Music and Poetry for a Snowy Day

Karen Cullaton - In The Moon of Winter - Alcohol Ink on Yupo

                   In The Moon of Winter – Alcohol Ink on Yupo                                                                                                                                     

          I love music, but I’m not a big fan of poetry.   While I have no wish to offend anyone, I find a lot of it depressing, although it is entirely possible that I might be basing my opinion on too much Sylvia Path, having had little exposure to more modern poetry.   But then I feel the same way about most abstract art.  If I have to spend too much time figuring out what something is supposed to mean, I lose interest.  Too many high school English classes spent deconstructing metaphors ruined poetry for me for good.   Not that there aren’t perfectly wonderful poems out there.   While searching for a quote on winter in my new Bartlett’s Book of Quotations, I came across the poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost.   Robert Frost (1874-1963) was an American poet famous for his poems about rural New England, winner of four Pulitzer prizes and poet laureate of Vermont.   This poem was published in 1923 when he was living on a farm and horses were still a big part of the countryside and it seems particularly appropriate for this wintry time of year.   His other most famous poem is The Road Not Taken. Both are lovely poems but I will spare you the analysis, because that is the part of poetry I hated.   A good poem should be able to explain itself.   

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening 

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”  Copyright 1923. 
Snowy Woods - AMc - 2018

Snowy Woods – 2018

        It may be old-fashioned but I like the rhyming of the stanzas, that is an art form which you don’t see much anymore.   I remember studying both poems in grade eight as poetry was part of the curriculum.  Our teacher was a sixties hippy-child and being only nineteen herself, she wore mini skirts and maxi coats and let us listen to records in class, I Am A Rock (music link) and Sounds of Silence, the music of that generation being a form of poetry in itself.   Although I am fairly certain Simon and Garfunkel were not part of the English curriculum, no one told.   

I Am A Rock   

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December
I am alone
Gazing from my window
To the streets below
On a freshly fallen, silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island

I’ve built walls
A fortress, steep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship
Friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock
I am an island

Don’t talk of love
Well, I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory
And I won’t disturb the slumber
Of feelings that have died
If I never loved, I never would have cried
I am a rock
I am an island

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

Simon and Garfunkel – I Am A Rock – Sounds of Silence copyright 1965

            Our young teacher was correct, for what is a song but poetry set to music?   I sometimes think that is what is lacking in modern music, often the lyrics are stupid, profane, repetitive or just plain bad.  I think that is why I prefer those old classics from Sinatra & Company, the lyrics rhymed.   Taylor Swift is a modern musician who uses rhyming effectively.   While rap music may have rhyming lyrics it is sorely missing in melody, being able to string stanzas together does not a song make if there is no discernible tune.    Check out this 1937 Irving Berlin tune, I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, for a cheerful rhyming melody about winter.    Click here for link to Ella. 

The snow is snowing and the wind is blowing
But I can weather the storm!
What do I care how much it may storm?
For I’ve got my love to keep me warm
I can’t remember a worse December
Just watch those icicles form!
Oh, what do I care if icicles form?
I’ve got my love to keep me warm
Off with my overcoat, off with my glove
I need no overcoat, I’m burning with love!
My heart’s on fire, the flame grows higher
So I will weather the storm!
What do I care how much it may storm?
I’ve got my love to keep me warm.
Here’s a sadder tune with a Toronto locale from Bruce Cockburn, a Canadian singer/songwriter, with simple but vivid lyrics.  (music link)     
The Coldest Night of the Year  (Bruce Cockburn – copyright 1981)
I was up all night, socializing
Trying to keep the latent depression from crystalizing
Now the sun is lurking just behind the Scarborough horizonAnd you’re not even here
On the coldest night of the year.I took in Yonge Street at a glance
Heard the punkers playing
Watched the bikers dance
Everybody wishing they could go to the south of France

And you’re not even here
On the coldest night of the year

Hey look at me now
See the shape I’m in
It’s taken me so long to catch on to what’s going on
Inside this skin
When two lovers really love there’s nothing there
But this suddenly compact universe
Skin and breath and hair

I watched the all night TV show
In the all night bar
I drove all the people home
I was the one with the car

Now I’m sitting here alone and sleepless
And wondering where you are
And wishing you were here
On the coldest night of the year

 

        Gordon Lightfoot, a songwriter/poet from the sixties was another master at rhyming stanzas, his Song For A Winter’s Night is a Canadian classic.
 

Song For A Winter’s Night  (Gordon Lightfoot – copyright 1967)

The lamp is burning low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still in the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you

The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon the page
The words of love you sent me

If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you

The fire is dying now, my lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are lifting
The morning light steals across my window pane
Where webs of snow are drifting

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
And to be once again with with you
To be once again with with you

Song For A Winter’s Night – Gordon Lightfoot – click here for music link 

                There was an article recently in the newspaper about a lecture series and one of the topics was how to write a hit pop song in thirty minutes. A local musician is going to solicit a poem from the audience at random and write a hit tune to that poem on the spot.   Sounds intriguing….so I got out my old rhyming dictionary and set to work. 

On a winter afternoon
a summer’s day in June
cannot really come too soon
let’s all go to Cancun
(Chorus)
Forget the snow
Let’s pack and go

There you have it – my first song.   Ok, it needs work…..but it’s clear all the good lyrics are already taken.

Postscript:   While the lecture was interesting for a non-musician like me, I was disappointed in the song.   Since no one was brave enough to volunteer their own creation, the musician selected a W.B. Yeats poem (the Lake Isle of Innisfree) from a book of poetry someone had brought and sang what sounded like a Gregorian chant.  Lacking proper rhyming structure poor old Yeats did not translate well to melody, but perhaps it might have been a hit in 1888?  

Postscript:   My apologies if the spacing is off in the lyrics sections of this post. There must be something I am doing wrong with WordPress, as it looks fine in Draft form,  but they seem to have a mind of their own and swear they Ain’t Misbehavin‘.   

 

 

7 thoughts on “Music and Poetry for a Snowy Day

  1. Chomeuse with a Chou says:

    I love this post 🙂 🙂 I was talking to my husband only a couple of weeks ago about Paul Simon masquerading as a folk star but when in reality he is a very talented poet (I am a huge fan). I love the dissecting part of poetry – if you argue well enough there is no wrong answer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • thehomeplaceweb says:

      Thanks, and I agree Paul Simon is a poet. There were so many lovely winter songs to chose from, other than the Christmas stuff. As for dissecting poetry – I love that phrase! – I was a science major so dissecting is a wonderfully descriptive adjective – I think I could learn to love poetry with more exposure.

      Like

      • Chomeuse with a Chou says:

        That was a lucky choice of word on my part then! I did a literature and history degree so I love long essays with no real right or wrong answer. I prefer poetry when you get to make up your own mind about the message. It’s far more fun to work it out for yourself than have other people’s opinions forced upon you. In most cases the author is no longer alive to reveal the truth in any case.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Karen says:

    Rhyming of words fascinate me. As a music lover of all generes, I find the music is what’s captures your feel, but the words capture you soul. Even rap, which I know has had a bad rap, lol, has its foothold in poetry When you truly listen to the words it can be quite beautiful. Thank Joan for the insight to a winters day.

    Liked by 1 person

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