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Direct Address: Sting “Be Still My Beating Heart”

Direct Address: Sting “Be Still My Beating Heart”

I’m currently helping a friend with a set of lyrics, and something very interesting came up. The song is direct address, but not to a person.

I know, you’re thinking, “OK – that’s personification and at some point will just end up being either really bad, or really funny.”

 

Direct Address & Personification

 

Direct address to an inanimate object will often lead to personification.  So what is personification?

It’s when a writer gives a physical characteristic or quality of animation to an inanimate object, or to an abstraction. For example, trees waving, moons laughing, eyes singing, etc.

Often, they don’t work because the writing around them becomes cliche or fights against the credibility of what’s being said, and often where there’s one, there’s many – making the situation even worse.

So naturally, I thought finding a song with direct address to an “it,” for lack of a better phrase, would be impossible. I was wrong!

I began with a run through my song catalogue and in the Bs was a song called “Be Still My Beating Heart” by none other than the master himself, Sting.

If you’re not familiar with the song, it’s a direct address (or second person) lyric to his heart.

These are tough to write, because everyone knows your heart doesn’t have ears and can’t really hear anything you’re saying. It works primarily because – the speaker is really just talking it out, but uses the heart as a substitute for themselves.

 

Why The Song Works!

 

The first passage is composed of two verses, a lift, and a chorus (of sorts). Sting is an exceptional song writer (one of my personal favorites), and he is a master craftsman when it comes to language use, and repetition in particular as a device.

You’ll notice the first line “Be still my beating heart” starts the second verse, ends the chorus (repeats 4X), begins the fourth verse, ends the pseudo-chorus at the end of the same verse (repeats 4X), then ends the song (repeating multiple times). It’s an interesting device he uses to great affect. In this song it mimics a heart beat’s repetition, which tends to give the song more power, but it also serves to ground the song since the structure isn’t a straight verse, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus construction.

Let’s take a closer look at the first “passage,” which is used in deconstructed pieces throughout the remainder of the song, and focus on personification – or lack of it.

Note: The verse and chorus designations are mine, as well as the punctuation, and are placed within the lyrics to emphasize the song construction for the purposes of this discussion.

 

Sting: Be Still My Beating Heart

 

So how does he avoid the comic image of a sobbing heart?

  • He makes it clear from the beginning he’s speaking to himself by using a line we’ve all said to ourselves or heard someone say to themselves. By using a cliche, he’s given us a universal scene without having to explain it. We know people recite such a line because they are trying to manage, even control their actions, but realize “the heart” has its own tendencies; i.e., to love with abandon, to be drive one to foolishness, to compel one to loose all sense of self.
  • He never gives “his heart” attributes beyond the speaker/singer’s own circumstances. For example, it’s not singing or leaping from anyone’s chest. Sting uses a phrase like “it’s not healthy to run at this pace/the blood runs so red to my face” to ground the song in the literal. Because, if your heart beats too fast, that is literally what happens.
  • He also includes the speaker/singer in the song as the “I” who pursues knowledge and understanding of the situation (“I’ve been to every single book I know/to soothe the thoughts that plague me so”) versus forcing the “heart” to discover these things or take an action like soothing one’s thoughts. After all, who would believe seeing a heart sitting in a library perusing the stacks? Now that would be funny. And since funny clearly isn’t his intention, he avoids it by including the bearer of the heart and true central character of the song “I” in the action.

As an exercise, try and find a few more direct address songs which do not include a “you,” but an “it” as the person/thing being spoken to and determine what works and what doesn’t. Just in case you can’t find one, another great example is “Darkness, Darkness” written by Jesse Colin Young.

 

“Be Still My Beating Heart” Lyrics

VERSE
Be still my beating heart.
It would be better to be cool.
It’s not time to be open just yet:
A lesson once learned is so hard to forget.

VERSE
Be still my beating heart,
Or I’ll be taken for a fool.
It’s not healthy to run at this pace:
The blood runs so red to my face.

CHANNEL
I’ve been to every single book I know
To soothe the thoughts that plague me so.

CHORUS
I sink like a stone that’s been thrown in the ocean.
My logic has drowned in a sea of emotion.
Stop before you start.
Be still my beating heart. (repeat 4X)

 





One Comment

  1. Great job! That’s one of my favorite Sting songs. Not only is it masterfully written, but wonderfully performed and recorded.

    You know your stuff!

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