Creative collaborations can take all forms, but one of my favorites is the art that’s created when poetry and music combine. If you’re also an artist who takes pleasure and inspiration from words, perhaps the following classic poems-turned-songs will hit just the right note for you to get started on your own lyrical project.
1. “Strange Fruit,” Billie Holiday
Poem by Abel Meeropol
Singer Billie Holiday’s haunting voice blends poignantly with poet Abel Meeropol’s visceral outcry against racist violence.
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
2. “On Raglan Road,” Luke Kelly (The Dubliners)
Poem by Patrick Kavanagh
A meeting between the poet and the singer changed a beautiful bittersweet poem into this equally beautiful bittersweet song.
On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay -
When the angel woos the clay he’d lose his wings at the dawn of day.
3. “Sonnet 29,” Rufus Wainwright
Poem by William Shakespeare
That his sonnet is still being performed 400 years later is really a testament to the power of Shakespeare’s words, and Wainwright’s song matches the tone of the text perfectly.
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee – and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate.
4. “The Lady of Shalott,” Loreena McKennitt
Poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott.”
5. “Take This Waltz,” Leonard Cohen
After the Poem “Pequeño Vals Vienés” by Federico García Lorca
Leonard Cohen is one of the greatest contemporary songwriters and a poet himself, and “Take This Waltz” comes from his own translation of Lorca’s poem.
And I’ll bury my soul in a scrapbook,
with the photographs there and the moss.
And I’ll yield to the flood of your beauty,
my cheap violin and my cross.
For a quick guide on how to turn your poem into a song, check out Ayanna Guyhto’s article here.