Which came first…

I was asked this week which comes first, the poetry or the music

[I’m going to assume it’s not a question of prioritization for the time being]

And I really don’t have an answer, well not any that is any easier to understand than the chicken and the egg at least.

Sometimes a line of poetry will spur a melody, or a chord progression on the guitar – and a song will emerge.

Sometimes a chord progression or melody will in turn spur a line of poetry – or at least a lyrical frame – and a song will emerge.

Sometimes a complete poem will sit for weeks, months, years and suddenly a piece of music will make sense when bedded beneath the words.

One marked shift over time – I will rarely if ever write a lyric for a song

[verses, choruses, bridge, etc.]

without a guitar in hand. In my immature, naive song-writing life, that was how I mostly did it – writing on scraps of paper and in lyric books.

The songs that emerged were ponderous and didn’t grab people.

So I stopped doing that – long pieces will typically stay as poems, or be reshaped to song.

Reading over this as I write, I realize that I interchange poetry and lyrics all the time – I know that probably upsets some purists, but these strands of the muse run so close


for me, that it’s easier not to try to separate them.

So, which comes first? It depends on where the muse leads me in the moment.

Not much of an answer, I know, but an answer all the same!



One thought on “Which came first…

  1. I’ve come at it from all angles. I’ve written entire instrumental songs waiting for the words, which sometimes never come. I’ve written entire lyrics without guitar in hand, what purists might think of as poems not set to music. And I’ve let both pieces tease the other out, having a single lyric line which finds its own melody, which discovers the next line, which spelunks the chords, which….. well, you get it.

    I am reminded of a quote oft attributed to Paul Valéry: A poem is never finished, only abandoned. I recently stumbled on a song from 1979 which I decided had been abandoned, but wasn’t finished, so I made what I thought were the necessary changes I had not been aware of at the time.

    In the end, I believe the song (any song) has always been inside me. I just needed to have the life experience that opens my mind to it and beckons it out. Chicken or egg? You can’t have one without the other anymore.


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