I couldn't resist another bit on poetry in song lyrics. I was listening to Mas Rapido's "Christopher Robin" this morning on my commute (good driving song--I'm linking the title to a YouTube video in case you don't know it) and started thinking about how clever this song is in its use of meter. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find the lyrics on line, so I'll have to be a little dangerous and transcribe them myself, but here's a snippet:
Christopher Robin, Christopher Robin's dead
He had a circus living inside his head
He was a poet, he was a setting sun
He was a beacon shining for everyone.
The rhyme on the page is overly heavy, but the music downplays the rhyme and plays up the rhythm, and the rhythm is what I want to talk about here because it's pretty darned cool.
Because I don't have a way to mark this above the syllables themselves, I'm going to use ' to mark stressed syllables and - to mark unstressed syllables.
"Christopher Robin" scans as follows: ' - - ' -
"Christopher Robin's dead" scans: ' - - ' - '
In other words, the lyrics, start with a strong dactyl and immediately shifts on us by substituting a stressed syllable for an unstressed in the last syllable of the second foot. (If you have no clue what I'm talking about, this link may help. Wikipedia also has a decent entry on meter, though it might be a little overwhelming and contains far more than you need to know for the purpose of this little essay.)
I hear the meter for the first verse as (depending on how you emphasize and where you mark the feet)--
Christopher Robin, Christopher Robin's dead ' - - ' - ' - - ' - '
(dactyl, trochee, dactyl, trochee + ' foot)
He had a circus living inside his head ' - - ' - ' - ' - - '
(dactyl, trochee, trochee, trochee, iam)
He was a poet, he was a setting sun ' - - ' - ' - - ' - '
(dactyl, trochee, trochee, iam, iam)
He was a beacon shining for everyone. ' - - ' - ' - - ' - -
(dactyl, trochee, trochee, iam, pyrrhic)
(You could also see line one as dactyl, trochee, dactyl, dactyl if you don't here "dead" as stressed--and the way the singer lowers his voice, we're sort of asked *not* to stress it, but since the word naturally tends to fall as a stressed syllable, I've marked it that way. Ah, the fun of meter!)
The last line, like the first, has a hard caesura in it--how very Anglosaxon and how pure awesome. But also, look at the way each line consistently opens with the same metrical foot pattern (dactyl + trochee) and then shifts. The rhythm of the words themselves has us guessing, which leads us subconsciously to listen especially well to the second half of each line. We're waiting to see what will happen next, what rhythmic surprise the band has in store for us.
Now, I'm not going to suggest that Mas Rapido sat down and said, "let's mess around with some dactyls and trochees in this song." (I'm not going to suggest that they didn't either. This is clearly an intelligent group of song writers, and I would not be so fool hardy as to assume them ignorant.) That aside, good musicians are aware of the rhythms they create in the words themselves and how those rhythms must respond to or react against the music of the guitars, bass, drums, etc.
These are the things I think about when I'm driving in to teach you all. Are you guys as blown away by this song as I am? I can't stop listening to it.
6 months ago