Lyrically Speaking: “Places We Won’t Walk”: Part One

Sometimes you hear a song and feel such a connection that you just have to find out why it got you so good. How did it do that to me? And the search is on. Wherever you look, you’ll find clues to why you got so hooked. Useful information for you, a songwriter, since you’re trying to do the same to your listeners.  

Bruno Major’s “Places We Won’t Walk,” immediately hooks us with its stunning use of sense-bound language, accounting for a good deal of its impact. Major’s words are full of our stuff, our sense memories. We could spend our time just looking there, but I want to look instead at three supporting aspects of this gem: its use of metaphor, its use of structure, and its use of sound. We’ll cover the first two here, the third in the next issue. 

“Places We Won’t Walk”  

Bruno Major 

Sunlight dances off the leaves,  

Birds of red colour the trees,  

Flowers filled with buzzing bees,  

In places we won’t walk. 

Neon lights shine bold and bright

Buildings grow to dizzy heights

People come alive at night

In places we won’t walk 

Children cry and laugh and play

Slowly hair will turn to gray

We will smile to end each day

In places we won’t walk 

Family look on in awe

Petals decorate the floor

Waves gently stroke the shore

In places we won’t walk 

Children cry and laugh and play

Slowly hair will turn to gray

We will smile to end each day

In places we won’t walk 

If you listen to the song, you’ll hear section three changing musically, marking it as the chorus, though it has the same structure as the verses. (A risky strategy, but it pays off, making an interesting comment: nothing will change for us.) The chorus idea moves from the verses’ specific scenes to the chorus’ picture of a life span. The refrain keeps pounding away, repeating at the end of every section. 

Metaphor 

The refrain, in places we won’t walk, can be quite literal. It can also rise to the level of metaphor by expanding and projecting the meanings of place and walkThe first verse lists images from nature, a place where we could reasonably walk, and the images we might reasonably see.   

Sunlight dances off the leaves,  

Birds of red colour the trees,  

Flowers filled with buzzing bees,  

In places we won’t walk. 

This refrain “drops the anchor.” It gives the refrain its most literal meaning, preparing for a more metaphorical use later. It grounds the meaning: we won’t walk through nature together. We won’t walk in the city either. 

Neon lights shine bold and bright

Buildings grow to dizzy heights

People come alive at night

In places we won’t walk 

So far the refrain is literal but contains the accumulated ideas, “we won’t see beauty together; we won’t find excitement together.” 

Then comes the next section, which is being treated as a chorus both musically and by being repeated. 

Children cry and laugh and play

Slowly hair will turn to gray

We will smile to end each day

In places we won’t walk 

Now places we won’t walk becomes metaphorical since the list covers a lifespan— having children, growing old together—rather than physical spaces. You only walk through life metaphorically. Life is only a place, metaphorically. 

In the third verse, perhaps a wedding scene near the ocean, the literal sense of places we won’t walk is re-established, but now with the added metaphorical overtones of the significant life events we’ll miss: 

Family look on in awe

Petals decorate the floor

Waves gently stroke the shore

In places we won’t walk 

Then the repetition of the chorus: we’ll be missing everything. The accumulation of images, pictures of what we might have had together, finally breaks our hearts. 

Children cry and laugh and play

Slowly hair will turn to gray

We will smile to end each day

In places we won’t walk 

In places we won’t walk takes its fullest meaning here, as it should. It makes us feel the most emotion. And the refrain is wonderfully ambiguous: on the one side, it sets up an alternate universe, where the people we could have been together are smiling to end each day. On the other side, the real we, separately, are left at the end of each day thinking (with a sad smile) about what could have been had we stayed together…  

Structure 

Let’s take a look at architecture. The rhyme scheme is aaax, used in all five sections. Its effect creates interesting prosody: 

Sunlight dances off the leaves,  a 

Birds of red colour the trees, 

Flowers filled with buzzing bees,  a 

In places we won’t walk.

The unrhymed last line leaves the structure unresolved, just like the relationship.  

Supporting the rhyme structure, there are three tetrameter (four-stress) lines, followed by a shorter, tri-meter (3-stress) final line, reinforcing the aaax pattern with its stress pattern 4443.  

rhyme scheme    # stresses 

Súnlight dánces óff the léaves,  a 4 

Bírds of réd cólour the trées,  a 4 

Flówers fílled with búzzing bées,  a 4 

In pláces wé won’t wálk. x 3 

As a result of this structural double whammy, each section is bound to feel, to some degree unstable: the groups of three (aaa, 444) ask for both a balancing fourth long-e sound and a fourth tetrameter line. Refusing the match, the last line not only fails to rhyme but falls one stressed syllable short of the expected 4th-stress, the rhyming position.  

That’s what makes it feel so unstable. The instability of the structures supports and colors the images and metaphor, adding an unsettled feeling to the mix. Adding a sense of loss: it just doesn’t feel right…  

Motion creates e-motion. But you knew that. 

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