Friday, September 18, 2009

Word Clouds: U2's "The Joshua Tree"

Wordle is a website that analyzes any block of text to create beautiful word frequency diagrams. The larger the word, the more frequently it's used in the source text.

Since I've always been struck by the lyrics to U2's "The Joshua Tree," I decided to create a word cloud based on this album.

For those familiar with the album, it's not surprising to see so many of what I call "elemental words." These are the most basic words in the English language, and most would be understood very easily by English speakers living over 700 years ago. They're words like "rain," "eyes," "heart," "cold," "river," "stone," and "sky," and when used with style and invention, they work to form poetic works of striking directness.

These are the kinds of words used in the most memorable Bible passages, which isn't surprising coming from U2's primary lyricist, Bono. He's long been inspired by Biblical allegory. For "The Joshua Tree," he didn't write typical "let's party and get laid" songs. He wrote about feeling simultaneously lost and found across a harsh, yet beautiful landscape.

When a talented poet chooses monosyllabic "elemental words" such as these, the resulting work is timeless. It becomes understandable across generations, centuries, even millenia. It needs no annotation.

Though it has a few clunkers, at its best, "The Joshua Tree" speaks to the experience of being alive, not just being alive in 1987.

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