Creative writing can be a rewarding past-time and career to those of us who feel that way inclined. So many forms of creative writing exist, the likes of prose, verse, narrative, dialogue, poetry, lyrics, among many others. Unfortunately, most people regard poetry as being a stiff and strictly formal type of creative writing, but it does not need to be.
From my own experience in writing poetry, songs, and lyrics, this song has always stood out in my mind as a masterpiece of lyrics and pure poetry. There is no record, to the best of my knowledge, that Don McLean wrote poetry as such, but this song’s lyrics are right up there as a great piece of poetry in my reckoning.
For creative writers, a good practice is to read other writers’ creative works for inspiration toward writing one’s own. In so doing, I found the lyrics of a great folk/rock song that I have loved for over forty years. It is Don McLean’s song ‘Vincent’, which is often erroneously titled “Starry Starry Night”.
Don McLean had read Vincent Van Gogh’s life story and, based on Van Gogh’s painting, ‘The Starry Night’, he wrote the song and lyrics of “Vincent’ in 1971 as a tribute to Vincent Van Gogh. Don McLean’s biography makes for interesting reading.
Similarly, to there being many forms of creative writing, poetry has hundreds, if not over a thousand, forms or styles. So, pinning a poetic form to this song’s lyrics is difficult, not that one absolutely must do so, but I say that it can be classified as Free Form poetry. It is stanzaic, and it has rhyming in every verse’s 2nd and 3rd, 4th and 5th, and 6th and 7th rows. Also rhyming are the last two rows of each chorus. There is no clear syllabic count or any constant iambic metering.
The lyrics of songs most often do not follow any formal poetic form. As with many songs’ lyrics, multiple words cover a couple of beats in a bar, while other bars are void of any words, but they contain music and musical bridges, or even a brief silence.
In ‘Vincent’, the refrain, “Starry Starry Night”, in the first row of each verse, is catching and it sets or resets the scene for each verse. The contrasting and matching phrases used in the lyrics are remarkably effective, for example, “Portraits hung in empty halls, Frameless heads on nameless walls”.
The musical score of this song sets the metering as 4/4, which means that there are four bars in each frame and there are four beats in each bar. On the face of it, as seen below, it does not look as if it will fit, but it certainly does.
Some people perceive the song to be romantic, others perceive it to be sad and somber, whilst others perceive it to be an inspired writing and inspiring in the literary sense. It originates from a heartful and soulful Don McLean.
I suggest that people first read the lyrics below purely as a poem, and thereafter read it again whilst listening to the song.
Vincent - By Don McLean. “Starry, starry night Paint your palette blue and grey Look out on a summer's day With eyes that know the darkness in my soul Shadows on the hills Sketch the trees and the daffodils Catch the breeze and the winter chills In colours on the snowy linen land Now I understand What you tried to say to me And how you suffered for your sanity And how you tried to set them free They would not listen, they did not know how Perhaps they'll listen now Starry, starry night Flaming flowers that brightly blaze Swirling clouds in violet haze Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue Colours changing hue Morning fields of amber grain Weathered faces lined in pain Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand Now I understand What you tried to say to me And how you suffered for your sanity And how you tried to set them free They would not listen, they did not know how Perhaps they'll listen now For they could not love you But still your love was true And when no hope was left in sight On that starry, starry night You took your life, as lovers often do But I could have told you, Vincent This world was never meant for one As beautiful as you Starry, starry night Portraits hung in empty halls Frameless heads on nameless walls With eyes that watch the world and can't forget Like the strangers that you've met The ragged men in the ragged clothes The silver thorn, a bloody rose Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow Now I think I know What you tried to say to me And how you suffered for your sanity And how you tried to set them free They would not listen, they're not listening still Perhaps they never will”
Every time I read this song’s lyrics and listen to the music, I am blown away again and deeply inspired to write more poetry and songs. My hope is that this will inspire more people to take up creative writing, especially poetry, it is such good fun.
Refer to this Chronicle’s Multi Media category for poems written by me.
Sources and references:
Song and Lyrics Writer – Don McLean.
The lyrics are licensed and provided by LyricFind.
Music Publisher: Universal Music Publishing Group