Caroline Lord Fiction Writer

Can a Song be a Poem?

field and vine

Can song lyrics be considered poetry?

This article in the New Republic states that “Song Lyrics are Poetry.”

This writer feels it’s a bit murkier.

In The Paris Review, some poets reveal their favorite song lyrics. For instance, Major Jackson picks the Fugees’ “How Many Mics.” A fun read!

After comparing entire poems next to entire songs, I would say of course certain musicians, Dylan, Cohen, Joni Mitchell have songs that could hold up as poems, but there are lots of songs which have one or two strong stanzas but the entire song doesn’t hold up as a complete poem. Feel free to disagree and give your viewpoint.

Here’s a quiz. Five excerpts are from poems. Five are from songs. Can you guess which is which?

Answers given at the bottom.

1. Who are barbarians.
What is the Blues.
What is a Second Sleep. What
Most once made you weep.

2. Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train
And I’s feelin’ near as faded as my jeans
Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rained
It rode us all the way to New Orleans

3. Father, it was a pleasure to meet you
on this luminous route between two lives.
In this impromptu pool reaped from rain
where mosquitos multiply

4. Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

5. All broken down by
The side of the road
I was never more alive or

6. body & soul caught in a sway
going back to reed & goatskin,
back to trade winds locked
inside an “Amazing Grace”

7. I lay smiling like our sleeping children
One of us will die inside these arms
Eyes wide open, naked as we came
One will spread our ashes around the yard.

8. we breathe,
we grieve, we drink
our tidy drinks. I think

9. Just imagine the hours you’re
not squandering away,
or the antlike minutes frittered
with a tentative fiancé.

10. When my time comes around
Lay me gently in the cold dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I’ll crawl home to her.

1. The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act – Lucie Brock-Broido – New Yorker

2. Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin

3. Creation Myth – Lisa Wells –  The Poetry Foundation

4. The Sound of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel

5. Take It With Me – Tom Waits

6. The Soul’s Soundtrack – Yusef Komunyakaa – New Yorker

7. Naked As We Came – Iron & Wine

8. Money Road – Kevin Young – New Yorker

9. Aubade – Major Jackson – New Yorker

10. Work Song – Hozier