What is Personification?
It is the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something non-human, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.
Lyricists and musicians have a tendency to channel their innermost feelings into their songs; after all, good music always stems from the heart, so they say. Personification is a literary device which is liberally used by lyricists for the depth it lends to some seemingly-mundane words. It can be used to enliven a song, make it seem more meaningful, and if you happen to be a certain Taylor Swift, even throw some subtle shade at an ex-lover.
Lyrics of Songs With Personification
Bob Marley’s songs were all about rebellion, trying to wake his fellow countrymen into a state of awareness. His lyrics had numerous allegories and metaphors―a writer’s most brilliant means to spread a message without being persecuted. In this song lies an exemplary personification―’the high yellow moon won’t come out to play’.
New York, New York – FRANK SINATRA
These vagabond shoes
Are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York
I want to wake up in a city
That doesn’t sleep
One can only picture Ol’ Blue Eyes while listening to this comeback song of his, regardless of how many covers may have followed. As for the personification, you have several instances of those, from the ‘vagabond shoes’ to the ‘city that doesn’t sleep’.
Thank You – LED ZEPPELIN
And so today, my world it smiles
Your hand in mine, we walk the miles,
Thanks to you it will be done,
For you to me are the only one
This beautiful and romantic track by Led Zeppelin ranks among the band’s best songs. The lyrics are heartfelt and touching―characteristics of a true romantic. The abstract world has been lent a human quality―smiling, all under the name of love.
In most cases, we see how non-human, abstract objects are personified, giving them a human quality. In this song, however, we see how a non-human quality, ‘hummingbird heartbeat’ has been personified by attributing it to a human.
Careless Whisper – GEORGE MICHAEL
I’m never gonna dance again
Guilty feet have got no rhythm
Though it’s easy to pretend. I know you’re not a fool…
…Time can never mend
The careless whisper of a good friend
To the heart and mind, ignorance is kind
There’s no comfort in the truth, pain is all you’ll find
This song is full of personification – ‘guilty feet’, ‘time’ being expected to ‘mend’ mistakes, and ‘ignorance’ being ‘kind’. Human qualities, applied to non-human concepts.
Can You Feel The Love Tonight – ELTON JOHN
There’s a calm surrender to the rush of day
When the heat of a rolling wind can be turned away
An enchanted moment, and it sees me through
It’s enough for this restless warrior just to be with you
This beautiful, beautiful coming-of-age Disney song ranks among the best they’ve given us; and mind you, they’ve given us quite a few amazing ones. The lyrics are deep, layered, and meaningful, making excellent use of personification.
As wonderful and bountiful as nature is, it does sound better the way it’s described in this number by Madonna. ‘Wild’ and ‘free’ nature makes you picture a woman who’s as wild and free as Madonna herself.
Thriller – MICHAEL JACKSON
You try to scream but terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes
‘Cause this is thriller, thriller night
And no one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike
‘Horror’, an abstract concept, has been given the human quality of ‘looks you right between the eyes’.
Here Comes The Sun – THE BEATLES
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right
Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here
Seasons have always been personified by our poets and lyricist to great success. It can get a bit clichéd at times, when it’s always the winter that’s painted as the villain. Just like in this song by The Beatles, where they’ve personified it as the ‘lonely’ season.
Personification features heavily into this song, right from the title, which says, ‘your love is king’. A rather magnanimous way of describing love is to call it ‘king’, a symbol of superiority.