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Poetry Meets Rock

The ultimate fusion between music and literature is when classic lyrics and poetry are adapted for music. The transition is not easy, as these poems have their own musical language, and when transferred to a modern, musical form they simply change their nature.

Tilskuere på rockekonsert. Foto.

Mixing rock music and poetry can be a way of introducing classic poetry to an audience that otherwise would not be interested in that kind of literature. And besides, it cannot be all that bad if young musicians find material in classic literature and, in that way, keep the old masters alive.

The Waterboys

Mike Scott of The Waterboys
Mike Scott of The Waterboys

This Irish/British rock group was formed in 1981 and is still active both on stage and in the studio. The group combines an Irish / Celtic folk tradition with contemporary plain rock. Flutes and fiddle lie as the instrumental basis of most of their music, and in many of their tunes it is easy to trace the traditional Irish reel or jig. Their line-up has changed over the years, but the two central musicians, Mike Scott, vocal and various instruments, and Steve Wickham, fiddle, have been there since the start. The group has had a line of much played hits, such as “Fisherman’s Blues” and “The Whole of the Moon”. Their music has varied from album to album, from an expression clearly rooted in Irish folk tradition (“Room to Roam”, 1990) to more direct rock and roll (“Book of Lightning”, 2006).

Yeats as Rock Lyrics

In 2011, The Waterboys recorded the album “An Appointment with Mr Yeats,” which is a tribute to the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. The album is a catalogue of some of Yeats’s finest poems adapted for rock and roll music. It is a bold project, and if there is a group that could do such a thing, it had to be The Waterboys. It is obvious that they want to pay homage to one of Ireland’s greatest poets, and they do so with respect. Furthermore, like on other albums, the group has an original sound which is clearly rooted Irish folk tradition. Among the songs are some of Yeats’s most cherished and famous poems, such as “Song of the Wandering Aengus”, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, “Mad as the Mist and Snow”, and “A Full Moon in March”. Such projects in general, and this one in particular, should have a bigger audience among young people, because it may introduce them to good literature in combination with their own musical language.


  • The musicians cannot do this without seeking permission. Who do you think has the authority to give such a permission if the author is dead?
  • Do you think it is all right to use classic poetry as rock lyrics? Who might disapprove of such a project - and why?
  • Do you know other examples of poetry adapted for rock music?
  • Follow the link and read more about William Butler Yeats and his poetry.
  • Check out YouTube for samples of The Waterboys and their "appointment with Mr Yeats". Discuss whether the music and lyrics work together to form a good musical symbiosis.


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