Once upon a time, long long ago, a song and a poem were published side by side on the Junior Cert exam paper, unseen poetry section. Students were asked to discuss the difference between the style of writing in songs and poems. I stumbled across this question in my first year of teaching and thought it was incredibly  unfair to ask something so difficult of 15yr olds. I fancied myself as a singer-songwriter when I was a teenager and as an adult had dabbled in writing poetry but I still had to think long and hard to verbalise the difference between the two. I knew the difference but found it hard to put it into words. In the end I decided the best way to become fully conscious of the differences was to change a poem into a song and then look at how the language changed.

So here’s the poem we chose:

Funeral Blues
W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

—–

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,

Put crépe bows round the white necks of the public
doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

—–

He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,

I thought that love would last forever: ‘I was wrong’

—–

The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

We decided that a song would need simpler imagery, everyday slang /direct speech, repetition of key ideas for the chorus, short snappy phrases to create a regular beat/rhythm, end-rhyme, and a bridge before the second chorus. With the help of a rhyming dictionary we butchered it, removed the essence (and lost the beauty). Here’s what we came up with:

Funeral Blues Song Lyrics

All of this noise keeps dragging me down to a place I cannot go,

All of these noises echo in the emptiness of my soul,

Clocks ticking. Phones ringing. Heart beating but I feel so low,

See his face when I close my eyes but then I realise

He ain’t never comin’ home

CHORUS:

I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong, I was wrong.

I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong, I was wrong.

I put my faith in love but I was so naive

Now he is dead and gone and I can only grieve,

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

—–

Everyone’s life keeps trundling on but I’m here frozen in the street,

You gave me direction, without you I’m lost & lonely & incomplete

The stars burn out. The sun fades out. Oceans weep from my swollen eyes.

Try to find some will to fight on but then I realise

He ain’t ever comin home.

BRIDGE:

And nothing now can ever come to any good.

And nothing now can ever come to any good.

I trusted in forever – I misunderstood

And nothing now can ever come to any good.

CHORUS

I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong, I was wrong.

I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong, I was wrong.

I put my faith in love but I was so naive

Now he is dead and gone and I can only grieve,

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

—–

I think the comparison illustrates the difference well but something (a lot in fact) does get lost in translation. The sheer force of Auden’s pain is brilliantly captured in the final verse where he imagines the entire universe as a empty house to be abandoned and left behind “pour away the oceans and sweep up the woods” now that his lover is gone. I think a better songwriter than me might be able to keep the beauty of that imagery and still create a catchy love song/lament. I also think that the impact of the desolate final line is lost if you keep repeating it over and over. It’s much more effective to just hear it once and let the sadness sink into your bones.

Tagged with:
 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *