You could be forgiven if, for the past few weeks you've been humming "Thriller" or "PYT" nonstop. After all, those pesky "earworms" that haunt us come from the radio and TV as well as from our stereos, and there's been a surfeit of Michael Jackson coverage in the broadcast media.


I seem to be particularly susceptible to earworms (maybe many of us OCD types in publishing are?). I wish I could get rid of today's "Waking Up in Vegas" earworm -- Katie Perry is not my usual cuppa! But as the chorus went round and round (Get up and shake the glitter off your clothes now) my mind jumped to what lyrics really are, and I started thinking about stanzas and refrains and verses...


Before I knew it, I was off on a little poetry tear in my head, reciting lines and stanzas that I do remember, wishing that there were a good Writer's Almanac podcast at the ready (unfortunately, I was in my car at the time and sans iPod, or I could have cued one up). I started "reciting" William Blake's beautiful and haunting poem "London:"


I wander through these chartered streets

Near where the chartered Thames doth flow

And in every stranger's face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.


I could not get these lines out of my head! Part of that is due to their sure iambic quadrameter (bum-BUM, bum-BUM, bum-BUM, bum-BUM) and straightforward A-B-A-B rhyme scheme, but part is also due to having learned and taught the poem many times over -- "chartered" means several things to me. So do the stranger's faces. Plus, I know more than a bit about William Blake (this isn't particularly scholarly, but if you haven't read Tracy Chevalier's "Burning Bright," you might enjoy its fictional Blake). I thought about the stanza all the way home, until I could get to my bookshelf and read the poem in its entirety.


Does anyone else get "literary earworms?" Poetry? First lines? Favorite passages?  

Message Edited by Bethanne on 08-01-2009 09:53 AM
by hysperia on ‎07-31-2009 05:03 PM

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
Alone and palely loitering;
The sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci of course, John Keats


That fourth line comes up so surprisingly short, I can't forget it.

by Bethanne on ‎07-31-2009 05:41 PM
Thanks, hysperia -- that is my earworm for tonight!
by rjsbooklady on ‎07-31-2009 06:19 PM

Nothing comes to mind right off the bat, but then I think of Emily Dickinson and how my 10th grade English teacher taught us that you can sing any of her poems to the Gilligan's Island theme song. Try it:


Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me...


Am also thinking of songs inspired by literature:"Rain King" by Counting Crows, "Oxford Comma" by Vampire Weekend...will be obsessing about this concept all weekend.

by Author LeeRhuday on ‎08-01-2009 01:03 PM
Literary earworms?  Not in prose, no.  With fiction I'm more inclined to remember how a particular line or passage moved me, without recalling the passage precisely.  But who can forget all that 8th grade poetry?  And the lines quoted above are sending me straight into the poetry stacks of my local Barnes & Noble (where I'm sitting this minute, testing out the new wifi program and lovin' it) before I head on to the next errand of the day.
by HVLong on ‎08-02-2009 02:38 PM

There are two literary earworms that will drive me nuts upon occasion:


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away


by Shelley 




  I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night


by Frost


Periodically, they pop into my head and won't go away. It's really, really aggravating when I'm writing.

by denaedae on ‎08-02-2009 05:16 PM

Frost does seem to be one of those persistently present "earworms"; I once memorized "Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same" and it kept popping up at unexpected moments.


Others that stick with me, more for their significance to me than the rythmic quality of the piece, are snippets like "in the gloaming almost invible, a dark purple-brown" from Bishop's "At the Fishhouses" (my favorite way to think of the Chicago twilight, actually), and in general Szymborska is always available for surprise poetry attacks in my daily life. 


One memorable time in high school while pushing my way through the crowd on the stairs I couldn't help but recall Longfellow's "A Psalm of Life" and the line: "Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!" Thankfully those high school days have been past for a while now but I'm glad Longfellow would jump to mind with that bit of advice.

by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎08-03-2009 02:09 PM

I used to get "O Captain, my Captain!" stuck in my head because someone set it to music and every men's choir/show choir everywhere decided to perform it for about 4 years running while I was in high school.  I like Walt Whitman, but this was a bit trying.


(on a purely music side, I got that Taylor Swift song about "You were Romeo/I was the Scarlet Letter" stuck in my head earlier this spring - and I loathe that song because it pretty much makes no sense!)

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