Music as Poetry: The King is Dead

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As I have mentioned before, The Decemberists are one of my favorite bands of all time. I consider my devotion to or admiration of a band to be serious when I start to buy merchandise pertaining to that band. I already have a Decemberists button featured on my purse and a Decemberists t-shirt. I’m pretty serious about them.

So, the Decemberists recently released a new album called The King is Dead and it’s truly superb. I know I’ve talked about it before in my previous music as poetry posts, but I consider poetical music to be music that is clearly written with purpose and that the artists have taken time to develop. I consider the Decemberists to be a perfect example of the poetical musicians. Colin Meloy, songwriter and lead singer for the band, has a poetry background and that definitely shows up in his songs. As such, I consider the Decemberists’ new album to be a perfect subject for today’s post.

All of the songs on The King is Dead album are worthy of a poetic analysis, but I consider the fourth track, “Rox in the Box” to be one of the most lyrical songs with poetic wording. One of the things I find most interesting about this song is that, upon first glance, it seems childish because of the “r-o-x” spelling of the word “rocks.” But when you listen to the song, the rhymes and the melody are highly sophisticated.

Rox in the Box by the Decemberists

Get the rocks in the box
Get the water right down to your socks
This bulkhead’s built of fallen brethren bones

We all do what we can
We endure our fellow man
And we sing our songs to the headframes’ creaks and moans

And it’s one two three
On the wrong side of the lee
What were you meant for?
What were you meant for?
And it’s seven eight nine
You get your shuffle back in line

And if you ever make it to ten you won’t make it again

And you won’t make a dime
On this gray Granite Mountain Mine
Of dirt you’re made and to dirt you will return

So while we’re living here
Let’s get this little one thing clear
There’s plenty of men to die; you don’t jump your turn


My favorite line in this song, by far, is the alliterative last line of the first stanza: “This bulkhead’s built of fallen brethren bones.” The first time I heard the song, that’s the line that stuck out to me the most. Whenever I listen to any Decemberists song, I get the feeling that they have a way of fitting the words perfectly into the ins and outs of the melody of their song. It’s as though the words and the melody are Lego blocks or a plug and outlet combination and they know how to fit the words in just right so that the lyrics and melody match and fit together. That’s how I feel with this line, they fit all of those complicated and unique words into the line and they did so successfully.

The song itself is reminiscent of miners and the melody of the song matches that theme. There’s something about the use of the fiddle that harkens back to the mountains and hinterlands of America when the country was first beginning. The fiddle also creates a slightly ominous tone for a song that’s about a dangerous profession and includes the lines, “if you ever make it to ten you won’t make it again,” and “Of dirt you’re made and to dirt you will return.”

Overall, I just feel that this song is pleasing to the ear and was written with a poetic feel in mind. I honestly feel that about all of the Decemberists’ songs and highly recommend their new album, The King is Dead, to anyone.

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

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