Direct Address Song Example: Sting

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 right?” Actually, it’s not. The speaker is talking to the object and the object isn’t talking back.

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, hearts talking, 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.

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

A run through my playlist surfaced “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 in their head, but uses the heart as focal point.

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.

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 the song he 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?

  • It’s clear from the beginning he’s speaking to himself. He uses 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. He uses an allusion. Using the line calls up the excitement of loving with abandon.
  • 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 the line “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.
  • The speaker is included in the song as the “I”. The speaker pursues knowledge and understanding of the situation (“I’ve been to every single book I know/to soothe the thoughts that plague me so”). The speaker doesn’t force 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.

As an exercise, try and find a few more direct address songs like this. You want songs with no “you,” but an “it” as the thing being spoken to. 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.

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