Epiphany: When a Poem Becomes a Song
There is a long-standing relationship between poetry and music. It comes from the rhymes, the rhythm and the manner of dealing with lyrics. Don’t you think that many lyrics sound like poems? Furthermore, many poems are so beautiful that they cry out for an orchestra to boost their vowels, which is one reason why many musicians can’t resist the temptation to surround such poetry with instruments.
I’m a lover of this relationship. I admire it so much that in 2012 I developed, with two friends, a project named “Reversos”, in which 24 poems by contemporary poets (23 Brazilians and 1 Cuban) were turned into songs. We were only following the tradition, bringing something to our contemporaries that has been done for decades.
In fact, there are many ways to relate, combine, to blend music and poetry. Turning a poem into a song is just one of these ways. A composer might be inspired by a poem, and from it create a brand new song. A musician may pick just part of a poem and blend it with his own lyrics. It is a matter of creativity and inspiration.
In this post I would like to share with you eleven of my favorite relations between these two art forms. I would like to apologize beforehard because, as a Brazilian, I have listed many Brazilian poets and composers. But, I swear they are all amazing and if you open your mind and ears, you will have a very good time listening to them. You can find translations for almost all of these Portuguese and Spanish poems listed below. I hope you enjoy.
Ghetto Defendant – The Clash and Allen Ginsberg (note: there is another poet that connects the Clash and Ginsberg: Lorca. This incredible Spanish poet was mentioned in the Spanish sonf Bombs, by The Clash; and in the poem A Supermarket in California -
The Man Who Sold the World – David Bowie (this song was inspired by the poem Antigonish, by William Hughes Mearns)
Jabberwocky – Donovan singing a Lewis Carroll poem
A Bad Dream – Keane (taking inspiration from An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, by W.B. Yeats)
E agora, José? – Tibério Azul singing Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s poem
Suzanne – Poem and Song by Leonard Cohen (Suzanne was published in 1966 as a poem and first turned into song by Judy Collins in the same year; Cohen recorded it in 1967 for his album Songs of Leonard Cohen)
Poema 15 – Victor Jara and Mercedes Sosa singing Pablo Neruda (this is the 15th poem from the book Veinte Poemas de Amor y Una Canción Desesperada, one of my favorites ever. I couldn’t pick between Jara and Sosa; I just love both interpretations too much.)
Pela Luz dos Olhos Teus – Tom Jobim & Miucha singing a Vinicius de Moraes poem
Let’s Play That – Jards Macalé singing Torquato Neto’s poem
Rosa de Hiroshima – Secos e Molhados singing a poem by Gerson Conrad and Vinicius de Moraes
Sueño com Serpientes – Sílvio Rodriguez (this song begins with a Bertolt Brecht poem: “There are men who struggle for a day, and they are good / There are others who struggle for a year, and they are better / There are some who struggle many years, and they are better still / But there are those who struggle all their lives, and these are the indispensable ones.”)
By Jr. Bellé