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The Poets

August 31, 2009

Shape of My Heart (by Gordon Sumner)


In many cases lyrical expression accompanied by music is poetry spoken. The beauty of it- when one perceives the piece as poetically intended- is that the song ceases to be a song, that the musical aspect recedes into an oblivion that’s divine, and that what was initially set out in the form of stanzas matures into something that almost transcends what we typically deem to be poetry in its written form.

Not all musicians do this, or intend this: but when it is intended, when it is done, the results are astounding. I always feel a blatant sense of privilege when I happen upon a song whose original birthplace was in the heart of poetry as we know it: it reveals a maturity of poetry that a great deal of people have often failed to recognize (if not downright dismiss).

There’s a song preformed by the artist Sting that reminds me of this point. Its technical structure is free verse (of which- admittedly- I’m not entirely a fan); but the beauty it imbibes, the beauty it wants to express, is clearly done so along poetic parameters. The song, whose lyrics are below, is called Shape of My Heart. Below is an acoustic rendition of it performed by Sting in the form of a video. You should check it out, and check out the lyrics as well. I would love to hear what you think they mean.






Shape of My Heart

He deals the cards as a meditation
And those he plays never suspect
He doesn't play for the money he wins
He doesn't play for respect
He deals the crads to find the answer
The sacred geometry of chance
The hidden loaw of a probable outcome
The numbers lead a dance

I know that the spades are swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart

He may play the jack of diamonds
He may lay the queen of spades
He may conceal a king in his hand
While the memory of it fades

I know that the spades are swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart

And if I told you that I loved you
You'd maybe think there's something wrong
I'm not a man of too many faces
The mask I wear is one
Those who speak know nothing
And find out to their cost
Like those who curse their luck in too many places
And those who fear are lost

I know that the spades are swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart

3 comments:

John W. May said...

...

What’s interesting, and what also shows me intent for poetic form, are the stanzas selected by Sumner. Stanzas one and five are octets; while two, three, four and six are quatrains. This type of consistency isn’t seen in musical lyrics- especially where there’s clearly no desire or thought of poetry or poetic form. Take, for example, the lyrics from Nirvana’s song: Dumb

***

Dumb

I'm not like them
But I can pretend
The sun is gone
But I have a light
The day is done
But I'm having fun

I think I'm dumb
or maybe just happy
Think I'm just happy
my heart is broke
But I have some glue
help me inhale
And mend it with you
We'll float around]
And hang out on clouds
Then we'll come down
And I have a hangover...
Have a hangover

Skin the sun
Fall asleep
Wish away
The soul is cheap
Lesson learned
Wish me luck
Soothe the burn
Wake me up

I'm not like them
But I can pretend
The sun is gone
But I have a light
The day is done
But I'm having fun

***

Musically speaking, the cadence and tempo of the song (if you’ve ever heard it) are harmonious; and they way the lyrics fit the song almost makes it feel like intentional poetry- but knowing this artist I have my doubts.

Most of Kurt Cobain’s written lyrics (form my perspective) seem a little more chaotic than free verse poetry, but when he does intend a poetic form it’s usually very visible. Take as an example his song: Lake of Fire.

***

Lake of Fire

Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don't go to heaven where the angels fly
They go to the lake of fire and fry
Won't see em again 'till the fourth of July

I knew a lady who came from Duluth
She got bit by a dog with a rabid tooth
She went to her grave just a little too soon
And she flew away howling on the yellow moon

Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don't go to heaven where the angels fly
They go down to the lake of fire and fry
Won't see em again 'till the fourth of July

Now the people cry and the people moan
And they look for a dry place to call their home
And try to find some place to rest their bones
While the angels and the devils try to make them their own

Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don't go to heaven where the angels fly
They go down to the lake of fire and fry
Won't see em again 'till the fourth of July

***

Not only does he break the song up into quatrains, but the rhyme scheme for each stanza, although done in ‘slants’, is a.a.a.a. (now if that’s not intentional I don’t know what is). The point is: there are songs for the sake of songs, and songs that have a deliberate poetic form.

Nancy said...

Some random thoughts:

Once again you breach the topic of what is poetry?… are song lyrics poetry?… are rap lyrics poetry? I have given this question a lot of thought both before and in response to your queries. It remains in a messy quagmire of thought along with similar musings about music and art. Perhaps we can sort it out over coffee one day?

But just as poetry can be without rhyme- albeit not your favorite form (nor mine) so can words having meter and rhyme be nothing of poetry. Poetry implies beauty and depth of thought beyond fanciful fun with syllables. But it is difficult, if not impossible to define- and perhaps therein lies some of its mystery and attraction- and once so labeled would inevitably change.

Consider the evolution of art (of which I am much more familiar)… would the Dutch masters consider the works of Van Gogh as art? Would he in turn consider Christo’s buildings wrapped in plastic as art? Yet it does seems that the definition of the arts- whether art, music, or poetry is constantly building upon itself. Seldom is something deemed art then concluded not to be. We add more and more, swelling it to a proportion that defies boundaries. Perhaps as humankind we will open our eyes to more and more beauty as art and poetry until it consumes all else there is. The earth would then implode– okay, sorry, my thoughts just went out of control and had a meltdown!

Back to the poem…

Choosing the imagery of a deck of cards is familiar to all and makes it easy to step in to. It also seems to have a loose correlation to the occult tarot- which uses swords and pentacles or coins for suits- thought by metaphysicians to provide insight into life, such as the poem next proceeds to do. The theme of not being seduced by the priorities of the world runs deep; of being a man who is lead by his own heart.

There are a couple of aspects I really like.

The first is the use of alternating voice… 2nd person, 1st person, 2nd person, 1st person, then 1st person again- are they one in the same? I think they are- and ‘back’ to 1st. Is this a conversation he is having with himself? Perhaps with God? Or I feel I must say ‘with the Universe’ as I get a strong metaphysical bent from the entire piece. Definitely self-reflective, in my opinion.

The second is merely personal- I love the line “He deals the cards to find the answer / The sacred geometry of chance.” Sacred geometry… again metaphysical in roots yet seeping into the scientific world with Professor Robert Moon’s demonstration that the entire Periodic Table of Elements, literally everything in the physical world, is based on these same five geometric forms (the tetrahedron, hexahedron, octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron- collectively known as the Platonic Solids)… is beautiful in imagery. “The strands of our DNA, the cornea of our eye, snow flakes, pine cones, flower petals, diamond crystals, the branching of trees, a nautilus shell, the star we spin around, the galaxy we spiral within, the air we breathe, and all life forms as we know them emerge out of timeless geometric codes.” Sacred geometry alleges to explain away chance- it is in itself “the hidden law of probable outcome.” The universal dance of life.

Okay, John, this is where I get stuck. The fifth stanza seems to me so out of place- lines 3 & 4 I can flow with, but lines 1 & 2 don’t even seem to belong to the stanza, much less the poem. Though as I type there is a hazy figure becoming visible through the mist; perhaps I just to need to think about it a bit more. The meaning of lines 5-8 is puzzling me, though I do have some thoughts. But, I am running out of space (again), so will leave you for now.

Nancy said...

Rap as "lyric poetry" ...

http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2010/11/04/131063935/listening-to-the-anthology-of-rap?sc=fb&cc=fmp

As of April 9th, 2010