A Close Reading of 'Looking for America,' Part 2

20 July 2023

In today's Everyday Grammar, we finish our discussion of the 2019 song, Looking for America, by singer Lana Del Rey. By making a close reading of the song's words, we will understand more about its sounds and structure.

What is a close reading?

A close reading is a deep reading of a story. Works of literature such as poems are often the object of close readings. These can include the words to songs. The aim is to understand the writer's intentions by looking closely at the details. Last time, we considered the grammar and cultural elements of the song. This time we will talk about the poetic devices and the syllable structure of a few lines.

A Close Reading of
A Close Reading of "Looking for America," Part 2

Del Rey uses many poetic devices to strengthen what may be thought of as a simple song. Let's take a look.

Rhymes and alliteration

Rhymes are made with two or more words that end in the same sound. Lines two and four share a similar vowel sound, /ai/, with the words "line" and "time." Although they do not end in the same consonant sound, they still rhyme. This rhyming of similar vowel sounds is called assonance.

Missed that Hudson River line...

That's another place and time...

We see in lines five and six two other rhymes created by using the vowel sound /u/ with the words "blues" and "do."

I used to go to drive-ins and listen to the blues

So many things that I think twice about before I do...

Lastly, in lines eight, nine and ten, Del Rey uses other poetic devices.

One without the gun, where the flag can freely fly

No bombs in the sky, only fireworks when you and I collide

It's just a dream I had in mind

In line 8, we see another form of rhyme with the words "one" and "gun." This is internal rhyme. It is when a writer includes rhyming words within the same line, rather than at the end.

We also see in line 8 repeating "f" sounds with the words "...flag can freely fly." This is an example of alliteration, repetition of the first consonant sounds in words that are close together.

In line 9, we have more assonance with the /ai/ vowel with the words "sky," "fireworks," and "collide." In all three lines, the repetition of the /ai/ vowel is seen throughout with "fly," "collide," and "mind," mirroring the sounds in the beginning with "line" and "time."

Final Thoughts

In today's Everyday Grammar, we found more details in Lana Del Rey's song Looking for America. We considered syllable structure and learned about several poetic devices such as assonance, internal rhyme and alliteration.

I'm Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

intention n. the thing that you plan to do or achieve

drive-insn. places where people watch movies in their cars

bluesn. musical form created by African Americans in the Southern United States

collide v. the action of two (or more) objects crashing into each other

spontaneously adv. done or said in a natural and often sudden way and without a lot of thought or planning

rhyme – n. two or more words that end in the same sound

voweln. a speech sound made with your mouth open and your tongue in the middle of your mouth not touching your teeth, lips

consonants – n. a speech sound (such as /p/, /d/, or /s/) that is made by partly or completely stopping the flow of air breathed out from the mouth

internal – adj. existing or taking place inside something

repetition n. the action of repeating something

mirroringn. the act of being very similar to something