Author Topic: U2 lyrics and the structure of the psalms  (Read 548 times)

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Offline popsadie

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U2 lyrics and the structure of the psalms
« on: February 06, 2020, 07:14:19 PM »
It is hardly a secret that Bono has read the Psalms in the Bible. 40 is basically Psalm 40 1-3 verbatim, and he has been known to introduce Streets with Psalm 116 and Psalm 61. The end of Yahweh basically restates Psalm 51 (A broken and contrite heart oh Lord you will not despise), but I have never stopped to think about just how the Psalms may have influenced Bono’s lyrics, other than alluding to them. However, what I’ve learned about the structure of the Psalms in a bible study I’ve been participating in lately has got me thinking.

In this study over the Psalms, one of the things we have discussed is how parallelism is extensively used. Unlike the rhyming of sound that is predominant in modern songs, Hebraic songs were more likely to rhyme ‘meaning’ by balancing the sense and/or meter in two to four consecutive lines. Some common forms of a parallel structure are synonymous, contrasting and comparative. In synonymous parallelism, the same thought is repeated with different words. Contrasting parallelism contains two contrasting thoughts with parallel structure, and comparative parallelism compares one thing with another.   Perhaps that is the reason why I have started noticing how prevalent this device is in U2 lyrics and perhaps other popular songs as well.

Out of curiosity, I decided to go through some U2 lyrics in search of this mode and I discovered that it was a quite predominant lyrical device. Nearly every song I looked up contained it and many songs used it often. The entirety of the opening of Beautiful Day uses the device, “The heart is a bloom/shoots up through stony ground, There’s no room/No space to rent in this town..the traffic is stuck/you’re not moving anywhere”, and the more I investigated U2 lyrics the more I noticed this kind of ‘rhyming of meaning.’ Beautiful Day is far from the only example; The Unforgettable Fire uses it extensively “Ice/Your only rivers run cold, These city lights/ they shine as silver and gold, dug from the night/your eyes as black as coal, carnival/the wheels fly and the colors spin, a dry and waterless place”, and so does Bad “Lead your heart away/see you break away, into the light/and to the day”. I’m not sure why I haven’t noticed this before, but I found it intriguing and it made me wonder about why Bono seems to use this device so much in his lyrics. For me, it adds a meditative sense by prompting me to reflect on the prior thought. It is one thing to say that the heart is like a flower, but by restating it as ‘shooting’ up out of ‘stony ground’, it reminds me of the resilience of the heart; not only is the heart potentially beautiful, but it is able to live and thrive in harsh conditions, like rocky soil.

Repetitive and building sounds seem common in u2’s music and parallelism seems to be a lyrical parallel. Much like Bad’s baseline builds from a quiet and steady heartbeat into a passionate pulse, Bono’s lyrics often seem to use the device to extend and build meaning. Has anyone else noticed this in the songs of U2?

Offline fresno dave

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Re: U2 lyrics and the structure of the psalms
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2020, 10:19:17 PM »
Yes!  Great insight.
Since IO teach Bible, and have been a U2 fan since 1980, and a Bible fan since 1982 (LOL)..

I hear you.   I'll keep looking for more examples.

 Also love that Bono can use a reverse parallelism AKA chiasm.  It's not to common in the psalms, but it's all over the Bible.
You are not allowed to view links. Register or Login is a brief teaching video of mine about that for anyone interested.
The idea is an ABBA pattern (mirror image), not straight ABAB.
The first shall be last...
  • When the going gets tough....
  • I am stuck on Band-Aid...
  • It's not the size of the dog in the fight..
  • You should do unto others...

  • Lyric to "God Part 2: "The rich stay healthy and the sick stay poor."
    Notice that a regular parallelism would be "The rich stay healthy and the poor stay stick."

    The rich             stay           healthy and the
          sick             stay            poor.