Teaching the Beatles as poets

Susan Peterson, Curry College, the United States



The Beatles’ lyrics provide students with a window into the chaotic milieu of the 1960s: the war and the peace movements, the power of civil rights action, the annihilation of authoritarian structures, and the disintegration of social mores. Yet beyond that, their lyrics are timeless poetry that informs contemporary events and conveys the kaleidoscope of experiences and emotions that compose the human experience. In this course, the Beatles lyrics are interwoven with poetry from across the ages, and students learn to compare and contrast the lyrics with this poetry. For example, the work of the English Romantic poets especially lends itself to these comparisons, since the Second Generation Romantics were the “rock stars” of the early nineteenth century. One important aspect of this course is to look beneath the surface of the words – to discover what is being said that is not apparent without careful scrutiny and knowledge of both the authors and their times. The mechanics of poetry are subtle aspects of the course; these are taught in conjunction with the poetry, rather than as separate topics. Through this course students gain a myriad of skills; they learn to appreciate the Beatles’ lyrics as poetry and thus all genres of music lyrics as such. Finally, they come to understand that poetry is a ubiquitous part of their lives, and ultimately, a valuable guide to understanding both their interior and exterior worlds.

Keywords: Beatles, lyrics as poetry, Romantics