I have spent a bit of time thinking about antithesis lately, perhaps prompted by a line from @Tofu4 in the exercises:

If you look up antithesis in any English textbook, chances are the first thing you’ll see is that opening paragraph from A Tale of Two Cities, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…’ etc. There is something incredibly effective about stating one thing followed by its opposite. This is perhaps to do with the fact that we love forming neat and tidy models, and these things have a balanced set of completeness to them, carving up the world cleanly into two slices.

I’m interested in exploring this construct in the world of songwriting. The obvious earworm has to be ‘You’re hot then you’re cold. You’re yes then you’re no. You’re in then you’re out. You’re up then you’re down.’ Perhaps Katy Perry is the Dickens of our time!

As I have been listening to songs I have noticed them pop up more and more, and they always seem to add some real icing sugar to the lyric.

Passenger has a song and hook called ‘Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea’, and in another song:

You’ve seen the sun rise on an ocean blue,
You’ve seen it set for the dearest of friends.

I’ve been listening to a bit of Dawes recently and found:

From the corner of a coffee shop
Or from the center of a stage
From the words used in a love note
Or from an empty page

Sometimes words don’t say enough
Sometimes silence says too much

Both just beautiful (in my opinion). This last one is clearly going a bit further by adding a spoonful of paradox into the mix.

I’d like to put it to the community, can you think of any nice antithetical couplets from the artists you love, or have you ever written any yourself? Or perhaps we should turn this into an exercise and see if we can craft some!

The first one that comes to mind for me is from REM “Losing My Religion”
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

In that same song, he says:
That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight

That has a similar feel because most of us associate the spotlight with being center stage. He also uses this one:
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing

Laughing and singing are not quite antithecal, but generally laughing is not melodic.

There is another one that I really like, it might be a little more of a stretch, but it I really like it (From Autumn to Ashes - “Kansas City 90210”:
Come for the weekend,
you’ll stay for the scenery.
Tear down the buildings,
Bludgeon the architech,
biased opinions for outdated intellect.

It sets up the tension through the use of opposites. Plan on a little trip, you’ll fall in love with the scenery, but eventually those things you found beauty in really tick you off and you want to destroy them and their creators.

Fiona Apple has a form of it, I think, in “Left Alone”:
My ills are reticulate
My woes are granular
The ants weigh more than the elephants

Describing her “ills” as a network, but her actual “woes” being small, discrete things, then, of course “ants” and “elephants”.

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