On many occasions the words poem and poetry have been repeated, relating them to the lyrics of the songs or directly confusing them. So much so, that many times we want the texts of our lyrics to be poetically competent, to have an intrinsic quality and to even be considered full-fledged poetry or poems.
Poetry and song lyrics
To begin with, we are going to distinguish poem from poetry. They may look the same but they are not.
A poem, with all its variants and forms, is a work of art, verbal, with a rhythm and often with a rhyme of some kind. It can be an ode, a lament, a story, … a lot of different things.
Come on, a poem. Anyone can recognize one of them without much trouble.
Poetry is something more general, more personal, more elusive. Anyone can perceive poetry in a sunset, in a man or a woman, in a daily event or… in the lyrics of a song.
There have even been, over time, great controversies in literature that questioned whether this or that poem was poetry.
The question, ultimately, is that a letter and a poem can become very similar, sometimes, but they are not the same.
A poem set to music is no longer a poem.
The poem has its own sound, its own ecosystem and, if it has to coexist with other musical elements such as instruments, arrangements and others, its functioning and its autonomous entity will be altered.
Do the test. Find a song whose lyrics are a previously written poem. Read it out loud, and if you can record that reading. Then sing the melody that they have composed for those verses. Then compare the two versions.
You don’t even need musical accompaniment to see that they work in a very different way and that the poetic musicality, so to speak, has had to adapt to the melody and the rest of the music of the song.
You have lost something and you have gained something. It has been transfigured. They are different things.
Therefore, feeling unable to write poems or even poetry does not prevent you from writing lyrics to a song.
The majority of song lyricists have no poetic ambitions, their metrics are deficient, and they know full well that their verses are destined to be part of a larger artistic piece: a song.
Whether a letter contains poetry or not is another discussion that also probably will not end in an agreement.
Ideas, ideology and letters
Ideas of any kind, as such, concepts whatever they may be, in the same way, although they can appear and do appear in the lyrics of the songs, they are not there to defend themselves, to demonstrate their veracity or superiority over any other.
Using words, concepts or a scientific imaginary, for example, to describe a story or a scenario in the lyrics of a song cannot be taken as a scientific essay or of any other type, but as a tool to communicate an emotion, facts or anything else in an artistic, musical way.
Likewise, the ideological, understood as political, can have a lot of weight in a song. We can write a pamphlet and set it to music, and eventually we will surely perceive it as a piece of music rather than a serious ideological manifesto.
Of course, there is a political dimension in everything we do and the ideological charge that a song can carry is very great. You just have to see the hundreds of melodies that have sung against the war, in favor of nature and its conservation and many other topics. But, they are songs. They accompany us, encourage us, summarize or stylize an ideology, on occasions, but they cannot guide or organize a political current or provoke, by themselves, a revolution.
At best they are a consequence, a symptom and one more element of social movements or determined historical circumstances.
Narration, stories, theater and letters
Another similar case, derived from the definition of lyrics as narration, from the idea that every song tells a story, is to pretend that the lyrics of a song are a story or even a miniature novel.
A song is not a novel, not even a short story.
Once again, it wasn’t designed for that. It can and, indeed, many times, presents us with a story or a fragment of it, recognizable, but the musical character of these artistic works, their duration, their purpose, in short, does not coincide with that of a literary narrative such as those that I have mentioned.
Of course, we can imagine a story listening to the lyrics of a song, fill in the gaps with our intuition or our experience, finish outlining some characters, a setting or a time, and that is part of the magic, charm and interest of a letter, but only from a few words and verses that have not met the expectations of any story or narration, as we have seen.
To partly escape this limitation, collections of songs on the same theme, concept albums and other groups of songs have been written that together can cover more than one of them alone.
It is an option. There are great songs that were conceived as part of a larger work and work perfectly on their own.
And the same with the theater. The use of dialogues or dramatized texts in songs is common, but that does not turn these songs into plays by themselves.
That’s what the Musical Theater is for, for example, with all the staging that it usually requires around it, with a group of songs that will probably present a story thanks to several songs, musical passages, scenery and finally a whole great show where the songs Maybe they are the most important thing, or not, but in any case they will be one more piece of the whole.
Good. The reality is that the lyrics of the songs are what they are and nothing else, no matter how many similarities we can find.
They are, in part, verbal language, of course. They are very similar to the lines of a poem, it is possible, it depends on the case. They have a visual dimension, without a doubt. And some sound qualities beyond words, their intonation, dialects, etc…
In conclusion. The lyrics of a song when it fulfills that function, when it travels on the back of a melody, is not a poem. It can’t be. It is in another context, in another environment and has another role, so to speak.
It can be very poetic for you or anyone, poetry in its purest form, according to each one’s poetic standards and, if that letter is recited without music, with only the sound power of its words and its verses, then yes, we can enter value it as a poem, perceive its verbal, conceptual and other qualities exclusively, and discuss its poetic qualities.
A poem set to music, conditioned by a melody and some musical arrangements, will cease to be a poem on that stage and will become the lyrics of a song, as poetic as we want, but ultimately a lyrics.
Another proof that this is so can be found in the case of a rally or political speech that uses a song whose author never dreamed that he could be associated with the party or ideological environment in which it is heard. How many times has an artist demanded that this or that political group stop using their music for their propaganda purposes? Or, in a more general way, how many times have we heard a song in a context that simply seems opposite to what its lyrics are saying or what we think the composition was trying to express?
With all this stuff I don’t want to say, oddly enough, that a song is a closed preserve from which you can’t get out, a prison, a space that will soon run out. The very history of the songs would give me the lie instantly. I just want to say that a song is not good for everything, that it is not the instrument to express anything in any way. that it has its limits, although these limits can be incredibly flexible, of course.
When we write the lyrics of a song we must know what it can do for us and especially for the song itself and what not.
We will save ourselves creative blocks, monumental anger with ourselves and ourselves, in addition to wasting time and energy on it.
We can test his limits, of course we can, try to take him a little further than where he has reached with his music or with his words if we think we need them but when we finish with that adventure, even if we have been successful, we will have a song and a new way. to make them or we will have created another artistic genre, another musical artifact with other characteristics and other specific powers.
For the last time: to write the lyrics of a song we don’t need to be poets, nor to handle complex ideas nor to be virtuosos of language. Anyone can write their imperfect verses, explain their emotion, their truth, or outline a story or soak their ideas in this very special art form and fulfill their function in the whole of the song.
If you feel more confident with music and words are not good for you or you have great respect for them, demystify them and try writing something. Think that your daily conversations, what happens to us daily is the substance and, often, the final form of the lyrics of a song. The words, as we have said, are not alone in the context of the songs, they do not carry the weight of the whole work on their shoulders and can sound much bigger and more powerful with good music within and around them.