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.)

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