? Then it may be good to remember that poetry can be found all around us in everyday life, but nowhere more abundantly in music. If we go back in time, poetry has always had an association with music. As long ago as bible time the psalmist David was putting his poems to music. No doubt he found it beneficial to express himself through the written poem but discovered that adding music could lend an extra power. Throughout history poetry has played an important role in reflecting the feelings of a generation or a particularly significant string of events. Sometimes these sentiments may have only reached a select few because if you couldn’t read or write, you were neither able to record your thought or discover those of others. However, with the development and popularization of musical instruments and singing and playing as entertainment people can listen to and remember songs with lyrics that have meaning for them.

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The writing of lyrics for a song basically constitutes writing a poem, you have the same starting point of a subject or a theme. The lyrics are generally set out in verses that compare to those of a traditional poem, sometimes rhyming sometimes not. Many people may regard the suggestion that the lyrics of popular songs constitute poetry a lack of respect or appreciation for the written word. This purist viewpoint can be respected but as with all things creative, change is inevitable, and progress is sometimes hard to identify, until we look back from a distance. Do we know if Shakespeare was fully accepted in his lifetime? Most famous artists, musicians and poets of long ago became more appreciated after their death. With this in mind maybe it would be good to give some thought to how we can understand and appreciate our living poets, not least of all those who have found a platform for their voice in the musical arena. It only takes a moment to think back to the most iconic musicians of recent time to see the power of their written words.

Lennon and McCartney as a writing team and musicians were prolific and inspiring. If you examine the lyrics of their later work, you get an insight into their observations on life. John Lennon in particular went on to use his musical platform to write about political and social topics, the very foundation of most poetry. Folk music has always had a tradition steeped in history and politics and with its haunting lyrics it can convey the sentiments of a generation or the remembrance of a bygone age. Musicians like Leonard Cohen, a singer song writer from Canada, have always bed admired for their lyrical genius as much for their musical skill. Significantly this year saw the ever popular often controversial musician Bob Dylan receive the Nobel Prize for literature. This clearly shows that poetry in music is alive and kicking.