Poems are more than song lyrics, often more complex and certainly more independent—take the music away from most pop song lyrics and they collapse into someting very thin, almost transparent. But that is not to say that a poem can’t be remade into a good song, and since there have been poems, composers and songwriters have set them to music. Here is a selection of online recordings of classic poems set to music, old poems made into new songs.
Hopkins’ poem was adapted into song by Sean O’Leary and sung by Belinda Evans to help save the endangered woodlark in the UK. (It has also been released as part of an entire album of Hopkins poems in musical adaptations, The Alchemist.)
Bloodshot Records (cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
Robert Burns’ “Song—A Red, Red Rose” was a song from the very beginning—it was part of his project to preserve traditional Scottish songs. In this YouTube clip it’s performed by Scottish folksinger Eddi Reader, who released an entire album of Burns songs in 2003.
A song based on a line by medieval French poet François Villon (“Tant crie l’on Noel qu’il vient”—“So much one cries Noel that it comes....”), accompanied by a video slide show of illustrative art and information about the poet.
Edgar Allan Poe
has inspired a whole host of modern musicians, from the Alan Parsons Project to Lou Reed to the many recent heavy-metal and goth bands who have appropriated Poe’s lyrics. This one is a rap version of “The Raven
” by “post-punk laptop rap” artist MC Lars, retitled “Mr. Raven.”
Christmas carol based on Hardy’s poem, performed by Patrick P. McNichols and the Galliard String Quartet at St. Andrews Cathedral, Scotland.
Leonard Cohen translated Federico García Lorca
’s poem “Pequeño vals vienés” (“Little Viennese Waltz”) into English and made it into a song entitled “Take This Waltz,” which came out on his 1988 album I’m Your Man
Mike Scott’s Waterboys
premiered an entire show of songs made from Yeats
’ poems at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in March 2010, and among the surprises was this recasting of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree
” as a 12-bar blues song.
Luciana Souza has made an entire album of songs created from Pablo Neruda
’s poems in English translations, but before you buy the CD, you can view this cut, a lovely solo performance of Sonnet 49, just Souza’s voice accompanied by her own karimba (African thumb piano).