You have written a great tune with an interesting rhythm structure and a catchy vocal melody. You now need to write words to accompany your song. When I was a freshman in high school, I analyzed Rush’s “Force 10” off of the album Hold Your Fire. In the process, (with my Hold Your Fire t-shirt on and a poster of the three men I admire most hanging off the chalk board), I gave a speech about the eight literary devices that constitute well written poetry or lyrics. They are onomatopoeia, alliteration, similes, hyperbole, personification, rhyme, assonance, and metaphors.
I chose “Force 10” because it contained all eight literary devices and hence I received extra credit for my speech. I will define these literary devices and give examples.
Onomatopoeia is the first literary device used in the intro. Onomatopoeia is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes. The opening ahhh, an onomatopoeia, lasts for about 15 seconds. It sets the tone of the song as a song that requires endurance. The second device presented is alliteration. Alliteration is a literary or rhetorical stylistic device that consists in repeating the same consonant sound at the beginning of several words in close succession. “Tough times demand tough talk demand tough hearts demand tough songs demand… ” The repetition of the words tough and demand puts emphasis on the need to take control of any undesirable situation and turn it around for a favorable outcome.
Neil Peart immediately states the fallibility of the human condition with “We can rise and fall like empires, flow in and out like the tide”, which is a simile. A simile is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things, often introduced with the word “like” or “as”. He is comparing our ability to achieve and fail to the collective effort of an empire and to the intense strength of Mother Nature. He follows up his comparison with “Be vain and smart, humble and dumb, we can hit and miss like pride” to further emphasize how we can be “vain and smart” like the force of empires at their peak or humble and dumb when they are destroyed.
The next line, “We can circle around like hurricanes” is an example of hyperbole. When used as a literary device, hyperbole is an exaggeration that, while not intended to be taken literally, still describes a situation or image that is at least feasible or possible. This lyric emphasizes how we as humans can be disorganized and chaotic like a storm that sweeps through and destroys randomly. Or we can “Dance and dream like lovers” is the other side of the coin, which states that when we are happy; we express emotion with joy and creation. “Attack the day like birds of prey” again refers to tunnel vision accomplishment without regard to who may be hurt along the way. “Scavengers under cover” is the fear that we feel when we cannot provide for ourselves and be autonomous.
After the first two verses, the chorus states “Look in- To the eye of the storm.” It is the first example of personification. Personification is an ontological metaphor in which a thing or abstraction is represented as a person. Storms do not literally have eyes, but do have a focal point in which their force is the strongest as looking someone in the eye is most direct way to approach a person. “Look out-for the force without form”. The song goes on to caution us to be wary of our surroundings, “Look around- At the sight and sound, look in look out look around.”
In the third verse, there are examples of both rhyme and assonance. A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in two or more words (most often at the end of the phrase) and is most often used in poetry and song. Assonance is a refraining of vowel sounds to create internal rhyming within a phrase or sentence.
“We can move with savage grace to the rhythms of the night
Cool and remote like dancing girls
In the heat of the beat and the lights”
This verse emphasizes how we can be concealed within our own introspection. Focused on the music of nature, night rhymes with lights to give contrast between the natural rhythms of nature and the artificial lights of an enclosed club environment. “In the heat of the beat” is an example of assonance. This quickly sung lyric with internal rhyme shows an impulsive and emotional response to music.
The last verse compares “the rose of romance” to “an air of joie vivre” or “the joy of life” as a metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech concisely expressed by comparing two things, saying that one is the other. This comparison equivocates, a flower associated with love to the joyousness of life. Neil Peart elaborates on the comparison, “too tender hearts upon our sleeves” meaning that to love is to make one’s self vulnerable, and contrasts with the simile “skin as thick as thieves.”
The bridge is another example of hyperbole, “rising and falling at force ten, we twist the world and ride the wind.” Force ten is exemplified as being a force beyond our three dimensional existence as to literally twist the world would require power beyond our current knowledge.
I have used these literary devices to write my own songs. It is helpful to be aware of these techniques to write great lyrics. In a case of writer’s block, literary devices are fun tools to play with. For example, another Rush song that is specifically a play on literary devices is “Anagram.” In this song, Neil cleverly wrote it to be a play on words and the song is actually quite fluent. The chorus states, “There is no safe seat at the feast, take your best stab at the beast, the night is turning thin, the saint is turning to sin.” The chorus alone uses alliteration, metaphors, rhyme, and personification… Neil Peart shows the use of these devices will always appeal to the ear of the listener, and so, with all that being said, let us close with a thought… Let us not be misfits in the mist of our fits… Let us never challenge ever for a never ending end and receive what we believe we can achieve in our midst amidst the mist.