Say what you want about Taylor Swift (which, believe me, I will), but we can all agree the girl is a gifted songwriter. That I cannot deny, no matter how much I hate her interpersonal relationships and personal brand and everything about who she chooses to be. But honestly, I’m starting to rethink even her songwriting abilities after she published this very sad, handwritten poem in British Vogue. It’s called “The Trick To Holding On,” and it’s pretty long, but I really want you all to experience its full effect. I’ll be inserting my poetical analysis, because I majored in Creative Writing in college and this may be my one chance to use my degree. (Take that, dad!)
“Let go of the ones who hurt you
Let go of the ones you outgrow
Let go of the words they hurl your way
as you’re walking out the door
The only thing cut and dry
In this hedge-maze life
Is the fact that their words will cut
but your tears will dry”
The author of this poem appears to be New Taylor, the Taylor who does not have time for anyone’s
criticisms of her bullshit. She’s letting it all go: the ones who hurt her (the media?), the ones she outgrew (her exes), all of it. That metaphor of life as a hedge maze is not at all obvious, but I especially like the repetition of “The only thing cut and dry… Is the fact that their words will cut / but your tears will dry.” Just beautiful. What an impressive and not at all redundant turn of phrase.
“They don’t tell you this when you are young
You can’t hold on to everything
Can’t show up for everyone
You pick your poison
Or your cure
Phone numbers you know by heart
And the ones you don’t answer any more”
Taylor is older and wiser now, continuing the “letting go” motif by stating you can’t hold on to everything, in case you are confused about what “letting go” means. With the “You pick your poison / Or your cure / Phone numbers you know by heart / And the ones you don’t answer any more,” Taylor seems to be setting up an opposition between leaning on the people she can trust and not answering the calls of people who’ve wronged her. This begs the question, though: If you know not to answer someone’s call, does that not mean you’ve memorized their number by heart, if for no other reason than to know to ignore the call? I question the specific use of “phone numbers,” too—could it be a reference to the infamous Kimye call that was recorded? Probably. That would certainly be a phone number she’d no longer want to pick up. Also, like, they DO tell you all this when you’re young—”you can’t be friends with/please everyone” was like, my parents’ motto. I don’t know who your role models are, Tay, but this whole stanza is basically irrelevant.
“Hold on to the faint recognition in
the eye of a stranger
As it catches you in its lustrous net
How quickly we become intertwined
How wonderful it is to forget
All the times your intuition failed you
But it hasn’t killed you yet
Hold on to childlike whims and moonlight swims and your blazing self-respect”
This stanza is where things get particularly confusing. How can a stranger recognize you if they are, by definition, a stranger? What does the “it” refer to in “As it catches you in its lustrous net”? Whose net are we being caught in? Is it that of the faint recognition? The stranger? The eye of that stranger? The sentence structure seems to support the first possibility, but what does it mean to be caught in a net—lustrous or not (never mind why or how a net would be shiny or why that matters)—of recognition? Perhaps this ambiguity is intentional, as reading through this stanza and trying to discern its meaning gives one (me) the feeling of being caught in a net.
“And if you drive the roads of this town
Ones you’ve gone down so many times before
Flashback to all the times
Life nearly ran you off the road
But tonight your hand is steady
Suddenly you’ll know
The trick to holding on
Was all that letting go”
All right, I really tried to keep my analysis relatively serious, but I just can’t anymore. The poem so far has been pretty general, not existing in a specific place, but now suddenly we’re transported in “this town,” where we have supposedly been all along, and which is supposedly familiar to us as readers, because she refers to it as this town and not a town and because we’ve driven down its roads many times before. I’ve also got to presume Taylor Swift does not have access to a thesaurus, considering she used the word “road” twice in the first half of the stanza. But none of that really matters, because here we arrive (no thanks to this hypothetical car we are supposedly driving) at the moral of the poem: “The trick to holding on” (to your sanity, to life, to your self-respect, I presume?) “Was all that letting go” (of the ones who hurt you, the ones you outgrow, people whose phone numbers you don’t answer anymore, etc.). The message of the poem is so simple and clearly stated, I wonder why we bothered with stanzas two and three at all. What did they add, other than a general sense of confusion and more fuel to Taylor’s own sense of self-importance?
This whole thing reads as a high schooler’s diary entry. We’ve got some moments of decent imagery (“lustrous net”, “hedge-maze life”, “moonlight swims”, even “blazing self-respect” isn’t bad), but most of this consists of straightforward, declarative sentences. All in all it becomes clear that the “new Taylor” is basically all of us in our high school emo phase. Frankly, it’s a little embarrassing. Ginger Foutley wrote a better poem in middle school. Hopefully, like all of us post-Panic! At The Disco obsession, Taylor can look back on this phase later on in life and laugh.