An acronymic way into poetic analysis: the TPCASTT

My school colleagues are beset by Acronymic formulae to package their pedagogy, and its in that spirit that I devised the TPCASTT (Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitude, Shift, Title revisited, Theme) for my kids, using one of my American duos, They Might be Giants:

TPCASTT of song lyric

Song Title: “Birdhouse in your Soul” (1990) (video here) Lyricist:  Linell/Flansburgh

I’m your only friend

I’m not your only friend

But I’m a little glowing friend

But really I’m not actually your friend

But I am

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch

Who watches over you

Make a little birdhouse in your soul

Not to put too fine a point on it

Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet

Make a little birdhouse in your soul

I have a secret to tell

From my electrical well

It’s a simple message and I’m leaving out the whistles and bells

So the room must listen to me

Filibuster vigilantly

My name is blue canary one note spelled l-i-t-e

My story’s infinite

Like the Longines Symphonette it doesn’t rest

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch

Who watches over you

Make a little birdhouse in your soul

Not to put too fine a point on it

Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet

Make a little birdhouse in your soul

I’m your only friend

I’m not your only friend

But I’m a little glowing friend

But really I’m not actually your friend

But I am

There’s a picture opposite me

Of my primitive ancestry

Which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free

Though I respect that a lot

I’d be fired if that were my job

After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts

Bluebird of friendliness

Like guardian angels it’s always near

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch

Who watches over you

Make a little birdhouse in your soul

Not to put too fine a point on it

Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet

Make a little birdhouse in your soul

(and while you’re at it

Keep the nightlight on inside the

Birdhouse in your soul) REPEAT REFRAIN

TPCASTT:  Poem Analysis Method:  title, paraphrase, connotation, diction, attitude, tone, shift(s), title revisited and theme

Title 

Make an inference about what you think the poem might be about based on the title.

A “birdhouse” in someone’s “soul” could be a metaphor for a place of “inner” shelter–that is, a kind of mental “happy place.”

Paraphrase 

Paraphrase every 3-4 lines in your own words. This is where you are demonstrating your understanding of the literal meaning of the entire poem.

I’m a friendly nitelight in the shape of a blue canary and I wish to be a “safe place” for the “you” in the song. I am vigilant and won’t rest as I watch over “you.”  Opposite my wall placement is a picture of a lighthouse on a beach, and I acknowledge that I could never fulfill that large a function with my light. Instead, I will simply be your “bluebird of friendliness” and watch over you in the hopes that you will care for me, too. 

Connotation 

Identify at least three  literary/sound devices within the poem (simile, metaphor, personification, imagery, symbolism, repetition, alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme, rhythm), and explain what the lines mean.

metaphor/personification: speaker claims he is the “blue canary” night lite that “watches over” the beloved “you;” like a night lite, he is constant and bright. 

rhyme/rhythm: in the third stanza, the speaker adopts the staccato, rapid pace to boast, a la classic era rappers, of his prowess, and includes another allusion to that form in spelling out of a word.  In contrast to the rest of the stanzas in the song, The lines, “I have a secret to tell/From my electrical well/It’s a simple message and I’m leaving out the whistles and bells/So the room must listen to me/Filibuster vigilantly/My name is blue canary one note spelled l-i-t-e/My story’s infinite/Like the Longines Symphonette it doesn’t rest,”are delivered in short, strong sentences that put odd rhyming phrases in, like “Filibuster vigilantly,” which is another image of someone persisting for a very long time. 

simile: a “Longines Symphonette” is a musical form that the Longines watch company developed in the 1940s that strings several songs together in one “symphonette.” It may appear that the song can go on and on, infinitely; accordingly, the speaker claims that his “story’s infinite,” “like a Longines Symphonette,” it “Doesn’t rest.” In the same way, the speaker claims that his protective, friendly attention will not cease.

metaphors:  The speaker says he’s “leaving out the whistles and bells,” which is a way of saying that his expression will be direct and un-adorned or elaborate. Literally, there are no whistles or bells. And the literal light the speaker provides  is described as a story that the room will “listen to,” since it will not stop; it is described as something that will “filibuster vigilantly,” or continue for a very long period of time (since a filibuster is an endless speech, and a “vigil” is something that goes on through the night, like a nightlite).

allusion–The speaker describes his “primitive ancestry/Which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free” as something he “respect[s]… a lot,” but could never accomplish himself. Instead, he would have provided an inadequate signal to keep mainers like the legendary “Jason” and his “Argonauts” from dying “screaming.” Such an allusion to classical mythology helps make the relatively insignificant nightlite more meaningful to the intended audience, whom he promises to “watch over.”

Attitude 

Explain the tone of the poem, citing specific language choices that the poet uses. Remember that usually the tone or attitude cannot be named with a single word Think complexity.

The tone could be described as “friendly and playful,” on the basis of the central metaphor of the speaker as light and comfort-giver. The “playful”ness comes through in the speaker’s bragadocious rapper-style boasts in stanza three and his request that the beloved “say I’m the only bee in your bonnet,” which is said pleadingly, not demandingly, and is accompanied by higher intonations. 

Shift 

Explain how the speaker’s tone changes throughout the poem.

Look for:

  • Punctuation (dashes, periods, colons)

  • Stanza divisions 

  • Key words (but, yet, however, although)

  • Changes in word choice

The speaker’s admission, in the first and fifth stanzas, that he is not “really your friend at all” suggests a surprising shift: while the rest of the song asks for and implies a close relationship between him and the beloved “you,” this line suggests that the relationship may be entirely one-sided, which could make the speaker seem more like a stalker or voyeur than a “bluebird of friendliness.”

Title revisited 

Now look at the title again. What new insight does the title provide in understanding the poem?

Seen upon reflection, the title is acting on faith, like the builder of a birdhouse: one does not know if the birds will come and use the birdhouse when one builds it–the individual bird must decide to inhabit the space, which may or may not be important (“in [one’s] soul”) to the bird. Similarly, the speaker only hopes that the 

Theme 

Explain the meaning behind the poem (the “so-what”). What subject(s) does the poem address? What do you learn about those subjects? What idea does the poet want you take away with you concerning these subjects? 

One message that could be inferred by this lyric is that an attractive quality of a potential partner is his/her consistency, and if one advertises this quality, it may be recognized in a potential mate. However, since this quality is only seen over long periods of time, it is probably not the best quality to use in attracting a mate quickly; the consistant, constant potential mates are not flashy, and are not likely to draw attention.

The song could also suggest that people should keep sources of light (or hope) in their lives–however insignificant seeming (like a night lite)–protected.  It is the “birdhouse[s]” in people’s “soul” that contain sources of light that can sustain them when life gets rough.  These “light” sources, when kept safely in people’s “soul[s],” can endure for extremely long periods of time, like the “Longine Symphonette,” (also a watch that provides reliable timekeeping) or the lighthouses that shine constantly and keep navigators like “Jason” off of the rocks that would shipwreck them. Everyone, in other words, should have a little “birdhouse in their soul.”

Name ____________Sam Pull_______________ Title of   _____”Birdhouse in Your Soul”______ Period _____ Score _______

 

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