7 Songs That Reference Tortured Poets


Perhaps you have heard that Taylor Swift has a new album out today — just a wild guess! — and that it is called “The Tortured Poets Department.” That title alone generated chatter before anyone had heard a note, and it got me thinking about some of my favorite songs that reference poets. And so I filled my inkwell, put a quill pen to my chin and cried, “A playlist is in order!”

Though there are no Swift songs on this mix, it does feature the two poets she name-checks on her latest album: Dylan Thomas (in a shaggy ode written by Better Oblivion Community Center) and that most poetic of rock stars, Patti Smith. It is also significantly shorter than “The Tortured Poets Department” and its 15-song companion piece (known together as “The Anthology”), which, as I suggest in my review of Swift’s album, is not necessarily a bad thing. And no, my friends, this playlist does not contain any Charlie Puth.

It does, however, highlight songs by the Smiths, Bob Dylan, Lana Del Rey and more. Grab your favorite notebook, find a particularly pastoral patch of grass to lie in, and press play.

Keats and Yeats are on your side,

Lindsay


There are plenty of quotable lines on this jangly, stomping highlight from the sole album released by Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers’s side project, Better Oblivion Community Center, but I am partial to this one: “I’m getting used to these dizzy spells/I’m takin’ a shower at the Bates Motel.”

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How many people first learned that “Keats” didn’t rhyme with “Yeats” because of this song, from the Smiths’ 1986 album “The Queen Is Dead”?

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“And you read your Emily Dickinson, and I my Robert Frost,” Simon and Garfunkel sing on this perennial English teacher favorite, from the 1966 classic “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.” “And we note our place with book markers that measure what we’ve lost.”

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On this haunting and thoroughly poetic closing number from her 2019 epic “Norman _____ Rockwell,” Lana Del Rey likens herself to “24/7 Sylvia Plath, writing in blood on your walls ’cause the ink in my pen don’t look good in my pad.”

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“Relationships have all been bad, mine’ve been like Verlaine’s and Rimbaud,” Bob Dylan sings on this bittersweet song from his 1975 masterpiece “Blood on the Tracks.” Hopefully he’s exaggerating, since Verlaine and Rimbaud’s notorious, stormy affair ended when Verlaine shot Rimbaud and spent 18 months in prison for attempted murder.

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Greta Kline, who records as Frankie Cosmos, spies on a crush in this muted ditty from her 2016 album “Next Thing,” and wonders, “Is that Sappho you’re reading?” — perhaps asking, in a coded way, if the object of her affection is queer.

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Finally, poetry and rock ’n’ roll had never before swirled together as dizzyingly as they do on Patti Smith’s 1975 release “Horses,” especially this ecstatic nine-and-a-half-minute track. “Go Rimbaud!” she cries, shouting out one of her heroes as the song accelerates toward its climax. “And go Johnny go and do the Watusi!”

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“7 Songs That Reference Tortured Poets” track list
Track 1: Better Oblivion Community Center, “Dylan Thomas”
Track 2: The Smiths, “Cemetry Gates”
Track 3: Simon and Garfunkel, “The Dangling Conversation”
Track 4: Lana Del Rey, “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have — But I Have It”
Track 5: Bob Dylan, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”
Track 6: Frankie Cosmos, “Sappho”
Track 7: Patti Smith, “Land”


Thank you to Jon Pareles for selecting the entire Friday Playlist this week, while I paid my dues in the Tortured Album Reviewers Department. He chose one of my favorite Swift songs on the album — her duet with Post Malone, “Fortnight” — as well as fresh tracks from Claire Rousay, Arooj Aftab, Lucy Rose and more. Listen here.



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