The Civil War’s “20 Years”

We have discussed that readers and listeners have expectations when it comes to poetry and music. Of these expectations, The Civil Wars seems to have accomplished most in their song “20 Years.” Their song was obviously meant to be performed in front of an audience, since it appears on Youtube. However, I’m inclined to argue that this song seems to have a more personal feel to it of someone speaking to another on a intimate level; one only has to look at the singers interact to see the connection they have when singing the song. The song is set to music, and without this music, the song would not have the same emotional effect. The emotion comes not from just reading the lyrics: “There’s no reasons, no excuses / There’s no secondhand alibis / Just some black ink on some blue lines / And a shadow, you won’t recognize.” The emotions comes from the music that is being played and the melody and harmony that are being sung. In those, the listener hears a longing, a regret maybe. Also, if you decide to watch to the video, you will notice that they slip in a lot of “oohs” and “aahs,” which would not work as well if the lyrics were read aloud.

Readers and listeners also expect for poetry or music to have a set form. For songs, the most common form is this: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. The Civil War’s “20 Years” disregards this. The song contains three verses that are connected by melodic guitar riffs and pretty “oohs” and “ahhs.” No choruses, no bridge. Yet somehow, it works.

In class, we discussed rhyme and repetition in poetry. The Civil War’s used rhyme within their song, while rather loosely at times, and though there is no repetition of a chorus in this song, they do repeat a variation of “and your note underneath my door” three times. Today, there seems to be a clear distinction between what we know as poetry and song; however, the two contain many similar elements, such as rhyme, repetition, and form, that makes me question why the lyrics of today cannot be counted as poetry as well.

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