Poetry Set to Music – Just call it a song

Poetry comes in many forms. There is free verse, rhymed poetry, blank verse or metered poetry, syllabic poetry, (such as hiaku on tankas), epic poems, narrative poetry, pastoral poetry, and sonnets, just to name a few. I’m partial to rhymed poetry, although I was warned away from it in school. I love rhymes of Dr. Suess and Shell Silverstein, and I love playing with rhyme and alliteration in my own poetry. Wordplay makes writing, (and reading), poetry fun. Poetry forms with structured rules, such as villinettes or syllabic poetry don’t come as easily for me.

I think it must be even more difficult to write poetry put to music, but if you think about it, many songs do use alliteration and rhyming, and this is perfectly acceptable in the song writing world. But what is a song, if not a poem set to music? Even many of the nursery rhymes that were handed down to you as a child have been put with a popular tune, making them more memorable: Old King Cole, Ring-Around-the-Rosy, London Bridge, Jack and Jill, etc… Below are some lyrics to some popular songs that use rhyming, but if you had never heard them, and didn’t know the tune, all you would see is poetry.

Winter nights we sang in tune

Played inside the months of moon

Never think of never

Let this spell last forever

Heart – Magic Man


Drowning nightly in deep blue seas

Waves of sadness swallow me

No soul can hear me beneath the waves

No gods, no saviors, no hands of fate

The Pretty Reckless – Only Love Can Save Me Now


Poetry uses language to paint vivid mental pictures and tell stories, as can be seen in the lyrics below. Fleetwood Mac uses similes and metaphores to paint a mental picture for the listener in some very poetic ways in Rhiannon, and Jethro Tull’s lyrics in Locomotive Breath conjurs some unusual images, as well.

Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night

And wouldn’t you love to love her?

Takes to the skies like a bird in flight

And who will be her lover?

Fleetwood Mac – Rhiannon


In the suffering madness

Of the locomotive breath

Comes the all time loser

Headlong to his death

He sees the piston pumping

Steam breaking on his brow

But Charlie stole the handle

And the train, it won’t stop going

No way to slow down.

Jethro Tull – Locomotive Breath


Narrative poetry tells a story in verse, as do many songs. Narrative songs that come readily to mind include The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot, Running Bear by Sony James, and One Tin Soldier, by The Original Caste. Here, McGraw tells a story of the growth of first love in his song, Don’t Take the Girl. (And it rhymes.)

Johnny’s daddy was taking him fishing

when he was eight years old

A little girl came through the front gate

holding a fishing pole

His dad looked down and smiled,

said we can’t leave her behind

Son, I know you don’t want her to go,

but someday you’ll change your mind.

Tim McGraw – Don’t Take the Girl


I’ve listed the handful of songs above with the names of the artists who sing them, but that’s another way songwriters and poets are alike. Both get very little recognition for their writing. Often the singer is not the songwriter. Songs may be peddled among singers, as was the case with That’s the Night that the Lights Went Out in Georgia, (written by someone named Bobby Russell), which Cher turned down before Vicky Lawrence ended up cutting the record. Magic Man was actually written by the singers, Ann and Nancy Anderson, and Rhiannon was written and sung by Stevie Nicks. Taylor Momsen and Ben Phillips of The Pretty Wreckless wrote Only Love Can Save Me Now. But, Don’t Take the Girl was written by songwriters Craig Martin and Larry W. Johnson, Locomotive Breath may be sung by Jethro Tull, but it was written by Ian Anderson.

It’s customary for songs to be identified with the singer, rather than the song writer, and poets don’t become famous until after they are dead. Song writers are the unknown poets of the music world.


Like this post? Let me know in the comments. You can be sure not to miss any of Writing to be Read’s great content by subscribing to e-mail or following on WordPress. If you found this content helpful or entertaining, please share.

2 Comments on “Poetry Set to Music – Just call it a song”

  1. I’ve always thought that songs are poems set to music, Kaye. I like rhyming poetry too.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s