Long long ago when dinosaurs walked the Earth and I was still in junior high or middle school, depending upon the year as my home town did a transition thing about that time, I read a LOT of poetry and by a lot I mean I was a voracious reader and one of my absolute favotire poets to read was Emily Dickinson. Her poems still hold a bit of a soft spot for me.
As many of you know, we just celebrated the 181st birthday of the lonely poetess and one way some sites have been celebrating her legacy has been to note just how musical her poetry was and the number of songs she’s inspired in which songsters have taken a bit or piece of more from her work and translated it into popular music (the large choral arrangement legacy based directly upon her songs notwithstanding). She is what many have called perhaps the poet most set to music ever.
Here are just a few songs inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson:
MOON AND STAR
HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS
IF YOU WERE COMING IN THE FALL
IN FALLING TIMBERS BURIED
Of course, there are reasons that Dickinsons’s music is so often translated into music. She wrote musically. That is her running metre was predominately collected into ballad stanza in the same way that traditional Christian hymns are structured so it is no coincidence that songwriters might find her poems of interest musically.
There’s an old joke that every single Emily Dickinson song can be sung to the tune of the song The Yellow Rose of Texas. I first heard that when I was a kid and every once in awhile I come across some young person who’s blown away by the concept when they hear it for the first time. Well, it does seem to be true in a way but this should in no way denigrate the value of her poetry as some seem to think it does. Her poems and that song are written using the same basic running metre.
That doesn’t stop some folks from using this as a form of parody:
YELLOW ROSE OF EMILY
Oh No Not Emily
This bit of oddness is from the operatta by the good folks at http://www.ohnonotemily.com.
Of course, given the nature of the poetry, this is NOT the only song that one can sing an Emily Dickinson poem to. You can also do it with the theme song to the television series Gilligan’s Island.
TO GILLIGAN’S ISLAND
Just so you know, you can do the same sort of thing with the lyrics to the incredibly beautiful gospel song Amazing Grace which in no way should be considered belittled by this simple exercise in melody swap.
GILLIGAN’S AMAZING GRACE
AMAZING GRACE TO GHOST RIDER
Or . . . if you want to get even more creative:
HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN
And . . . if you really want to melt your mind . . . here we go . . .
M O N T A G E
HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN
Remember, this in no way lowers the value of these songs or of the poetry . . . this is a reflection upon the use of a standard metre and structure, not the quality or beauty of the works that employ that form. Certainly, some poets are less artistically successful than others and one can do some pretty weird musical things to Wordsworth, Longfellow, and Tennyson as well as some amazingly bizarre fun things with another of my favorites, Blake. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t valuable or worthy of exploration, it only means that enough folks have played with ’em over the years that some pretty neat – and some less than successful – experiments have been done with their work.
All the best,