Song Lyrics Appearing First as Poems

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Tue Mar 3 14:32:51 UTC 2009

Assuming that Fred does not intend his query to be limited to poems written by the same person who popularized the text as a song (a la Leonard Cohen): The question becomes (as it has in several responses to Fred's query) "usually thought of as songs" BY WHOM?

I myself was familiar with the song "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes" before I discovered that Ben Jonson authored the poem, which was set to music considerably later.  However, at the time when Thomas Arne composed the musical setting, many Englishmen certainly recognized Jonson's authorship.

The reverse situation can also happen, of course.  For instance, most of us are familiar with the items traditionally grouped in anthologies under a heading like "Songs from Shakespeare's Plays."  We know them only (or mainly) as poems, yet we assume that the were sung on the stage c1600, perhaps enjoying popularity as songs outside the theater (or in more than one play).

I used to spend a good portion of my hours in church reading the hymnal. I was always excited to discover that the words of a hymn had been written by a famous author--ususally prior to its musical setting, but not always; and then there were collaborations.


---- Original message ----
>Date: Sat, 28 Feb 2009 07:15:57 -0500
>From: "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
>Subject: Song Lyrics Appearing First as Poems

>I hope I will be forgiven exploiting the general knowledgeability of people on this list with a query that has virtually no relevance to linguistics.  I recently read that the lyrics of Leonard Cohen's 1967 song "Suzanne" appeared earlier as a poem in a 1966 book of his.  Are there other examples of well-known song lyrics that appeared earlier as poems?  I am not talking about well-known poems that were also made into songs, but rather about texts that are usually thought of as songs but were actually first poems.
>Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society -

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