Sensory Lyrics: Images We Can See and Feel and Hear

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 19, 2010

Some words are bigger than others, not in their length but in the power of the images and emotions they convey: flame, consume, passion, burning, kingdoms, thrones, thunder, lightning, shining, light, glory. Words like these take us out of our day-to-day existence and into another place. 

Not every lyric can make us see or feel or hear something so vividly, but when you can make it happen, it adds extra punch to your song. Let’s pick apart the lyric of Paul’s song, “The Way” It’s full of images and sensations. 

Verse 1 goes: 

The way the sun breaks through the clouds 

Beams of light shining all around 

The way the ocean meets the sand 

Waves of blue come crashing in 

Then he contrasts these large, bright and noisy images with two close and personal ones: The way a mother holds her child.The way You make me smile 

The chorus goes: 

I see You, I feel You 

Like the wind against my face 

I hear You, I’m near You 

In every step I take 

I want to follow You more and more each day 

‘Cause You are the way 

You are the way 


In verse 2: 

The way the thunder shakes the earth 

Lightning strikes and shouts your worth 

The way the seasons come to pass 

Shows my heart Your faithfulness 

The way the morning star returns 

The way the fire burns 

This is a powerful lyric because it involves more of our senses than just hearing. Notice also the organization of the lyric: 

• Eight times throughout the verses Paul opens lines with “The way ... ,” and he uses those words to close the chorus. He also starts five lines in the chorus with the same word, “I.” Starting successive lines with the same words is a poetic device called anaphora, and it gives a sense of orderliness to a lyric. 

• Notice also the use of parallelism: I see ... I feel ...I hear ...I’m near. What if he had said,“I see you, it’s you I feel?”Duh. Not only would he have lost his inner rhyme, but he would have lost the sense of unity and cohesion. 

• Each verse paints picture after picture, then the chorus personalizes it: How do I feel about these things? What is my reaction? What am I going to do about it?  The obvious response: I want to follow You...

 Neatly done. 

(Look at him standing there, redfaced, toeing the ground and saying “Aw, thanks, guys.” While we’ve got him embarrassed, let’s embarrass him a little more by analyzing another of his lyrics.) 

Here is the chorus of Paul’s up-tempo song, “All the Earth Will Sing Your Praises.”  Look at all the devices he’s used here—short, punchy lines; repetition of words, rhythms and melody; anaphora; alliteration; parallelism. The verse expands on the theme and sets up the chorus, which goes: 

You lived 

You died 

You said in three days you would rise 

You did 

You’re alive! 


You rule 

You reign 

You said you’re coming back again 

I know 

You will 

And all the earth will sing your praises 

All the earth will sing your praises! 

Short, punchy phrases like those might seem out of place in a slow ballad, which needs long, flowing lines to achieve its effect.  Either can be successful. 

• One day every voice on earth will praise You. There will be shouts from the mountaintops and deserts, songs from the islands and cities, and the whole earth will be full of Your glory. As for me, well, I can’t wait for everybody else.  I’m going to start now, so that when I do it then, I will be rehearsed and ready. (Isaiah 42:10-12) 

• Paul’s line in “The Way,” “Lightning strikes and shouts your worth” is an example of personification, attributing human characteristics to something inanimate. Jimmy once wrote: I hear His thunder speak across the plain To call the raindrops that nurse the tender grain. 

Speaking of larger-than-life pictures, let’s look at some hymns. We hear hymns so often, we sometimes forget how good they are. One of our favorites is, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” by Charles Wesley. Listen to the emotion of the opening lines: 

O for a thousand tongues to sing 

My great Redeemer’s praise, 

The glories of my God and King, 

The triumphs of His grace. 

The music builds, undergirds and lifts the words so beautifully that we begin to experience what’s in the writer’s heart: praise so deep that it would take a thousand languages to express it. The fourth verse is glorious, as well: 

Hear Him ye deaf; His praise ye dumb 

Your loosened tongues employ; 

Ye blind, behold your Savior come; 

And leap, ye lame, for joy. 

Can’t you see it happening? The writer has not simply given us information; he has transmitted his emotion to us and he has shown us something. He has used specific, active verbs (emphasis ours) and has given us a sensory experience: we can see it and hear it. 

Walter Chalmers Smith has given us some of the most brilliant picture phrases in all hymnody: 

Immortal, invisible, God only wise 

In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes 

These are big, dramatic, glorious words—no long convoluted sentences here, just quick, explosive bursts. A worship song by Bill and Gloria Gaither even gives us a line we can smell—it tells us the name of Jesus is “like the fragrance after the rain.” A fresh and original simile.

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