by Debbie Mathis Watts

Throughout history, the beauty of words has been celebrated. From the writings of the Japanese haiku poets to the writings of Shakespeare to the popular lyrics of Lennon and McCartney, many who have expressed the beauty of words have also mastered the art of speaking volumes in a few words, or in words that fit into a space or pattern. In a haiku, the poet uses seventeen syllables to paint a picture:

As the wind does blow

Across the trees, I see the

Buds blooming in May.

Likewise, Shakespeare was a master of getting the most out of words. The fact that he wrote thirty-seven plays during his lifetime is remarkable, but when one stops to consider that those plays were written in poetry form, iambic pentameter to be exact, that makes his accomplishments as a writer really something to marvel at. That he composed one hundred fifty-four sonnets is amazing; that each of those fourteen-line poems is able to express words of wisdom about love and other aspects of human nature—that’s astounding.

Like Shakespeare, popular songwriters are challenged to tell a story, evoke emotion, even passion, in a similar sonnet length, as in these lines by John Lennon:

“Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy, if you try.

No hell below us. Above us, only sky.”

Being a Nashville writer myself, I must pay homage to the genius in the craft of the country music lyricists. In “Loving Her Was Easier,” these words by Kris Kristofferson rival the metaphorical skills of Blake and Keats:

“I have seen the morning burning golden on a mountain in the sky.”

So, like the Japanese haikuists and the Victorian poets, writers of popular lyrics are challenged to tell a good story, evoke emotion and pathos, and declare man’s common experience in only fourteen lines or so. That’s art.

Debbie Watts
Debbie Watts is an educator, currently serving as an instructional coach. Her award as “National Vocabulary Championship Coach of the Year” has led to the publication of her current book, Wordabulous: Celebrating the Positive Power of Words. Also a television writer and producer and popular piano-vocalist, she is currently appearing on recurring segments of WSMV’s “More at Midday” as the resident wordologist.

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