National Poetry Month: Spotlight on Cole Porter

April is National Poetry Month and to celebrate this year, I am profiling Cole Porter.

I’ve always thought that some of the best poets were lyricists. They can pack so much meaning and beauty into simple and clever rhymes. The words of Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, Lorenz Hart, Irving Berlin and others resonate with us and form the background music of our lives. Before spotlighting Cole Porter, I just want to digress a moment to point out how well love can be expressed in just a few short lines by lyricists. Here is Ira Gershwin in “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”:

“The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No they can’t take that away from me

The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams
No they can’t take that away from me

We may never never meet again, on that bumpy road to love
But I’ll always, always keep the memory of

The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you changed my life
No they can’t take that away from me”

Ira Gershwin

Or how about the utter poignancy and devotion of these lines from Oscar Hammerstein in “Something Wonderful” from The King and I:

“He has a thousand dreams
That won’t come true
You know that he believes in them
And that’s enough for you
You’ll always go along
Defend him where he’s wrong
And tell him, when he’s strong
He is Wonderful”

Oscar Hammerstein

More humorously, but still capturing the essence of love, here is Hammerstein again from South Pacific:

“I’m as corny as Kansas in August,
High as a flag on the Fourth of July!
If you’ll excuse an expression I use,
I’m in love, I’m in love,
I’m in love, I’m in love,
I’m in love with a wonderful guy!”

Obviously I could go on and on. I love the poetry of music! Even song titles all by themselves sometimes are enough: “The Song is You” (Oscar Hammerstein), “The Song Is Ended But The Melody Lingers On” (Irving Berlin), “Can’t Help Lovin Dat Man” (Jerome Kern), “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Cole Porter)….

Let’s go now to Cole Porter, who I think can express love like no one else. Sometimes, he is just devastatingly clever. Take these lines from “You’re The Top”:

“You’re the top, you’re Mahatma Gandhi,
You’re the top! you’re Napoleon brandy,
You’re the purple light, of a summer night in Spain,
You’re the National Gallery, you’re Garbo’s salary,
You’re cellophane!”

Cole Porter

Just as often, his words are simple but beautiful. My very favorite Cole Porter song is “Night and Day,” written for the 1932 Broadway musical “The Gay Divorce” (which became the 1934 movie renamed “The Gay Divorcee” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers).

This song has been covered many times, by artists ranging from Billie Holiday to Ringo Starr to U2. To me, every stanza is absolutely perfect:

“Night and day,
you are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me, or far
It’s no matter darling where you are
I think of you
Day and night,

Night and day,
why is it so
That this longing for you follows wherever I go
In the roaring traffic’s boom
In the silence of my lonely room
I think of you
Day and night,

Night and day
Under the hide of me
There’s an oh such a hungry yearning burning inside of me
And this torment won’t be through
Until you let me spend my life making love to you
Day and night,
night and day!”

And now, the biggest treat of all: the inimitable Fred Astaire singing this song to Ginger Rogers from “The Gay Divorcee”:

(Stay for the dancing! It starts about 1:45 through the video)

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28 Responses to National Poetry Month: Spotlight on Cole Porter

  1. nymeth says:

    “I’ve always thought that some of the best poets were lyricists.” Agreed! I haven’t decided what to write about for the tour yet, but I just might borrow your idea and focus on a favourite lyricist…

    As always, your posts are an education. Can you believe I’d never paid much attention to Cole Porter’s lyrics before?

  2. They’re lovely lyrics. Can you get Jim to sing them to you?

  3. June says:

    Great post–and thanks for the video. I ❤ Astaire & Rogers!

  4. zibilee says:

    I have never thought about lyrics being a form of poetry, but it makes such beautiful sense, and reading the lyrics you posted makes me agree with that sentiment even more strongly. Very nice post today, Jill. I now have a hankering to listen to some of these songs.

  5. I really enjoyed your post. I had forgotten that April is poetry month.

  6. In many ways, a lyricist makes poetry very accessible. Great profile, Jill!

  7. Great post! People who say that they don’t like poetry often forget that their favorite songs are poems, too!

  8. melaniesmusingsnet says:

    Oh, I definitely agree that lyrics are very poetic.

  9. sagustocox says:

    I love your posts for poetry month…always something that gets the peeps thinking! Excellent. I love Cole Porter…you are just a romantic, aren’t you?!

  10. Harmony says:

    I love Cole Porter! And you actually listed my two most favorite Cole Porter songs, my most favorite is They Can’t Take That Away From Me, and second is definitely Night And Day. I can watch that clip of Fred and Ginger over and over again, I love it!

  11. Jeanne says:

    Sometimes I scoff at the “song lyrics are poetry” argument, like when the Norton Intro makes room in its crowded poetry section to include Tupac Shakir’s lyrics (I don’t have it here, so I’m willing to entertain the idea that some of his lyrics are great, but remember that the one they included last time I taught out of the Norton Intro didn’t strike me as crowded syllabus-worthy). So often I think of Steve Allen reciting the lyrics to a Beatles song—“you say goodbye. and I say hello. Hello. Hello. I don’t know why. you say goodbye. I say hello.” But with all that preface, darn if you don’t make a real good point here! Cole Porter’s lyrics are wonderful! Like a previous commenter, I’d never noticed them before. The lyrics to the first one–Can’t Take That Away From Me–actually brought a tear to my eye, because of something that happened to me recently. So yes, you’re right. I’m going to be looking at more lyrics much more carefully.

  12. *Sigh* So romantic! I agree with other commenters in that sometimes you just let the music flow over you without paying special attention to the lyrics. Thanks for writing them out – I’m gonna go listen to “Night and Day” now (one of my faves)!

  13. Toni says:

    Yay..I have to make my rounds. I love Serena’s Poetry month stuff. This blog post was a humongous treat! Thank you. I love love love The Gay Divorcee!!

  14. stacijoreads says:

    I absolutely love poetry is songs!! That’s my connection with poetry when it is paired with a melody!

  15. Cole Porter is one of my favorites. What a great way to get reluctant poetry readers interested. Music lyrics are perfect. This was a great post. Thanks! Where to tomorrow?:)

  16. You’re such a romantic! And that dancing….they make it look so easy…so graceful.

  17. Now that is my kind of poetry! It’s not something I would normally consider poetry too, so thanks for the reminder!

  18. Jenners says:

    Love your choice!! I could not keep from hearing all the different versions of the songs as I read the lyrics/poems. So amazing that this all came from the same guy.

  19. Excellent! It’s going to be a great month.

  20. stacybuckeye says:

    I’m not a poetry enthusiast, but I love the lyrics of beautiful songs and I loved that I started hunmming a few tunes as I read through your post 🙂

  21. bookingmama says:

    You found some great “poems” and I deeply appreciate adding a little beauty to my day!

  22. parrish lantern says:

    great post & loved this idea. here’s something from one of my favourite singer/songwriters – Tom Waits

    “9th & Hennepin”

    Well it’s 9th and Hennepin
    And all the donuts have
    Names that sound like prostitutes
    And the moon’s teeth marks are
    On the sky like a tarp thrown over all this
    And the broken umbrellas like
    Dead birds and the steam
    Comes out of the grill like
    The whole goddamned town is ready to blow.
    And the bricks are all scarred with jailhouse tattoos
    And everyone is behaving like dogs.
    And the horses are coming down Violin Road
    And Dutch is dead on his feet
    And the rooms all smell like diesel
    And you take on the
    Dreams of the ones who have slept here.
    And I’m lost in the window
    I hide on the stairway
    I hang in the curtain
    I sleep in your hat
    And no one brings anything
    Small into a bar around here.
    They all started out with bad directions
    And the girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear,
    One for every year he’s away she said, such
    A crumbling beauty, but there’s
    Nothing wrong with her that
    $100 won’t fix, she has that razor sadness
    That only gets worse
    With the clang and thunder of the
    Southern Pacific going by
    As the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet
    Till you’re full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin
    And you spill out
    Over the side to anyone who’ll listen
    And I’ve seen it
    All through the yellow windows
    Of the evening train.

  23. harvee says:

    I really like Broadway musicals! Good choices!

  24. Melwyk says:

    Love this post! You’ve really examined Cole Porter’s lyricism in a way that made me see it freshly. Lovely idea.

    I also enjoy seeing traditional poems being given a musical makeover, especially the poems that Loreena McKennitt sings. She keeps the integrity of the poem and yet makes into a masterful musical experience.

  25. Margot says:

    What a great reminder that some of the best poetry has been set to music. Thanks for the video too.

  26. wordcoaster says:

    I agree–lyricists are poets! To the naysayers–bad lyricists are just bad poets. They Can’t Take That Away From Me is one of my all-time favorites; thank you so much for getting it stuck in my head again! 🙂

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