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Music and Poetry – Similarities and Differences

It is often said, “Music is poetry.” You may also have heard someone say, “Poetry is music.” Or maybe it was a statement about a particular poem or music. This case often arises when we observe the rhyme in the piece. However, is the rhyme scheme all there is to poetry and music? This article, therefore, explores the similarities and differences between the two art forms – Music and Poetry.

What is music?

Music is an art form whose medium is sound. It is one of the universal cultural aspects of all human societies. The general definition of music is often as a combination of predetermined sounds, which include common elements such as pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (sound and its associated time and tempo), dynamics (loudness and softness), and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture. 

There are five characteristics of music – sound (overtone, duration, amplitude, pitch, timbre), melody, rhythm, structure or form, expression, texture, and melody.

Music is classified into genres and subgenres. However, the dividing lines and relationships between music genres are often subtle, sometimes open to individual interpretation, and occasionally controversial.

What is poetry?

Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and often rhythmic qualities of language, such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and meter, to evoke meanings in addition to, or place of, a prosaic ostensible meaning. 

A poem is a literary composition written by a poet using the principles of poetry. 

Poetry predates history. You find poetry wherever religion is present (used in worship); it is the oldest form of literature. In some cases, poetry is the primal and primary form of languages themselves.

Poetry has a long and varied history, evolving differentially across the globe. It dates back at least to prehistoric times with hunting poetry in Africa and to panegyric and elegiac court poetry of the empires of the Nile, Niger, and Volta River valleys.

Poetry can be written in many different forms. Forms of poetry include but are not limited to free verse, sonnets, haikus, and limericks. 

Some poems have a regular meter and rhyme scheme, while others do not. 

Poetry can be about anything – love, loss to the natural world, a heroic act, societal issues, etc. 

Poetry is used to express a wide range of emotions, from joy to sorrow to anger to confusion.

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Music and poetry – where do they meet?

Music and poetry are two of the oldest and most enduring forms of human expression. Both mediums use sound to evoke emotions, convey meaning, and tell stories. 


  1. Music and poetry share a deep connection to human emotion. They can both be used to express a wide range of emotions, from joy and love to sorrow and anger.
  2. Both music and poetry use sound and rhythm to create meaning and evoke emotion.
  3. Music and poetry can tell stories and create images in the minds of the listeners or readers.
  4. Music and poetry can be tools to challenge and provoke thoughts, especially for self-evaluation, critical thinking, societal issues, etc.
  5. Music and poetry often create vivid imagery and evoke a sense of place. A song can transport the listener to a different time or place, and a poem can create a vivid image in the reader’s mind.
  6. Music and poetry both rely on rhythm and flow. This is achieved through the use of repetition, rhyme, and(or) other poetic devices in poetry, and tempo, melody, and harmony in music.
  7. Music is used to tell stories. A song can tell the story of a character’s journey or a poem can narrate a historical event or personal experience (eg. Epic of Gilgamesh).
  8. Music and poetry form part of performing arts.
  9. Music and poetry are employed as tools in therapy. Music and poetry help patients connect with their emotions and become more peaceful.
  10. Music and poetry are often used in acts of worship in different religions.

Despite the many similarities between music and poetry, the art forms also have some key differences worth mentioning in this article.


  1. Music is a temporal art form, while poetry is a spatial art form. This means that music is experienced over time, while poetry is experienced all at once.
  2. A typical performance of a piece of music is done by musicians, while poetry is read by poets or readers. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as when poems are set to music.
  3. Music can be instrumental or vocal, while poetry is always vocal.
  4. Music typically uses a wider range of sounds than poetry. This is because music can include instruments, vocals, and other sound effects.
  5. Poetry typically uses language more creatively and expressively than music. This is because poets can use words to create images (for example – when using metaphors, similes, and other literary devices).
  6. Music is typically performed with instruments and vocals, while poetry is typically read aloud or silently.
  7. Music often uses repetition and variation to create a sense of momentum and excitement, while poetry may use more complex and nuanced language.

Despite their differences, music and poetry are powerful forms of artistic expression that can motivate, inspire, and educate people. They can both be used to tell stories, express emotions, and create a sense of beauty.

Examples Of Poems And Songs That Explore Combined Music and Poetry to Create Beautiful Impactful Pieces of Art

  1. “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen (covered by Jeff Buckley): Leonard Cohen’s poetic lyrics were brought to life with Jeff Buckley’s soulful rendition, creating a hauntingly beautiful song that has become a classic.
  2. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen: Freddie Mercury’s operatic and poetic lyrics, combined with Queen’s musical prowess, resulted in a groundbreaking and genre-defying piece that has captivated audiences for decades.
  3. “The Raven” by Alan Parsons Project (based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem): This progressive rock band adapted Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem “The Raven” into a musical piece, blending the power of rock with the richness of Alan Poe’s words.
  4. “The Times They Are a-Changin'” by Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan’s poetic and socially charged lyrics, combined with his folk music style, create an iconic anthem that reflects the spirit of change in the 1960s.
  5. “The Planets” by Gustav Holst: While not strictly poetry, Holst’s orchestral suite was inspired by astrological themes. Each movement captures a different planet’s character. The expressive and evocative music fits the form of musical poetry.
  6. “Don’t Explain” by Billie Holiday (lyrics by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.): Billie Holiday’s emotive voice combined with the poignant lyrics creates a powerful jazz ballad that conveys a deep sense of heartache and longing.
  7. “A Night on Bald Mountain” by Modest Mussorgsky: This instrumental classical piece is inspired by Russian folklore and vividly paints a picture of a witches’ Sabbath. The music captures the dramatic and poetic elements of the supernatural.
  8. “American Pie” by Don McLean: McLean’s iconic song is filled with poetic imagery, exploring the impact of Buddy Holly’s death on the music world and society. The lyrics are intricately woven to create a narrative within the song.
  9. “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel: Paul Simon’s poetic lyrics, combined with the duo’s harmonies and acoustic melodies, resulting in a timeless folk-rock classic that reflects on the isolation and alienation in modern society.
  10. “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush: Inspired by Emily Brontë’s novel of the same name, Bush’s song captures the ethereal and haunting atmosphere of the story. The combination of her unique vocals and poetic lyrics makes it a captivating piece.

Other examples include –

  • “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats.
  • “Piano” by D.H. Lawrence.
  • “Jazz Poem” by Langston Hughes.
  • “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles.

These works showcase different ways in which music and poetry can come together to create beautiful and memorable artistic expressions. This beautiful amalgamation of the effects of music and poetry in one piece often results in classics.


Music and poetry are two beautiful and powerful forms of art that can enrich our lives in many ways. They can help us express ourselves, connect with others, and understand the world around us. While they have some key differences, they are also closely linked and often inspire each other.

I encourage you to explore music and poetry in whatever way you enjoy the most. Read poems aloud, listen to music attentively, and write your creative works, if you feel inspired. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy these arts as long as you are open to the experience.

Comments (10)

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    February 10, 2024 at 12:27 pm
  2. This is so true. Music and Poetry are alike but also different.

    February 11, 2024 at 11:18 pm
  3. This is a good one. The two truly overlap even though they are unique forms of art separately.

    February 12, 2024 at 11:41 am
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