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It's a Love Story... I mean, Poetry.

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

What does it take to become a Grammy-winning poet?

Maya Angelou. Robert Frost. Taylor Swift. One of these things are not like the others, and if you somehow managed to evade reading the subtitle of this post, you would probably respond with 'duh, two are poets and the other is a singer'. But what if I told you that only one of these influential poets has a Grammy award between them? Bold of me to compare America's sweetheart to such literary greats, right? Or is it?

With 41 Grammy nominations and 4 wins under her belt over a span of 14 years, Taylor Swift's wondrous and turbulent love life has proven to be one of the greatest catalysts for her most romantic and emotive songs. So with the spontaneous release of her anomalous albums in 2020, folklore and evermore, I have decided to put folklore, my favourite of the two, under the literary microscope and discuss three distinct qualities that illuminate the poetry in her music.

Credit: Beth Garrabrant

So, without further ado, let us read between the (blank) spaces of Swift's lyrics and determine exactly why she just never seems to go out of style...

Article Guide

Quality I: Metaphor Galore

Quality II: Instagram poetry, but better.

Quality III: The Emerging Poet

Final Thoughts

Quality I: Metaphor Galore

Folklore and evermore, according to the following article are perceived to be 'sad' to many fans, and there is no denying the American singer-songwriter loves a good metaphor to depict heartbreak or overwhelming euphoric sentiments of love, to the extent that it becomes painful. Take the narrative in mirrorball, where the speaker is ready to be vulnerable with the man she is interested in, and wants that openness to reflect back on him so he may be inspired to also be vulnerable with her:

I want you to know

I'm a mirrorball

I'll show you every version of yourself tonight

I'll get you out on the floor

Shimmering beautiful

And when I break it's in a million pieces

Swift also creates more subtle and indirect metaphors- one of the more impressive poetic devices a poet can use. In the sombre track this is me trying, Swift makes references to cars, driving and wheels, showcasing how stagnated the speaker has become due to mental health and/or substance abuse issues:

I've been having a hard time adjusting

I had the shiniest wheels, now they're rusting

I didn't know if you'd care if I came back

I have a lot of regrets about that

Pulled the car off the road to the lookout

Could've followed my fears all the way down

And maybe I don't quite know what to say

But I'm here in your doorway

I just wanted you to know

That this is me trying

The speaker also appears to be conflicted about their wants and needs, hence, the rusting wheels, and pulling their car off the road to the lookout (implying they are looking out to the past or the damned present).

However, one of the most notable metaphors in the album is featured in my tears ricochet. Swift overindulges in imagery of mortality and mourning as a way to describe a painstaking divorce. The song was allegedly inspired by the 2019 film Marriage Story starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, playing a couple going through a bitter separation. During the live stream for the video premiere of cardigan, Swift confirmed my tears ricochet is about "a lost romance... [where] young love is often fixed so permanently in our memories."

We gather here, we line up

Weepin' in a sunlit room, and

If I'm on fire, you'll be made of ashes too

Ironically, the death imagery doesn't end there:

I didn't have it in myself to go with grace

And you're the hero flying around, saving face

And if I'm dead to you, why are you at the wake?


You know I didn't want to have to haunt you

But what a ghostly scene

You wear the same jewels that I gave you

As you bury me

Death may not be the most inventive metaphor to describe the finality of a relationship breakdown, but we will come to see how Swift's musical poetry ascends beyond transparent, self-explanatory symbolism.

Credit: Beth Garrabrant

Quality II: Instagram poetry, but better.

The second poetic quality in Swift's songs tugs at the heart strings in prompt, sharp expressions of melancholy, longing, inescapable nostalgia and masochistic reflections on past memories. Her observations are honest, heartfelt, and implicate much of the perils and sensationalised emotions associated with young love.

Similar to Instagram poetry or micro-poetry, Swift is unashamed and concise about her thoughts and revelations regarding a relationship that may no longer exist, compressing her pivotal thoughts into three distinct, emotive lines, guaranteed to appeal to her young audience:

And it's hard to be at a party when I feel like an open wound

It's hard to be anywhere these days when all I want is you

You're a flashback in a film reel on the one screen in my town

(song: this is me trying)

A friend to all is a friend to none

Chase two girls, lose the one

When you are young, they assume you know nothin'

(song: cardigan)

We see this yearning in august also, however Swift expands more on the narrative by generating descriptive images of the scene:

But I can see us lost in the memory

August slipped away into a moment in time

'Cause it was never mine

And I can see us twisted in bedsheets

August sipped away like a bottle of wine

'Cause you were never mine

Emotions hit an all-time high with illicit affairs where the speaker is engaging in an affair with a man who is already in a relationship with someone else. The speaker understands she can never attain his love, so pours out her heart with not only idealised, saccharine expressions of her infatuation, but also with the repetition of certain phrases and expressions- another device Swift (and countless musicians) use:

And you wanna scream

Don't call me "kid"

Don't call me "baby"

Look at this godforsaken mess that you made me

You showed me colours

You know I can't see with anyone else

Don't call me "kid"

Don't call me "baby"

Look at this idiotic fool that you made me

You taught me a secret language

I can't speak with anyone else

Credit: Beth Garrabrant

Quality III: The Emerging Poet

Similar to our second category, our final category takes a step back from love, heartbreak and diaristic reflection being the central characteristics of a song, and emphasises on the beauty of Swift's words via her most enchanting descriptions and quirky observations. In invisible strings, Swift makes a reference to her 2014 hit Bad Blood from her fifth studio album, 1989, a playful little nod to her distant, synth-pop past:

Bad was the blood of the song in the cab

On your first trip to LA

She melds a reflective style of story-telling with atmospheric descriptions of Centennial Park, and the eventual 'heaven' she has found:

Cold was the steel of my axe to grind

For the boys who broke my heart

Now I send their babies presents

Gold was the colour of the leaves

When I showed you around Centennial Park

Hell was the journey but it brought me heaven

Swift diversifies her story-telling skills in illicit affairs by using internalised dialogue to indicate shame, deceit and seedy undertones:

Make sure nobody sees you leave

Hood over your head, keep your eyes down

Tell your friends you're out for a run

You'll be flushed when you return


What started in beautiful rooms

Ends with meetings in parking lots

As a final example, I thought it would be fitting to identify a 'stanza' where all three distinct qualities are present: the use of metaphor, appealing to saccharine romance and effective poetic expression, such as the below from cardigan:

I knew you

Tried to change the ending

Peter losing Wendy, I

I knew you

Leavin' like a father

Running like water, I

And when you are young, they assume you know nothing

Credit: Beth Garrabrant

Final thoughts:

Folklore is undoubtedly the love child of autumn, nostalgia, memories of high school in Pennsylvania and beige, angora sweaters. The lyrics are no excerpts of The Iliad, but by combining them with mellow, breathy vocals, folky, electroacoustic tones and outer-worldly orchestras, the romanticism in her words reach new emotional altitudes and become more than just music.

Much like the overall feel of this album, the lyrics paint an overlapping portrait of self-reflection, unbridled longing and at times, voyeurism, strung together by the one woman who was there to experience it all, and something like Arabian Nights, sat down to record these events to immortalise not only her music, but her poetry forever.

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