May 3, 2016

Metaphysical Poetry as Explained by Florence + the Machine (part 1/4)

florence                                                       Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine

A few years ago, The Atlantic came out with an ingenious article by Matthew O’Brien on how Carly Rae Jepsen’s song, “Call Me Maybe” could explain the Euro crisis. By selecting certain lines from the song’s lyrics and linking them to the situations of various EU countries, O’Brien illustrated Jepsen’s accidental macroeconomic profundity as distilled in her catchy pop song.

It was such a good idea that I decided to steal it and apply it to my own interests here—more specifically, in relation to Florence + the Machine and how their song lyrics could be read as iterations of passages in metaphysical poetry. Through three of their songs, I hope to frame the attitudes presented by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), John Donne (1572-1631), and John Milton (1608-1674) toward the supernatural.

The reason why O’Brien’s approach is so brilliant is because it highlights an axiom of contemporary society—namely, that most song lyrics today are hardly scrutinized for the depth of their content. And while that stance is certainly valid, it wasn’t always that way. It’s largely due to our belief that there now exists a wide divergence between poetry and song, the latter of which is considered subordinate to the former.

This is a far cry from our attitude to the fact that the roots of literature were born in song, prayer, and legend. Verse always precedes prose in the creation of a national literature and, as such, early epic poems and ballads (which were often sung) are revered as the revolutionary texts that sanctioned a language’s right to acquire the status of literature. While it is true that not all songs have been respected equally throughout history, the rise of popular culture and ubiquitous pop music has been roughly concomitant with our decline in regard for song lyrics as a literary form.

But I’d like to think that every once in a while we can still find higher thoughts in the manifestations of popular music. And, through the lens of Florence Welch’s fascination with the occult and the sacred, I’d like to explore the extent to which her songs can find communion with the great metaphysical poets of yore.

Next (part 2/4): Dante’s journey through heaven, hell, and purgatory as set to “Only if for a Night”



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