Using Poetic Devices in Lyrics

Added on Wednesday 13 Jul 2011

Many times people ask what the difference is between poetry and lyrics, and they often get one of a number of stock answers. People may tell you that poems are usually read and not heard, yet if that were always the case, we wouldn’t have poetry readings. In reality, poetry is a kind of music on its own.

If you look up the word lyrics in Webster’s dictionary, you’ll find that it means “words expressing a writer’s strong and spontaneous feelings in a poem or a song.” The truth is that the principles of poetry apply to lyrics as well.

Through the centuries, poems have been set to music by composers. Some poems can be set to music virtually unaltered, while others must be tailored to fit the form of a popular song. Factors such as song form, rhyme, rhythm, song length, and singability all come into play.

Some songwriters are as much poets as they are songwriters. When you read the lyrics of songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Jewel, it’s obvious that these lyrics have considerable power even without musical accompaniment. This is the hallmark of the poet who also happens to be a songwriter as well.

Bob Dylan changed his last name to Dylan as a tribute to the poet Dylan Thomas. (Bob Dylan’s given name was Robert Zimmerman.)

There is much to be learned by the songwriter from reading and analyzing great poetry.

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