8 Poetry-Inspired Songs To Add to Your Writing Playlist
written by thea voutiritsas
Rooted in oral tradition, poetry and music have a deep and long-standing connection. So it should come as no surprise that songwriters from every era often borrow from poems of the past. Though some references are more direct than others, the best music often finds a way to recontextualize, remix, or revamp an existing work. With that in mind, here are eight poetry inspired songs to add to your writing playlist.
1. “I Wanna Be Yours” – The Arctic Monkeys (2013)
This lamenting melody from 2013 comes from English Punk poet John Cooper Clarke’s poem of the same name. The Arctic Monkeys’ vocalist, Alex Turner, cites Clarke as a major inspiration for him during his boyhood. “I Wanna Be Yours” uses inanimate objects as metaphors in a humorous yet heart wrenching manner. Set to music or not, “I Wanna Be Yours” is the perfect poetry inspired song and punk-love anthem for singing your heart out.
2. “Body Electric” – Lana Del Rey (2012)
The L.A.-based singer songwriter Lana Del Rey often cites transcendentalist Walt Whitman as one of her favorite poets. “Body Electric” is a poetry inspired song that makes a direct reference to Whitman’s 1955 poem, “I Sing the Body Electric” from Leaves of Grass. Praising the body and its interconnectedness to the soul, it’s no wonder Del Rey fell in love with the line.
3. “The Dreamer” – Common (2011)
Chicago-based rapper, actor, and poet Common features legendary poet Maya Angelou in his 2011 song, “The Dreamer.” But it turns out to be much more than poetry inspired song. Focusing on the value of dreaming, Angelou penned an original poem for this song just three years before her death.
4. “Still I Rise” – Outlawz and Tupac Shakur (1999)
“Still I Rise” is the second track on the album of the same name by Tupac and the Outlawz. The poetry inspired song and the album borrow their titles from Angelou’s original poem. Tupac and Angelou actually met in 1993 on the set of the movie Poetic Justice. Soon after, she unwittingly was adopted as the godmother of hip-hop—a title she would later embrace.
5. Things Fall Apart – The Roots (1999)
This Philadelphia-born hip-hop band is known for putting out tracks charged with jazzy and electric energy. Before becoming the house band on The Tonight Show, The Roots had released multiple award winning albums, including Things Fall Apart. This was their fourth studio album and it received its title from Chinua Achebe’s 1958 novel of the same name. To further the poetry reference rabbit hole, Achebe’s book took the phrase from W.B. Yeats's poem "The Second Coming."
6. “All I Wanna Do” – Sheryl Crow (1993)
This simple and catchy 1993 hit comes from a poem titled “Fun” by Wyn Cooper. Crow told Blender magazine in 2006 that this poetry inspired song, “…encapsulated what was going in in L.A., a real extreme feeling of apathy and defeat. It’s masked in this light Pop ditty, but its about somebody down and out, sitting in a bar watching their life go by.”
7. “Golden Slumbers” – The Beatles (1969)
Based on a 17th-century poem by Thomas Dekker, titled “Cradle Song,” “Golden Slumbers” borrows the first stanza of the poem with a few minor word changes. McCartney saw the lullaby on his stepsister’s piano. Since he couldn’t read the accompanying sheet music, he made up a tune of his own. Thus, “Golden Slumbers” was born.
8. “Clair de Lune” – Claude Debussy (1905)
Meaning, “moonlight,” “Clair De Lune” is probably one of the most famous piano movements of all time. From French composer Claude Debussy, “Clair De Lune” is inspired by an 1869 poem of the same name. Both compositions create a sort of sad and beautiful dance that easily moves people to tears.
As Jorge Luis Borges says, “Truly fine poetry must be read aloud… a poem demands pronunciation. Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It remembers that it was first song.” If the line between music and poetry isn’t blurry enough for you yet, challenge yourself to reverse the process. What songs inspire you to write beautiful poetry?