Have you ever wondered whether poetry can be written to music? Are poetry and lyrics similar in any way? I thought about the differences and similarities only yesterday when I drafted a poem I’ve called ‘Rhyme to song.’ Google, as always, was my friend, as I searched to see whether lyricists or singers had ever sung to the verse of a poem. An interesting thesis ensued. It went something like this.

A poem has no chorus. Yet at times, a line can be repeated for greater impact and effect. Not unlike a chorus in a song, the centripetal aspect of the tone and the message. Yet it seems that repeating the same line over and over in a poem can lead to the interpretation by the reader that the poet has little understanding of how to structure poetic verse.

Is there a similarity between poetry and music?

Can verse be written as lyrics?

Yet, in considering the same idea in song-writing, it is almost taken as a given that the song must have a centre, that the listener can return to and recall each time they hear the song, be it on the radio, at a concert, or elsewhere.

Recently, I wrote the following and called it ‘the alleyway.’

 

The alleyway

 

Falling down the alleyway

Misconstrued the clock

The chasm in the mountain

Leaves me sitting by the rock

 

The avenue’s a no-through-road

Your love, withdrawn, it shocks

I fall back down the alleyway

I’m lying by the rock

 

Forgoing love, the truest kind

Forgone, divorce that shocks

I’ve fallen through the alleyway

I’m lying by the rock

 

Destiny? To be alone

One a part of two

I see you in my memory

I know you see me too

 

Trusting strangers passing by

Who stop to say; ‘hello’

I’ve completely lost my way

It’s time that I should go

 

Come see the world I live in

It’s stranger than it seems

Your love was my only alleyway

The one that I’ll redeem

 

When we were one, we held onto

Your love for me and my love for you

You are me and I know I’m you

Together, one – from old to new. 

 

Now, this doesn’t appear to have any chance of being converted to lyrics. It has no chorus, for starters. But rearrange the poem, add a chorus where you think it fits, once, twice or more, and you may end up with something like this:-

 

Falling down the alleyway

Misconstrued the clock

The chasm in the mountain

Leaves me sitting by the rock

 

The avenue’s a no-through-road

Your love, withdrawn, it shocks

I fall back down the alleyway

I’m lying by the rock

 

We are one, we are many, too

You come to me as I come to you

A history, made, a memory, too

My love for you means I’ll see you through

 

Forgoing love, the truest kind

Forgone, divorce that shocks

I’ve fallen through the alleyway

I’m lying by the rock

 

Destiny? To be alone

One a part of two

I see you in my memory

I know you see me too

 

We are one, we are many, too

You come to me as I come to you

A history, made, a memory, too

My love for you means I’ll see you through

 

Trusting strangers passing by

Who stop to say; ‘hello’

I’ve completely lost my way

It’s time that I should go

 

Come see the world I live in

It’s stranger than it seems

Your love was my only alleyway

The one that I’ll redeem

 

We were one, we were many, too

You came to me as I came to you

We had what we should have held onto

You miss me now? I miss you, too

 

When we were one, we held onto

Your love for me and my love for you

You are me and I know I’m you

Together, one – from old to new. 

 

Now, what kind of music would this fit? Let’s call it folk. You’ve now decided your poem (or lyrics) fit a folk song, you’ve decided on the chorus and on how many times the chorus appears. Now read over the lyrics and see if they sound right. Make sure the lyrics are syllabically suitable. That is, don’t follow an eleven syllable line with a four syllable line.

How did Carla Bruni create lyrics from a poem written by Emily Dickinson?

As an example, here is a poem by the great Emily Dickinson that was transformed into lyrics by Carla Bruni. The poem, ‘I Felt My Life With Both My Hands,’ reads as follows:-

I felt my life with both my hands
To see if it was there—
I held my spirit to the Glass,
To prove it possibler—

I turned my Being round and round
And paused at every pound
To ask the Owner's name—
For doubt, that I should know the Sound—

I judged my features—jarred my hair—
I pushed my dimples by, and waited—
If they—twinkled back—
Conviction might, of me—

I told myself, "Take Courage, Friend—
That—was a former time—
But we might learn to like the Heaven,
As well as our Old Home!" 

 

And the lyrics read like this:-

I felt my life with both my hands
To see if it was there
I held my spirit to the glass
To prove it possibler

 

I turned my being round and round
And paused at every pound
To ask the owner's name
For doubt that I should know the sound
To ask the owner's name
For doubt that I should know the sound

 

I judged my features, jelled my hair
I pushed my dimples by
And waited if they twinkled back
Conviction might of me

 

I turned my being round and round
And paused at every pound
To ask the owner's name
For doubt that I should know the sound
To ask the owner's name
For doubt that I should know the sound

 

I told myself take courage, friend
That was a former time
But we might learn to like the Heaven
As well as our old home

 

I turned my being round and round and round
Paused at every pound
To ask the owner's name
For doubt that I should know the sound
To ask the owner's name
For doubt that I should know the sound

 

I felt my life with both my hands
To see if it was there

 

You can see there are minor changes from the poem to the lyrics but for all intents and purposes, the lyrics have maintained the original nature of the poem, proving to us all what a wonderful decision her niece made to publish those 1800 poems Emily Dickinson wrote during her lifetime.

Now for the hard part - to take your poem and put it in lyric form. Always remember, though, as my attempt above probably proves, not all poems make great songs – after all, that wasn’t the intention of the poet in the first instance – if it had been, we’d call them a ‘song-writer,’ wouldn’t we? Not everyone can be Robert Burns and write a poem like ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ or the English poet and clergyman, John Newton, who wrote the words to ‘Amazing Grace,’ first known as a Christian hymn.

But we can all have fun trying. Good luck with your poetry / song-writing venture. As Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel would say, if it doesn’t happen for you the first time,

Don’t give up

‘Cause you have friends

Don’t give up

You’re not beaten yet

Don’t give up

I know you can make it good...

Published by Owen Tilley