Focus on the Lyrics Friday: Poet

Happy Valentine’s weekend! I’ll be celebrating in my usual way–watching chick flicks like “Pride and Prejudice” without anyone else to enjoy it with.

*sigh*

All bitterness aside, I really do like celebrating the idea of love. It’s a beautiful thing to write and read about, and love songs are fairly popular in our society (only surpassed, I think, by heartbreak songs). I decided I’d analyze a love song this week in honor of Valentine’s.

But which love song?

The answer came clear when I watched the Grammy Awards Ceremony. (No, I’m not looking at “Stay With Me.” I think the lines “stay with me / ’cause you’re all I need” are fairly straightforward.)

I’m talking about Bastille, of course, who got snubbed as new artist of the year in favor of Sam Smith (who won four Grammys). For those of you who wonder how that was a snub, please do me a favor and focus on the lyrics.


Lyrics

Obsession it takes control,
Obsession it eats me whole.
I can’t say the words out loud,
So in a rhyme I wrote you down.
Now you’ll live through the ages,
I can feel your pulse in the pages.

I have written you down
Now you will live forever
And all the world will read you
And you will live forever
In eyes not yet created
On tongues that are not born
I have written you down
Now you will live forever

Your body lies upon the sheets,
Of paper and words so sweet.
I can’t say the words,
so I wrote you into my verse.
Now you’ll live through the ages,
I can feel your pulse in the pages.

I have written you down
Now you will live forever
And all the world will read you,
And you will live forever
In eyes not yet created
On tongues that are not born
I have written you down
Now you will live forever

I have read her with these eyes,
I’ve read her with these eyes,
I have held her in these hands.

I have written you down,
Now you will live forever.
The virtue’s in the verse,
And you will live forever.

I have written you down
Now you will live forever
And all the world will read you
And you will live forever
In eyes not yet created
On tongues that are not born
I have written you down
Now you will live forever

Analysis

To understand this song, let’s take a look at Shakespeare’s Sonnet 81.

Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten;
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen)
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Recognize anything?

Any band who bases a song off a Shakespearean sonnet (one that holds words in high esteem, no less) deserves a Grammy in my book. I can’t grovel forever, though; let’s look at other reasons to love this song.

1) “Obsession it takes control, / Obsession it eats me whole. / I can’t say the words out loud, / So in a rhyme I wrote you down. / Now you’ll live through the ages, / I can feel your pulse in the pages.”

The speaker, who is eaten up with his love for “you,” couldn’t bring himself to say anything “out loud,” so he wrote them down, ensuring “you” will “live through the ages,” since words last longer than people (Shakespeare’s words in particular). The idea of words preserving life is a beautiful one emphasized in the concept of epitaphs and obituaries as well as the line “I can feel your pulse in the pages.”

2) “I have written you down / Now you will live forever / And all the world will read you / And you will live forever / In eyes not yet created / On tongues that are not born / I have written you down / Now you will live forever.”

This mimics the lines “Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read, / And tongues to be your being shall rehearse, / When all the breathers of this world are dead; / You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen).” I’m glad Bastille simplified it, though; it’d be hard to sing lines like “tongues to be your being shall rehearse.” In any case, this chorus serves to emphasize the idea that writing the subject down will preserve a part of her.

3) “Your body lies upon the sheets, / Of paper and words so sweet. / I can’t say the words, / so I wrote you into my verse. / Now you’ll live through the ages, / I can feel your pulse in the pages.”

The first line plays with the word “sheets,” which can mean both bedsheets (scandalous) and sheets “of paper and words so sweet.” The subject may not be literally lying on papers, but she could be lying on bedsheets, and part of her is preserved in the paper on which the song/poem is printed. The other lines should sound familiar, since they repeat those of the first part.

4) “I have read her with these eyes, / I’ve read her with these eyes, / I have held her in these hands.”

The speaker remains ambiguous, allowing readers/listeners to judge whether he’s referring to his love, his poem, or both. He has read the poem, and in reading the poem he has read “her.” It’s also possible to “read” a person to figure out how they feel. The next line is ambiguous, too, since he can both hold “her” and the poem/song. The ambiguity of this section is its strongest feature.

5) “I have written you down, / Now you will live forever. / The virtue’s in the verse, / And you will live forever.”

I almost didn’t include this section, since it mostly repeated what had already been discussed, but then I read sonnet 81 again. The line “the virtue’s in the verse” is a nod to Shakespeare’s poem when he writes “(such virtue hath my pen).” In fact, I think the whole song is a nod to Shakespeare. I mean, the title’s not “Words,” “Poem,” or even “Sonnet 81;” Bastille titled this song “Poet.”

Just when I thought I couldn’t like this band any more than I already do…

If you want to listen to Bastille other songs that mention love and heartbreak, check out “Laughter Lines,” “Flaws” (which I already analyzed), “These Streets,” “Oblivion,” and “Adagio for Strings.” (The last one is their awesome mix-tape cover of “What is Love?” Trust me. Listen to the whole thing.)

Focus on the Lyrics Friday: Flaws

Today marks the start of a new weekly post: the Focus on the Lyrics Fridays.

Henceforth, I shall post a song every week along with the lyrics and my interpretation of them. The goal? To emphasize the power of words in music (and rejoice in the fact that not all modern music lacks poetry).

Who better to start with than my favorite band, Bastille? You probably know them for their hit Pompeii, but have you heard their other songs?

All their lyrics are poetic and unique; they lack the strings of profane and sexual language common in popular music today. More than that, they make you think.

Without any further fanfare, I present to you Focus on the Lyrics Friday: Flaws by Bastille.


Lyrics to Flaws by Bastille

When all of your flaws and all of my flaws
Are laid out one by one
The wonderful part of the mess that we made
We pick ourselves undone.

All of your flaws and all of my flaws
They lie there hand in hand
Ones we’ve inherited, ones that we learned
They pass from man to man.

There’s a hole in my soul.
I can’t fill it, I can’t fill it.
There’s a hole in my soul.
Can you fill it? Can you fill it?

You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve
And I have always buried them deep beneath the ground.
Dig them up; let’s finish what we’ve started.
Dig them up, so nothing’s left untouched.

All of your flaws and all of my flaws,
When they have been exhumed
We’ll see that we need them to be who we are
Without them we’d be doomed.

There’s a hole in my soul.
I can’t fill it, I can’t fill it.
There’s a hole in my soul.
Can you fill it? Can you fill it?

You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve
And I have always buried them deep beneath the ground.
Dig them up; let’s finish what we’ve started.
Dig them up, so nothing’s left untouched.

Ooh
Ooh

When all of your flaws
And all of my flaws are counted
When all of your flaws
And all of my flaws are counted

You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve
And I have always buried them deep beneath the ground.
Dig them up. Let’s finish what we’ve started.
Dig them up. So nothing’s left untouched.

Ooh
Ooh

All of your flaws and all of my flaws
Are laid out one by one
Look at the wonderful mess that we made
We pick ourselves undone.

Analysis

“Flaws” tells of two people, one who doesn’t hide her flaws and seems completely comfortable in her own skin, and another who buries his flaws and feels empty.

Let’s examine my favorite parts here.

1.) “When all of your flaws and all of my flaws / Are laid out one by one / The wonderful part of the mess that we made / We pick ourselves undone.”

This stanza puts the two starkly different characters on the same level, both exposed as they bare their flaws to one another. I love how Dan Smith (lead singer and songwriter) calls the “mess” of their flaws “wonderful.” Our flaws may be messy, but they’re deeply personal and they are a part of us. As a writer, I know the best way to develop a character is not through her strengths, but through her flaws. Flaws help us relate to one another and they shape our character as we either embrace or pick them off. When we share our flaws, we expose parts of our souls. When all our flaws are shared, we are “undone,” or untied.

2.) “Ones [flaws] we’ve inherited, ones that we learned / They pass from man to man.”

Our flaws can be hereditary or picked up along the way. Physical “flaws” (birthmarks, disabilities, etc.) and potential genetic flaws (alcoholism, some diseases, etc.) can be “inherited” while personality flaws (bossiness, pride, competitiveness, etc.) and other physical flaws (burns, scars, etc.) are typically “learned.” Either way, flaws only develop from other people.

3.) “There’s a hole in my soul. / I can’t fill it, I can’t fill it. / There’s a hole in my soul. / Can you fill it? Can you fill it?”

The protagonist, who has hidden his flaws, feels empty and can’t seem to fill it himself. He asks the other character who embraces her flaws to fill him up. This stanza is probably why people often interpret the song as romantic, but I don’t think that’s right. There may be romance between the two characters, yes, but that doesn’t make the song romantic. The focus remains on the relationship between people and their flaws, not flawed people.

4.) “You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve / And I have always buried them deep beneath the ground. / Dig them up; let’s finish what we’ve started. / Dig them up, so nothing’s left untouched.”

Here is why the protagonist feels empty; he has buried part of himself away while the other character wears her flaws clearly. I won’t pretend I understand the reference to “what we’ve started,” but I believe he wants to “dig” his flaws up in order to fill the hole in his soul mentioned previously.

5.) “All of your flaws and all of my flaws, / When they have been exhumed / We’ll see that we need them to be who we are / Without them we’d be doomed.”

Ahh, here’s my favorite stanza. When the characters’ flaws “have been exhumed,” or dug up, they’ll see that their flaws are part of themselves. Without our flaws, there’s a “hole in [our] soul.” As I said earlier, our flaws are more defining than our strengths. This is not to say that we are our flaws (wouldn’t that be an ugly world); this means our flaws are the knives that sculpt our personalities.

Last little tidbit about Bastille: do you know where the band’s name comes from? No, they’re not French. Dan named his British band Bastille because his birthday falls on July 14th, the day the French celebrate the overthrow of their monarchy, also known as Bastille day. Speaking of the Bastille day, don’t forget to check back here next week for another Focus on the Lyrics Friday involving a popular singer, the French Revolution, and a far-fetched theory of mine.

Life is a Coma

Last night, SVSU brought The Asia Project on campus. Unfortunately, a poetry slam happened around the same time, so only 15 people showed up to watch the spoken word poetry event.

I’m glad I was part of the 15, though.

The Asia Project is a duo featuring poet Asia Samson and guitarist Jollan Aurelio. Asia writes the poems himself and performs them with Jollan’s accompaniment.

Many of the poems were deeply personal to Asia, so props to him for sharing them. He shared poems sparked by his battle with cancer, his son’s birth, his marriage, and his sister’s tragic death.

The poem dedicated to his sister, “Awakening,” was definitely my favorite.

I related to this poem, but in an unexpected way. I may be familiar with loss, but I’ve never lost someone as close to me as Asia was to his sister.

No, I did not relate so closely to the feeling of loss. I related better to the hollowness he hinted at in the end of the poem when he said, “Life is a coma we can still choose to wake up from.”

“Life is a coma we can still choose to wake up from.”

I’ve been a college student for a few months now, but I feel further away from home every day.

Part of the problem is that I don’t know where home is. My dorm? My family? My high school? My friends’ colleges? Whenever I’m at one place, I long to be at another. I’m stretched everywhere and I’m comfortable nowhere.

When one feels out-of-place, she ought to discover more about herself. With nothing around to distract her, she should be able to look down at herself and say, “This is what I am.”

When I look down, I see right through myself.

The problem is, I don’t know why. I know my purpose. I know what I want to do with my future. I know what I stand for and against. But I feel like there’s some part of myself I haven’t tapped into. It still sleeps somewhere inside me and every now and again it snores, reminding me that I’m not fully awake.

“Life is a coma we can still choose to wake up from.”

But how do we start?

I think I need to focus on the little things. I think I need to start rejoicing at the many places I call home rather than despair at how far apart they are. I think I need to write more, to feel more in tune with myself. I think I need to read more, to climb closer to my future. I think I need to pour energy into everything I do, to live life to the fullest.

I think I need to stop looking and start watching.