Pop Culture Interpretations

Pop Culture Interpretations of Romantic Literature

Compiled by Melissa J. Sites and David Rettenmaier
for Romantic Circles Scholarly Resources
Latest Updates: January 2009

This bibliography lists 20th-century popular culture renditions, mostly pop song versions, of literature from the Romantic Period. This bibliography is is part of an array of related bibliographies including "Fictional Representations of Romantics and Romanticism" and "Responses to and Adaptations of Frankenstein".

The following list was generated by the NASSR-L Discussion List in January 2009:

  1. Pop

  2. Daniel Amos, Vox Humana (1984). Track: "William Blake"
  3. David Axelrod, Songs of Innocence (1968) and Songs of Experience (1969)
  4. Greg Brown, Songs of Innocence and Experience (1986)
  5. Finn Corren, The Blake Project: Spring (1997) and The Blake Project: Spring: The Appendix (1998). Two other Corren albums, The Echoing Green (1989) and Lovecloud (1999), are purportedly inspired by Blake but contain Corren's own lyrics.
  6. The Doors, The Doors (1967). "End of the Night" contains lyrics from Blake's "Auguries of Innocence": "Realms of bliss, realms of light / Some are born to sweet delight / Some are born to the endless night"
  7. Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Brain Salad Surgery 1973. Track: "Jerusalem".
  8. Kevin Hutchings, Songs of William Blake (2007)
  9. Jah Wobble, The Inspiration of William Blake (1996)
  10. Loreena McKennitt, Elemental (1994). Track: "Lullaby."
  11. Ed Sanders, Beer Cans on the Moon (1973). Track: "Albion Crags."
  12. Patti Smith, Trampin' (2004). Relevant track: "My Blakean Year." In addition to numerous other songs with Blake references, Smith has also published a book of poems entitled Auguries of Innocence (2005).
  13. Sparklehorse, London (1995). Relevant track: "London"
  14. Tangerine Dream, Tyger (1983)
  15. Anne Waldman, "The Garden of Love," Romantic Circles Poets on Poets Series
  16. William Blake and the Human Abstractions (January 2008). Began as a project for an art exhibit at Muhlenberg College. The resulting album includes "Spring," "The Sick Rose," "Night," "The Human Abstraction," "Chimney Sweeper," "The Ecchoing Green," "Ah! Sunflower," "Little Boy Lost/Found," "Infant Joy/Sorrow," "Hear the Voice of the Bard!" and an improvisational instrumental piece called "Wings of Fire" based on a student performance in the Gallery.
  17. Yong, Infinite EP (2008). Track: "Infinite"
  18. Classical

  19. William Bolcom, Songs of Innocence and Experience (2004)
  20. Benjamin Britten, Songs and Proverbs of William Blake (1996)
  21. Margaret LaFrance, An Island in the Moon (1983) with adaptations of "The Garden of Love," "Holy Thursday," "Nurse's Song," and "Little Boy Lost" in addition to adaptations of the text of "An Island in the Moon."
  22. John Tavener, Innocence (1995)
  23. Vaughan Williams, Ten Blake Songs & Linten Lea (1993)

    These entries were generated by the NASSR-L Discussion List during October 1999:

    Bruce Dickinson, Chemical Wedding (1998): "The Book of Thel," "Jerusalem," "Gates of Urizen."
    Bruce Dickinson , who used to be the lead singer for Iron Maiden in the 80s, has released several solo albums since; his Chemical Wedding has a LOT of Blake references on it; one song is called "The Book of Thel" and there are a couple others [including "Jerusalem" and "Gates of Urizen"] that are direct references to Blake. Might be worth a look for those of us interested in pop-cultural representations of Romanticism.--Gord Barentsen.

    The Fugs, The Fugs First Album (1965):"Oh, Sunflower," "How Sweet I Roamed from Field to Field"; Refuse to Be Burnt Out (1984): "How Sweet"; The Real Woodstock Festival (1995): "How Sweet," "Auguries of Innocence," "Nurse's Song"; Live from the 60's (1995): "Homage to Catherine and William Blake."
    Don't forget the Fugs ' recording of the Songs of Innocence and Experience (1974ish?) --Darby Lewes.
    On The Fugs First Album, rec. 1965 (tho I have some later reissue), they have not only Ed Sanders' tom-tom or bongo-backed setting for "Oh, Sunflower," but also "How Sweet I Roamed from Field to Field," that one done in a hilariously lugubrious Country/Western/yodelling setting. It works! Great group: too bad they couldn't carry a tune.--Carol McGuirk.
    Yes, "Ah Sunflower" and "How Sweet I Roam'd" on The Fugs First Album; a new version of "How Sweet" -- with a new singer with a beautiful set of pipes, Steve Taylor-- appears on their 1984 live reunion album, Refuse to Be Burnt Out, and another version on The Real Woodstock Festival (1995) -- which latter also contains their "Auguries of Innocence" and "Nurse's Song." On their Live from the 60's (1995) you'll find "Homage to Catherine and William Blake." They've also set poems by Swinburne ("Before the Beginning of Years") and Matthew Arnold ("Dover Beach"). So if your interest runs toward pornographic discordant atonal folk-rock, they're your band.--Jack Lynch.

    Allen Ginsberg, with Steven Taylor and Heather Hardy, Ginsberg Sings Blake: Songs of Innocence and Experience (Thin Air Video, 1998).
    There's a similarly hilarious yet "it works!" recording of selected Songs of I & E from about the same period by Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky--Ginsberg claimed Blake gave him the original tunes in a vision (or so I remember the jacket copy saying, back in 1973 when I lived in a house on Haight & Laguna that had this album in its group collection). Does anyone own this? I would *love* to have a tape--I just checked amazon.com and it doesn't come up. BTW this recording made such an impression on me that I can sing many of the tunes some 25 years later. . . . By chance, the New Yorker that just arrived has a piece on the auction of some of Allen Ginsberg's personal effects, with special attention to his harmonium (and mention of his Blake settings). It says that "Steven Taylor" was Ginsberg's main musical collaborator--is this the same as the neo-Fugs' Steve Taylor? If so, that's a nice tangle for our thread.--Alan Richardson.
    The same. The Fugs have often played with Ginsberg, and include a setting of (selections from) Howl on one of their early albums (well before Taylor joined them). Taylor's angelic tenor is a bizarre contrast to Ginsberg's voice and the cacaphony generated by the rest of the Fugs. I remember seeing Ginsberg and Taylor together in the late eighties, singing Ginsberg's setting of many of Blake's songs to the accompaniment of a harmonium.--Jack Lynch.
    A video of Ginsberg performing his Blake settings, with Steven Taylor and Heather Hardy (electric violin), entitled Ginsberg Sings Blake: Songs of Innocence and Experience, contains more than two dozen of the Songs (Thin Air Video).--Melissa Sites.

    It is probably not surprising that, among romantic poets, Blake has been especially popular with rock musicians. Bruce Dickinson's Chemical Wedding includes settings of several Blake lyrics, and Jah Wobble's Inspiration of William Blake does, as well. Van Morrison and Billy Bragg have included Blake among their lyrics, and folk-rock musician Greg Brown has issued Songs of Innocence and Experience, as did Allen Ginsberg some years ago. The most ambitious such project is the Norwegian rock artist, Finn Coren's 2-cd album, The Blake Project. He has continued to set more Blake material, and has a Yeats album out, as well, with another Yeats set on the way. I have been negotiating with the manager of our campus radio station to put together a show (or series of shows) about settings of Blake--it would be fairly easy to do an hour just on settings of "The Tyger," but I would prefer a wider variety, to include Britten, Vaughan Williams, etc., if possible. It sound 'too ambitious' to the radio guy, but . . . Tom Dillingham.
    Van Morrison's Blake is quite lovely.--John Isbell.

    Tangerine Dream's album Tyger [import] has various Blake songs on it.--Timothy Morton.

    Speaking of Pop-culture and rock versions of 19th-Century British literature, do people remember Kate Bush's version of Wuthering Heights? That always helped me to understand the appeal that book has for so many undergraduates (although I'm more a Jane Eyreperson myself). Bush's ethereal voice on the early album, "Kick Inside" worked quite well as a ghostly Cathy demanding to be let back in the window. I'm wondering whether people have ever used these renditions in class to talk about issues of interpretation or the forms interpretation might take? I've never used them myself, though I sometimes mention their existence as a way to suggest that this stuff isn't so high culture and distant as it sometimes feels to some students. Any thoughts about the pedagogical potentials here?--Miriam Wallace.

    Leonard Cohen, Dear Heather (2004). Track: "Go No More A-Roving"

    Nick Bantock, Kubla Khan pop-up book (out of print: Viking Penguin/Intervisual Books, Inc., 1994).
    Nick Bantock, author of the Griffin and Sabine series, has put together a beautifully realized little book in G&S style. Some of the --what's the word? Representations, I guess-- are haunting.--Megan O'Neill.
    The pop-up book is cool--very dark.--Steven Jones.
    A pop-up version of "Kubla Khan" is a great idea! I just finished talking with students about the effect of the verb "decree" in the second line -- the way it makes the dome seem to spring up by itself, without builders, almost as an effect of language. If I had only had the pop-up version of the text in hand!--Ted Underwood.
    As Steve mentions, the pop-up book has a very dark palette, as well as a dark atmosphere featuring images like bats, skulls and bat-winged pteradactyl-like skeletons. The pop-up dome that erects itself on the opening page is impressive. On the closing page is another dome that the reader erects, for a nice touch.--Melissa Sites.

    Hunt Emerson, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, comic version (Knockabout).
    Do we all know about the comic book version of Rime? It's a lovely, lovely parody, complete with an albatross that just won't die--it keeps climbing back up the side of the ship. Reminds me of R Crumb in a way--not that it's that violent but in its drawing.--Megan O'Neill.
    The comic book is by Hunt Emerson, who tells me it was inspired by MAD magazine parodies. It's brilliant. A few pages of it are available online as illustrations to a recent article by me, published in *Romanticism on the Net*: http://www.erudit.org/revue/ron/1999/v/n15/005872ar.html Also, it's out in a new edition in London (Knockabout Comics). Knockabout also has an efficient Website where you can order it [paper and hardback versions; look in their catalogue under "e" for "Emerson"]. http://www.knockabout.com/ --Steven E. Jones.

    Iron Maiden, Powerslave (1984): Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
    This will be old news to those 80's Hard Rock afficionados on the list, but the group Iron Maiden recorded a version of Rime of the Ancient Mariner on their Powerslave album in 1984. While I'm not a big Iron Maiden fan, this recording was fascinating to hear, and some of you might find it a useful tool in the classroom. I guess it was fascinating because of the contextualization the music brought to the words--I really can't describe it. The music has a rock opera sound that reminded me of Jesus Christ Superstar. It gave the poem a sort of science-fiction/fantasy feel as well. I'm not used to writing about music, so it's difficult for me to characterize--you're just going to have to go to the mall and sample the song for yourself. Pick up a black light while you're at the record store (that dates me)--I think it will enhance your listening experience).--Robert C. Hale.
    Maybe it would have helped if you'd have seen them perform the song live, which I have three times. They really got into treating this poem with lots of special effects, fog and a great bass solo. In fact Iron Maiden are the reason I got into Romantic poetry at all. After seeing the song live for the first time, and then listening to it on the album Powerslave, I went and got the actual poem, and from then on, I've been a die-hard Romantic. Although my tastes now run more along the lines of Byron and Shelley, and tend to agree with Byron about Coleridge, The Rime is responsible for my getting into British Literature in general.--Smokincat Jerrybear.

    Okay, I can't hold off blurting this out any longer...perhaps this is because I'm one of the few Canadians around here, but hasn't anyone else heard Rush's legendary Xanadu recorded in the 70s?--Gord Barentsen.

    The Wordsworth Trust issued a catalogue of its bicentenary exhibit at the Dove Cottage museum on STC's Rime, which includes some of the Hunt illustrations as well as samples from many other 19th-20th century illustrators and artists. The catalogue is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: The Poem and Its Illustrators, eds. Robert Woof and Stephen Hebron. The Wordsworth Trust, 1997. Mervyn Peake's illustrations in particular are the stuff nightmares are made on.--Richard Matlak.

    The Cure, B-side to "The 13th" (1996 single): Shelley's Adonais.
    For an unexpected musical setting of Shelley's Adonais, see the B-side to The Cure's 1996 single "The 13th." The cd has a wind-up panda on the front. A great song very much worth hearing. Additionally, the linernotes for their 1992 cd Wish featured the "We look before and after" stanza from "To a Skylark."--James Alexander.

    Krysia Kristian, The Tyger and Other Tales, (somewhat new-age-y and flimsy for my taste) includes "La Belle Dame,""Ozymandias," "Lady of Shalott," among others.--Tom Dillingham.