Songwriters As Poets

Posted on September 9, 2008

A poem may be a lyric, but a lyric isn’t necessarily a poem. Take, for example, the chorus of
the favorite Christmas carol:

GlO o-o-o-o O o-o-o-o O o-o-o-o O ria!
In excelsis Deo!
GlO o-o-o-o O o-o-o-o O o-o-o-o O ria!
In excelsis De-e-O!

This is one of the world’s great lyrics, but it’s a lousy poem.
Even though poetry and lyrics are not necessarily the same thing, this
doesn’t mean that lyrics can’t be poetic. Look at some definitions from the Encarta World English Dictionary:

• POET: Somebody imaginative or creative or who possesses great
skill and artistry and is able to produce beautiful things.

POETIC: having qualities usually associated with poetry, especially
in being gracefully expressive, romantically beautiful, or elevated and

• POETRY: literary work written in verse, in particular verse writing
of high quality, great beauty, emotional sincerity or intensity, or pro-
found insight.

• WRITING WITH POETIC EFFECT: a piece of writing that 
has the imaginative, rhythmic or metaphorical qualities and the in-
tensity usually associated with a poem.
Doesn’t that describe what you want your lyrics to be? Even simple worship
song lyrics, though usually not lofty, are often imaginative, metaphorical
and insightful. The best writers find unusual, surprising ways of saying

But be careful. In trying to make your lyrics poetic or lyrical, don’t lose
your clarity. Don’t get so “artsy” that you’re out there somewhere by yourself
in a galaxy far away. It takes work, but a good lyricist finds the right balance.

Matt Redman:
The church needs its poets—people who somehow congregation-
ally, biblically and relevantly translate all that’s happening around
them into words for the church to sing.  It’s a powerful thing when
songwriters rise up to help the people of God to voice their response
to Him.The challenge is not only to reflect what people want to and
should say in a biblical way, but to do it in a language they can relate
to. The aim is to use contemporary language and remain biblical and
poetic. On one extreme we become too ‘religious’ sounding, and the
other extreme too ‘colloquial.’

To be a poet is to try and continually bring freshness to our lyrical
worship in song. We must aim to stay on a creative learning curve,
consciously not using words we’ve used too many times before or
falling back into the same old pattern each time we compose a song.
The poet is always aiming to say old things in a new way—or as
Brian Doerksen puts it, universal themes in a unique way. This is part
of the calling of a songwriter.

This article is an excerpt provided by GOD SONGS
How To Write And Select Songs For Worship. Visit to Purchase.
Copyright © 2004 by Paul Baloche, Jimmy and Carol Owens
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without permission.