Emily Dickinson/Yellow Rose of Texas/Somebody slap me, please

We’ve all heard that almost all of Dickinson’s poems can be sung to the tune of “Yellow Rose of Texas.”

It’s almost 6 in the morning and it’s been a loooooong night with nothing going on so I wander over to www.online-literature.com to while away these last couple of hours of my shift but whenever I try to read one of La Emily’s poems my brain insists on singing it to me. To the tune of “Yellow Rose of Texas”.

It’s disconcerting.

Have any other poets been so inextricably linked with cheesy songs?

No we haven’t.
The part of “we” that’s Me hasn’t, at least, and I’ll bet there are others, as well.

If the Dpe Board teaches us anything, it should be that there are otherwise well-educated and well-read people who have somehow missed out on something that “everyone knows”.

How could you not know that? Did you not watch Babylon 5?

“The Yellow Rose of Texas” is more or less straight iambic heptameter – it’s going to correspond with poems of the same meter, and there are a whole lot of them. Had Shakespeare’s foolscap been slightly wider, you might be doing the same thing to a lot of his sonnets: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day thou art more and/More temperate…” and so on. You can also find a lot of poems in anapestic tetrameter: sing them to “I feel pretty,” from West Side Story.

But don’t worry. Scansion of Emily Dickenson’s work yields lots of other patterns as well, including the one presented on the front page of Dickenson’s section in your link, “Wild Nights.”

You’re right, though. Having any meter reinforced so rigorously in your mind is going to spoil most poetry, because most poets choose their language to do more than just scan.

To change it up, you could try singing them to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme.

Or maybe “America the Beautiful.”

Hope that helps.

You can also sing Dickinson’s poetry to any number of hymns. IIRC, hymns were her model for poetic meter.

What a few friends and I did back in school was sing the names of organic compound to “The Irish Washerwoman.” It works very well.

Isaac Asimov found it so as well. He used to tell a story of doing it (I forget which compound’s name he was uttering) and having a (presumably Irish-American) woman tell him, “Oh! You know it in the original Gaelic!” And maybe that’s what it sounded like.

Scansion helps memory – it just works, and that’s why people use it, and remember it, and pass it on when it does.

One quibble – American hymns are all over the place, meter-wise, and always have been. It’s no more likely that Emily Dickenson drew her patterns from them than from the poetry she read throughout her life. There aren’t an infinite number of either, after all.

I wrote a poem for my English teacher last week about my hatred for Emily Dickinson. She loved it, said I should get it published. I thought it was pretty stupid but kind of fun to mess with punctuation and capitalization. I’ll post it if someone wants.



I used to sing it to the kids. They thought it was Irish.

When I was in seventh grade, our class was studying Longfellow’s poem The Song of Hiawatha. I noticed that its meter was such that (given a few liberties) it could be sung to the tune of The Marines’ Hymn.

To this day, I cannot hear “From the halls of Montezuma…” without thinking “By the shores of Gitchee Gumee…”

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” scans perfectly to the “Gilligan’s Island” theme music.

I often wish I didn’t know that.

Oh, my gosh, you’re right! That’s hilarious! Thanks for pointing it out. Now another classic poem will always have a soundtrack in my head.

Since I don’t know “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” I always used “Oh Suzannah” in its place.


Ok, who wants to ruin “The Lady of Shalott” for me? :mad:


My fave in this category is singing Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” to the tune of “Hernando’s Hideaway.” (The Doxology can also be sung to this tune.)

By gum, that’s it all right: I recognize it now that you’ve given it to me. If it’s not an imposition, can you tell me, in which of Asimov’s books did I read the story? I thought it was Fact and Fancy, but apparently not, and I don’t think it’s in his joke book (forgot the title, lost it long ago) either, and I’m not finding it in his Intelligent Man’s Guide to… books. Used to be, if I could remember something I could also remember where I got it. Not a good sign, at all, at all.

It was one of his “explain science” books, not a joke book, sci-fi book, … 1960’s vintage, let’s see… View from a Height by any chance?

Some years ago, I heard (probably on this board) much the same thing about Greensleeves. Since then, I’ve yet to find a song or poem which can’t be sung to that tune (with some occasional stretching).

Everytime I read The Unquiet Grave I hear it to the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

It’s not a big deal, unless it’s really bugging you. Furthermore, Yellow Rose of Texas is actually a very nice tune. I mean, it wouldn’t be nice to have it stuck in your head for very long, but as a song it’s delightful. I swear, when people bring out this chestnut they talk like they’re ashamed to admit they even know the tune.

As I read Tennyson’s Locksley Hall for a college class, I realized it could be sung to the tune of this favorite.