Anatomy of a song: 4 AM

Here is the process involved in creating the song 4Am which is loosely based on the Wislawa Szymborska poem of the same title.
You can listen to the song 4AM here:
This is her poem, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh:

Four A.M.

The hour between night and day.
The hour between toss and turn.
The hour of thirty-year-olds.

The hour swept clean for the rooster’s crowing.
The hour when earth takes back its warm embrace.
The hour of cool drafts from extinguished stars.
The hour of do-we-vanish-too-without-a-trace.

Empty hour.
Hollow. Vain.
Rock bottom of all the other hours.

No one feels fine at four a.m.
If ants feel fine at four a.m.,
we’re happy for the ants. And let five a.m. come
if we’ve got to go on living.

The way I began working with the text was to begin with the juxtaposition in the first stanza. I liked the idea of night vs. day, and toss vs. turn.  The image of 30 year olds being awake was an image I wanted in the lyric. My second system was my own, sprung forth from her words. I imagined a weary traveler trying to get some sleep on a train around this hour.

My first verse:

Night splits from the day
Toss shifts from the turn
30-somethings are awake

Light shines out for none
You’re sleeping on the train
we all fall down

For the Chorus, I noticed the rhyme in the original poem between embrace and trace.  I liked the idea of the world’s embrace.  Here’s how it turned out:

The world takes back it’s warm embrace
do we survive, or vanish without a trace?

In verse 2, I mainly used my own thoughts as furthering the themes of the original poem. There were ideas in the poem I wanted to use, such as the extinguished stars and rock bottom of the hours, that just didn’t fit in the meter of the lyrics I was working on.

Verse 2:

The dark feeds emptiness
and night loves loneliness
pacing back and forth

the sleep keeps you awake
the world is far and gone,
how much can you take?

The music as a whole has a sleepy sound to it, but I wanted the bridge to be strong.  Her poem ends with 5 A.M. arriving if we are to go on living.  I wanted to make a statement with 5 A.M., a sort-of let’s get on with it already.  Some people have asked why I used 5 o’clock in the lyric instead of 5 A.M., which is in the poem.  I chose those words because I liked the consonant sound of “sweep,” “sun,” “clock,” and “come.”  I felt that “let five a.m. come” would have been a bit of a letdown.


Sweep clean the hour, for the rising of the sun
Sweep clean the hour, let 5 o’clock come


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