Pages Navigation Menu

Start With Something That's True

Van Morrison “Before The World Was Made”

Van Morrison “Before The World Was Made”

Van Morrison has written some of the most iconic songs on the radio.

I don’t think you can go through a day without hearing “Brown Eyed Girl” at least once. Maybe twice if you’re in Taos NM or a specialty shop in Colorado.

Too Long In Exile is one of my favorite albums. It’s blues and poetic imagery that meld into a full picture of a songwriter’s tumultuous life through bad contracts and love.  If you want to study songwriting, it’s and album you should own.

His adaptation of William Butler Yeats’ “Before The World Was Made” into a blues tune is artful.

And, if you were unfamiliar with the poet, you would never know that the language was from something written in 1933.  That’s the power of melody in songwriting.


Why The Blues Is The Perfect Choice


Van Morrison’s selection of the blues as a genre to convey more poetic language isn’t an accident.

The blues is a genre that, unlike other genres, doesn’t use common meter (the “Mary had a little lamb” sound) – or 4 stresses per line.  You can hear them on the first syllable of “Mary,” “had,” the first syllable of “little” and on “lamb.”

Notice in Steve Ray Vaughn’s “Mary Had a Little Lamb” how there’s a space at the end of the line, almost an extra few beats?

Because Vaughn’s trying to fit a 4 stress line (common meter) into a genre that tends to have 5 stresses in a line he’s got some space left over!  Most poetry has 5 stress lines.  He just happened to pick the form that doesn’t!

So how does Van Morrison use his poetry knowledge to create a song from a poem?


Before The World Was Made: Poem
william butler yeats & van morrison

If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity’s displayed:
I’m looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.

What if I look upon a man
As though on my beloved,
And my blood be cold the while
And my heart unmoved?
Why should he think me cruel
Or that he is betrayed?
I’d have him love the thing that was
Before the world was made.


Before The World Was Made: The Song


The poem itself is from a woman’s perspective, so he changed it slightly to sing from his own – but what a great adaptation.

And, it illustrates that “plain” language isn’t always required to create the beautiful experience of a song.



More Articles About Poetry & Poems

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.