Poetic Vocabulary + iTunes Library = ???


J. Cole is an up and coming artist.  He’s been recently viewed as one with enough lyrical talent to place him among the greats.  His lyrics are easy to understand if you actually pay attention to them, and unlike a lot of other rappers, J. Cole’s songs relate to his life.

In the song “The Badness” there’s  a rhyme scheme in every line.  There is a lot of “word choice” simply because of what he relates certain simple words to.  “The rain always past, the sun don’t always shine…When it’s gone I’m lonely, but when it’s there I’m fine.”  In these 2 lines he relates nature with feeling, something that us as humans are bound to have, sometimes against our will.  We can relate to it, because when the sun shines, things in life just seem brighter, but when the rain passes through, things sometimes seem to get that much harder.

” I hate the winter time because the nights come quicker
The light make them whites think I’m a nice young nigga
But at night they think twice and walk a little faster
It’s funny, 100 years ago I would of called Id a call this nigga masta”

These 4 lines are my favorite of the song.  It can be interpreted however one chooses, but in society today, these lines hold truth.  By just reading the lyrics, the rhymes don’t seem all that special, but if you listen to them they become clear.  The first 2 lines talk about winter time, and his hatred for how the nights come faster.  He says how in the light (during the day) he can pass for a nice person to white people.  Then he shifts and says how at night it all changes, they think twice, and walk a little faster.  He finishes by saying 100 years ago, he would’ve called the white people master.  As a mixed minority, I can relate to these lines.  I’ve walked the streets during the day and then at night, and I’ve seen the different looks I’m given.  J. Cole is trying to express that maybe it’s the way he dresses, or maybe it’s because he’s black that he gets these looks. His “word choices” bring together a larger idea, one that’s only understood if you listen.  Maybe when you read this it might not hit you as interesting, but take the time to understand how different aspects of society and his potential life are put together through the rhymes and everything is clearer.  (by the way..sorry this is so late..kind of forgot about it.)

Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem, has been very popular for his ten-year recording career. However, this past summer he released Love the Way You Lie in the middle of last August.  It one of the most popular songs out right now. With over 270 million views of this song on Youtube, as well as claiming the top spot on 23 music charts worldwide, Eminem took his career from good to great after releasing this extremely popular song. What is most intriguing about this song is the flow of Eminem’s dark, introspective verses matched with Rihanna’s melodic, yet also dark, chorus. It is very catchy, and the story Eminem tells paints a clear picture of what he is rapping about.

Hence, one important poetic term seen throughout this song is imagery. In Eminem’s second verse, he raps about a couple getting into physical fights with one another, saying:

“You swore you’d never hit ’em, never do nothin’ to hurt ’em, now you’re in each others face spewing venom in your words when you spit ’em. You push, pull each others hair, scratch, claw, bit ’em, throw ’em down, pin ’em, so lost in the moments when you’re in ’em.”

Listening to these words and anger expressed in his voice while he raps them easily paint pictures in the listener’s minds about a couple getting into a very physical fight, ending up with the man beating his woman. Eminem doesn’t use a lot of concrete images throughout his song; he mostly focuses on verbal pictures and sensations. These lyrics are so dark that the psychology behind Eminem’s words he chose force listeners to wonder if this song is actually about his life. Furthermore, the lyrics of Rihanna’s chorus “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, that’s alright ‘cuz I like the way it hurts, just gonna stand there and hear me cry, well that’s alright ‘cuz I like the way you lie” add to the images expressed throughout this song and to the multiple nonverbal sensations created by Eminem and Rihanna. What is more important is the idea of Rihanna’s chorus adding the correct balance between the voice of the man in Eminem’s story, to the voice of the woman being assaulted in the same story. Yet as deep and dark the words Eminem and Rihanna use are, this is an ingenious song created by Eminem that adds to his on-going brilliance of producing rap songs and the words he chooses to use in each song.


So I decided to choose the song “I Used to Love H.E.R.” by Common Sense. The song in itself is a metaphor. While Common pretends to be describing the life of a woman, he is really depicting the journey of hip hop and we see this in the first line.

The song begins, “I met this girl when I was 10 years old”. Common is personifying hip hop as a girl, by doing this Common is taking something as abstract as a musical genre and writing about it in the form of a girl growing up and losing her innocence.

In the first stanza, Common says “A few New York niggaz had did her in the park”, here we have another metaphor. On the one hand, this could be read as a girl having sex in a park although Common never actually says this. Regardless this line implies a loss of innocence and this is true but when we look at the line as if it were describing hip hop, we can see that Common is referring to hip hop becoming a major form of music, beginning in New York. By describing hip hop maturing as a loss of innocence, I think Common is making the argument that hip hop is not an innocent genre of music (although what is?). Hip hop is however, much more provocative and aggressive as Jay-Z wrote in his book Decoded than any other forms of music and we can see that embodied by the line being described.

At the end of the first stanza, Common says “Boy, I tell ya, I miss her” This is foreshadowing that this girl (hip hop) will disappear or change. Foreshadowing keeps us paying attention and especially in a song like this, keeps us listening to the lyrics. In the next stanza, Common describes the girl going to the west coast. He says, “I wasn’t salty, she was with the boys in the hood”. Salty is slang and from this line, I’m inferring that it means jealous. “Boys in the hood” is an allusion to a movie called Boyz N the Hood which is about kids growing up in a poor neighborhood in L.A. Now once this girl comes back from the west coast, she tells Common that “Afro-centricity was of the past”. Although afro-centricity was gone, Common does not criticize hip hop because as he writes “Cause that was good for her, she was becoming well rounded”.

In the last stanza, the real villain in revealed. Common writes:

“But once the man got to her, he altered her native

Told her if she got an image and a gimmick

That she could make money, and she did it like a dummy”.

Until this point, Common does not really talk about themes in hip hop. Only once the “man got to her” does he depict the stereotypical themes of hip hop, “popping glocks, servin rocks and hittin switches”. By not introducing these themes until after he reveals that hip hop was commercial and industrialized, Common is showing that hip hop did not create these themes, the man did. I guess that would fall until word order or sentence structure. But at the same time, this very song contradicts the stereotypes of hip hop by not following any of those themes. Throughout the song, Common uses allusions, foreshadowing and very purposeful sentence order. Not to mention the most prominent literary tool in the song, metaphors as the entire song is a metaphor for hip hop.

When it comes to hip hop artists, it is common knowledge that one of, if not, the best of all time is Biggie Smalls. He was known for his style, size, and most notably, his flow. In hip hop, flow technically means to rhyme consistently in the same line. Big’s various and complex uses of single line rhyme schemes add flavor to his songs.

One of his biggest hits was a song called Hypnotize which was released in April 1997. When it was released it debuted on Billboard’s top 100 as number two and eventually made its way to number one. It was used as the theme song to his biopic Notorious. Unlike Biggie’s other radio success Juicy, which talks about the struggle of making it as a rapper and how his life is a big example of the American Dream, Hypnotize talks about the lavish life he lives after reaching super-stardom as a hip hop artist.

One thing that stands out in the song Hypnotized, as well as almost all of his other songs is Biggie’s extensive use of internal rhymes. Out of a total of 52 lines in the song (not including the chorus), all but 10 of the lines in the three verses contain internal rhymes. Most artists and lyricists use the usual and effective rhyme scheme of rhyming the last word of a line with the last word of the next line. To use this many internal rhymes while speaking considerably fast is not only a testament to how great of a rapper he was, but it shows that he was ultimately a great poet.

Many times throughout the song when internal rhymes are present in lines, there are multiple examples in single lines. This incredibly impressive technique is present in the first verse when he says,

“Poppa been smooth since days of Underroos,

Never lose, never choose to, bruise crews who…”

The second line in this example is packed with internal rhymes. Six of the eight words in the line are part of a rhyme sequence, four of which are part of the same one. He preludes into this with the first line by mentioning Underroos (very old-school underwear for children)  at the end of the line and matching that up with lose, choose, bruise, and crews.

What you can’t see in the lyrics and must listen to the song in order to be able to recognize is the ease that Biggie spits these rhymes out with left and right. He makes it all seem so effortless. It’s called flow.

“I’m just a dog eared page you turn back to” illustrates the common theme of the Matches song “Dog Eared Page.” This song is from their debut album E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals and uses the metaphor of a “dog eared page” to show the emotions of the speaker. In the song, the speaker has been left behind by the girl he loves with only the promise of her return; however, he knows that she is more in love with herself than she is with him, “but you and me, we’re both in love with you.” It is in this sense that he is only a “dog eared page” waiting to be noticed again.

The metaphor evokes strong images as one can imagine the feelings of desperation and intense loneliness that would lead the speaker to compare himself to a forgotten, but marked, page in a book. The larger image of the song has the speaker placed in book as a mostly unremembered page, but also in a place where “[he] watch[es] the time wither and fall from [his] wrist.” By pairing these two images together, the sympathy builds for the speaker as he is not only disregarded, but also unable to move forward from this relationship. The feeling of being stuck watching the time melt away without any way to move forward is also demonstrated by his inability to “escape [the] friends [he’s] made since [she] left town.” Not only is the speaker stuck in a relationship where he is not fully appreciated, but this relationship has also affected the rest of his life, causing him to feel as if he can’t escape his town, his “friends,” and his place as a “dog eared page.” Yet, the speaker doesn’t want to seem to change his situation entirely. He still want to be in a relationship with his girlfriend, just under more equal circumstances.

The speaker’s plea to be important in the girl’s world is further emphasized with the question “where’s the place for me when we’re both in love with you?” His girlfriend takes the place of importance in the relationship, leaving the speaker behind like a “dog eared page” to be opened up to when it’s convenient for her.


Bobby Ray Simmons Jr is a young American rapper who is commonly referred to as “B.o.B,” his stage name. Many of you are probably familiar with his hits titled, “Airplanes,” featuring Haley Williams and “Nothin’ on you,” both of which were hit singles in the United States and the United Kingdom. A song of his many of you may not be familiar is “Ghost in the Machine.” I first stumbled upon this song while watching an episode of Gossip Girl and immediately fell in love with it. The lyrics, like most popular songs are catchy because they repeat themselves, allowing them to firmly stick in the listeners mind.

The song begins with the line, “Tell me where am I supposed to go?” which is interesting because the artist first presents us a question. The lines that follow include, “And who am I supposed to believe.If only you knew what I knew. Then you could see just what I see.” The speaker, which is a guy, is dealing with a breakup and is expressing himself to his loved one. This is very common in the music industry because it allows listeners to relate to the story of the lyrics being told. However, what’s interesting about his lyrics is that they are based on his primary simile, “There’s nothing worse than feeling like a ghost.” The entire song is based on the guy feeling so invisible from the one that he loves and how his loved one either has no idea or simply does not care anymore and so they act like they are unaware.

The speaker also discusses feeling like a U.F.O who keeps running and hiding to flee from all his hurt and hatred. Both terms, ghost and U.F.O are interesting to use because neither of them are concrete images that we are familiar with. Yes, we’ve all seen pictures of ghosts often in cartoons and movies as well as U.F.O’s however we do not normally come into contact with such images in our day to day life. By using them, we get the sense of how alone the speaker feels and almost what it seems like he is portraying, how foreign love is to him at this point.

Another poetic term, elegy, a poem about a specific death, often of a friend, a relative, or a famous person; or else a general meditation on death, is relevant to this song. In this case, the latter part of this definition applies to the song, because the speaker is so hurt from love that they feel like a ghost, but beyond those words, even dead already.

Michelle Branch’s songs are often heard on the radio and are listened to by many. However, most music lovers do not dissect the inner-workings of music as poetry. In Branch’s hit single, “Everywhere”, she uses allusion and rhyme in order to enhance her writing and make a hit album. When analyzing “Everywhere” poets realize that each stanza opens with two rhyming lines. This pattern continues throughout the entire song forming an aabb rhyme scheme. In the sixth stanza, Branch exemplifies the rhyme scheme that is evident throughout her entire song as she employs an aabbccdd rhyme. This rhyme scheme enhances her song because it gives her stanzas rhythm and a beat, which is enjoyable for listeners.

And when I touch your hand-A
It’s then I understand-A
The beauty that’s within-B
It’s now that we begin-B
You always light my way-C
I hope there never comes a day-C
No matter where I go-D
I always feel you so-D

In addition, throughout the entire song, the narrator alludes to a journey of love. First, she meets someone and questions why this person comes into her life. She asks the question of “why you’re here” and is skeptical of this new person. Furthermore, it is clear that the narrator has deeper feelings for this new partner because she discusses how “when I wake you’re, you’re never there, but when I sleep you’re, you’re everywhere.” It’s evident that the narrator is wary of this new partner and forming a relationship because he is never there in the morning when she wakes. As the journey unfolds, their relationship blossoms, however, Branch continues to allude to skepticism. She comments on her feelings but then retracts her statement and states that, “you might not be real.” Throughout the entire song, Branch is alluding to the typical relationship because she is worried about having feelings for someone but in the last stanza, she gives in to love. She discusses holding hands with him, and giving in to her feelings by recognizing “the beauty that’s within.”

Throughout the entire song, Branch uses rhyme and allusion in order to enhance her lyrics and resemble poetry. She discusses the journey of love and her skepticism about falling for someone. When listeners examine the poetic aspects to songs, they form a deeper understanding of the writer’s intentions.

Wunderkind, a song written and sung by Alanis Morissette produced for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,is a symbolic song of an awaited journey by a wunderkind – a child prodigy or a person who succeeds at a young age.  This song symbolizes the journey of Lucy Pevensies journey through Narnia.

As one listens to the lyrics, one can hear an actually journey taking place.  Morissette first begins when Lucy enters Narnia a “perilous place” with her “disbelieving eyes” as it was winter time she was “chilled to the bone.” Lucy also has not “apprehended gloom” because she has yet to learn of the white witch.  This is also the first time she has set foot in Narnia, hence the “virgin snow” reference.

Then in the second verse Narnia is viewed as an “ominous place” with her “compatriots” (siblings) as they run from the white witch.  This is the middle part of the journey.

The final verse symbolizes the end of the journey. This verse corresponds to all four of the children instead of just Lucy.  Her lyrics in this verse read “Most beautiful place reborn and blown off roof.  My view about-face whether great will be done” symbolizes how Narnia has been reborn.  The Pevensies also cannot help but wonder, what now? How can they make greatness in Narnia? These are some of the questions that these two lines allude to.

The refrain instead of symbolizing the journey, symbolizes Lucy herself.  It was her who stumbled across Narnia.  She was the “magnet.”  Morissette writes, “I am a princess on the way to my throne.”  The princess is Lucy as she journeys to her throne.  Her journey is also symbolized by the changing of lyrics in the last line of the chorus each time it is sung.  The first chorus tells how Lucy must serve.  She is the youngest of the four therefore she must serve the others.  Morissette then writes that Lucy must seek.  She has to seek the reason why her and her siblings were even allowed to come to Narnia.  Why were they chosen?  Her journey is all about finding out why she and her siblings are in Narnia.  Morissette writes that Lucy is supposed to find the purpose behind the journey – “to know”.  She will end her quest, knowing what she is destined for.  “To reign” over Narnia but on a somber note she is destined “to roam.”  “To roam” symbolizes the inevitable return to England.

Lucy is destined “to serve”, “to seek” and “to reign.”  To “to serve” is the beginning, “to seek” is the middle and “to reign” is the end.

While Lucy’s journey can be seen through this song it can also symbolize on a broader sense to everyone.  Everyone has a journey and that journey always has a beginning, middle and an end.  In that journey we are meant to learn and to conquer ourselves.  Morissette uses this song to symbolize that journey.


After hearing Sara Bareilles’ song entitled Love Song (which was Bareilles’ first single released in 2007 off the album Little Voice), one can infer that the song was about a previous lover. That however is not the case. The song was aimed at her record label which was pressuring her to pen a love song in an attempt to sell more albums. But because of a variety of poetic devices, on first listen this message may be missed by some.

This trickery of the listener falls into the category of personification. Bareilles never specifically refers to her recording company at any point throughout her song, yet the entirety of the song is centered around appeasing or not appeasing her record label.

Bareilles frequently uses the word ‘you’ in this song, which many listeners would understandably perceive as one single person, specifically a past lover. In fact,  Bareilles uses either ‘you’ or a variation of it fifty three times in the course of her four minute song. Bareilles ends her song with “Babe, I’ll walk the seven seas, When I believe that there’s a reason To write you a love song today.” ‘Babe’ and ‘you’ are both singular in this instance. The use of what is called synecdoche shows how poetic terms are applied to current pop culture songs in order to deepen their meaning. The message is cleverly hidden in the song because Bareilles effectively distorts the meaning of her song through the use of synecdoche.

The song touches on a topic that most can relate to their own life experiences; compromising in a relationship. However Bareilles achieved portraying this message through the use of personification. She makes the record company one singular unit and thus humanizes an inhuman entity. The line “it’s too soon to see, If I’m happy in your hands” could easily refer to a significant other, specifically the doubts that often are associated with relationships. If one were to not know the song was about Bareilles’ struggle with her record label, he would rightly assume the song concerned a previous relationship. This shows just how well Bareilles applies both personification and synecdoche to her music. Both scenarios are completely logical and even have lyrics which support both beliefs.

[With gratitude to Professor David Ball, who provided the original template, here is one example of a Poetic Terms + iTunes = ??? blog post.  This one provides a fair amount of context and contrast for its definition of the rhetorical figure of apostrophe and its description of how apostrophe heightens the stakes of a Barenaked Ladies song.  This example should help you write your own post, but you should not feel that you have to replicate its template.]

“Alcohol,” a track on the Barenaked Ladies’ 1998 album Stunt, offers an excellent and unconventional example of the rhetorical figure of apostrophe.  By convention, apostrophe denotes a speaker’s direct address to an inanimate object or an unseen person.  It is often found in celebratory odes and mournful elegies (“Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,” John Keats’s speaker says to the urn of “Ode on a Grecian Urn;” “O, Captain, My Captain!, our fearful trip is done” Walt Whitman says to Abraham Lincoln, after the latter’s assassination), and thus is often associated with a heightened emotional state or  mood.  In the Barenaked Ladies song, “Alcohol,” though, the excited state is giddy intoxication and, later on, hangover and regret.  The song, then, both registers and mocks the poetic conventions of apostrophe.

Popular songs and young revelers might associate drinking with abandon, or with letting go of social or moral restraints.  In a track called “Stronger,” for example, Kanye West suggests that it is drinking itself that enables the rap:  “This drink’s got me saying a lot,” he says, as if he no longer has control over his tightly-wrought words.   But in “Alcohol,” the singer sings directly to drink. By personifying alcohol and speaking to it, the singer puts himself into a more intimate and personally responsible relationship with his habit–or addiction.  Although the etymology of the word apostrophe comes from the ancient Greek meaning “to turn away” (as in an aside to a formal speech), apostrophe here brings the speaker closer to his subject.  It makes him, and the listener, more clearly aware of his actions and their consequences.  Beginning in a comic and carefree vein in the first stanzas—the line “Alcohol I sill drink to your health” typifies the Barenaked Ladies’ wry, arch sense of humor and characteristic word play—the song evolves into an apology, and later, a lament. Again and again, the singer needs forgiveness from–and for–drinking.


Barenaked Ladies, “Alcohol” (Stunt 1998)

Alcohol, my permanent accessory
Alcohol, a party time necessity
Alcohol, alternative to feeling like yourself
O Alcohol, I still drink to your health.

I love you more than I did the week before I discovered alcohol.

Forget the café latté, screw the raspberry iced tea
A Malibu and Coke for you, a G & T for me
Alcohol, your songs resolve like my life never will
When someone else is picking up the bill


O Alcohol, would you please forgive me,
For while I cannot love myself
I’ll use something else

I thought that alcohol was just for those with nothing else to do
I thought that drinking just to get drunk was a waste of precious booze
But now I know that there’s a time and there’s a place where I can choose
To walk the fine line between self control and self abuse

(Go, go, go, go, go, etc.)

And would you please ignore that you found me on the floor trying on your camisole
O Alcohol, would you please forgive me,
But while I cannot love myself
I’ll use something else

Would you please forgive me

Would you please forgive me…

We’ve been building our poetic and literary vocabularies this week.  In the first blog post, writers choose one poetic term from our reading this week–e.g., assonance, slant rhyme, persona, personification, internal rhyme, apostrophe, metaphor, etc.–and connect it to a song in their music collection.  Writers use the song to define the term, and in turn describe how the term helps them to understand the song in a new, fresh way.  Posts are between 250-500 words, written in formal prose, and organized into coherent paragraphs.  When you post, be sure to give your entry an evocative title and to check the Category “Poetic Vocabulary + iTunes Library = ???”