A Poetic Perspective on Atlas


May 5, 2009
Hey guys,
My fiance has a blog about cool writing and literary things (and other stuff, you guys should check it out!) But here's something she wrote about Atlas:

Slant rhyme and Greek mythology in Coldplay’s “Atlas”

In the band's newest single "Atlas," Coldplay uses an ABAB rhyme scheme, but interestingly, the Bs are slant rhymes that perhaps underscore the off-ness that the lyrics suggest. But there's still hope for this dismal scene . . .

Slant rhymes are odd fellows. A slant rhyme, or a near rhyme, is a rhyme in which the words sound much the same but do not rhyme perfectly like we might expect. For example, cold and old is a perfect rhyme, meaning the sounds of both words rhyme together exactly. However, cold and bolt would be a slant rhyme, since the words sound almost exactly alike, but differ in their ending consonant sound of "d" versus "t."

As it turns out, slant rhymes (in particular, those that differ in the consonant sounds of the words) are fairly characteristic of Coldplay. For example, the first stanza of "Paradise" contains two sets of near rhymes:

When she was just a girl
She expected the world
But it flew away from her reach
So she ran away in her sleep

(Both girl and world and reach and sleep sound similar, but end differently, creating slant rhymes.)

In fact, many of their Mylo Xyloto songs also include slant rhymes, such as "Hurts Like Heaven" (heaven, weapon), "Charlie Brown" (dreams, smithereens), "Us Against the World" (eyes, strikes), and "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" (gone, song).

In their new song "Atlas," the off-putting slant rhyme is a staple of the lyric structure and continues through both verses of the song, which is a new use of slant rhymes for the band:

Verse 1:
Some saw the sun
Some saw the smoke
Some heard the gun
Some bent the bow

Sometimes the wire
Must tense for the note
Caught in the fire
Say oh, we're about to explode

Verse 2:
Some far away
Some search for gold
Some dragon to slay
Heaven we hope
Is just up the road
Show me the way, Lord
Cause I'm, I'm about to explode

The regularity of the form drops off in this last part, but again, "Atlas" is one of their most extensive uses of slant rhyme in a single song. And what is the effect of it? The song sounds like a more traditional form, maybe even hymn-like at certain moments.

Yes, we know that something isn't right with the society painted here, because "Atlas" is part of the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. But the form itself sounds unresolved. Like the people "about to explode," who are stuck in this gun-, smoke-, bow-filled planet, the rhymes are on the verge and eventually lose their wits. Like this world where people hope for heaven, the rhymes are imperfect and leave something to be desired.

Who will "carry your world"? Atlas. He was the Greek god who personified endurance, and is often depicted with a globe on his shoulders. To get technical, he had to hold up the heavens to keep them separate from earth (as part of a punishment from Zeus), to carry the weight of the world, literally. Here's cheering for Katniss and the other rebels.