- How and Why We Read and Write and the History of Language
- English Grammar
- Poetry and Meter
- Metaphor and Abstraction
- Application to Lyrics
Since the dawn of consciousness, expressing one's inner feelings and outward observations have been part of the human experience. Music has been a long-evolving path of expression, and since anyone can remember, words and language have been overlayed, for an added layer of expression. In this article, we will explore the roots of writing, specifically poetry, and apply the concepts spawned to our own writing endeavors. Plus we're probably going to make a lot of liberal-arts majors cream their pants.
How and Why We Read and Write and the History of Language
This sounds egotistical, but as a species, we're really special. Somewhere in our evolutionary history, we humans have been gifted with consciousness
, or the self-awareness of oneself, and one's surroundings. It is apparent we are the only life forms on this earth with such a quality, and it is generally assumed that consciousness is a defining factor of what makes a person human.
The so-called 'history of writing' is a bit redundant, since man's ability to write down events that have occurred literally defines history in general. History
is the analysis and cataloging of sources; which are used to review and study the past. Without said sources, there is no history. However, storytelling has had a rich past with no writing involved. A classic example, Homer's Iliad
spent centuries being memorized and retold in the oral tradition before they were written down!
The art of storytelling is as ancient as civilization, one of the oldest pieces recovered is the Epic Of Gilgamesh
, and despite being over 4000 years old, contains familiar tropes, such as revolution, and betrayal! This is a reminder that the familiar is not the cliched, or even the trite or uninteresting. The whole point of creation is to combine and transform the old into something profoundly new.
However, the one huge breakthrough in literature was not a story, but an invention.
The printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1449 turned the Western World on its head, and it's not a coincidence that literacy rates would do nothing but climb upwards from this point. Much like the breakthrough of recording in music, the printing press gave the ability to read, and therefore, to write, to the common people.
In the Western world, from around 600 BCE to around 1600 CE, most of the written literature was written in either Greek, or Latin. Vernacular
languages, those spoken in the streets, such as French, German, Italian and English, were usually not used for serious writing. In the case of English, this all changed with novels such as The Canterbury Tales
, and the works of Shakespeare, and even works like the immortal Divine Comedy
by Dante helped to set Italian as a language of the arts.
A lot of people detest having to learn about grammar
, or the set of rules and guidelines for writing sentences and phrases, but I believe it is extremely important, because of its fundamental concept, which is the assurance of accurate communication. Without these set rules, people diverge in the way they communicate, to the point of misunderstanding and eventually, the total lack of understanding altogether!
For example, I could start habla español
or 한국어 말하기
or even wrong the order words in use the
and even though I may understand, you might not, and this betrays the whole point of communication in the first place!
Poetry and Meter
Being a humanity, and not a science with hard-line definitions, there are bias with these definitions, perhaps ever-present ignorance. Nevertheless, poetry
is commonly defined as a literary art using rhythmic properties, such as meter, to convey a meaning which is more than the words at face-value.
, in poetry, is the pattern certain syllables are meant to be stressed or emphasized.
Meters are usually classified by the pattern of stressed syllables to unstressed syllables. For example, iambic pentameter, which is used in sonnets of the Shakespearean variety, goes like:
An example of a couplet in iambic pentameter would be:
A summer morning came to light your face;
The sun shone down and bathed you in its rays.
A more common meter, iambic tetrameter, is used in many songs because of its compatibility with 4/4 time.
Pretty simple, and popular for its simplicity. Also it's probably popular because you can sing iambic tetrameter'd songs to the theme from Gilligan's Island.
Anyway, there are many other meters, and all are useful in their own ways.
Metaphor and Abstraction
is some figure of speech that compares or equates one thing, to another thing. A simile
is a metaphor that uses the words 'like' or 'as'.
For example, a metaphor can be
"This song is the summer rain; it is the cool breeze after a thunderstorm."
Now, what's happening here isn't that songs are somehow being converted into millions of gallons of water to be dropped from the sky or into force that creates a light wind; it's apparent that certain qualities of these two things are being compared. Perhaps the song in question soothed the author like the summer rain does, or the chill of the post-storm breeze ran through him as he listened to said song. Writing poignant metaphors is a very important thing to a poet or lyricist.
Here's an example of a simile:
"The guitarist was like a furious blizzard, in the way he came crashing down upon people."
Same thing, I'm sure the guitarist in question isn't literally pelting people with snow, what seems to be being implied is the way he plays his guitar may shock and surprise people, like a blizzard might.
Application to Lyrics