Pagan Poetry – the sound of the inside


“Pagan Poetry” is Björk in one of her most intimate moments. A song about the strong sexual attraction between two people, and the little secrets and hidden codes through which lovers recognize each other.

The song is from Björk’s 2001 album, “Vespertine”, and features instruments such as the harp, celeste and a music box that she had custom made from transparent plexi-glass. There is a feeling of Icelandic winter on the whole album, and Björk herself has said about “Vespertine”: “I needed this album to explore what we sound like on the inside. It’s that ecstasy, that euphoric state that happens when whispering. It’s very much about being alone in your house, in a very quiet sort of introverted mood”. Björk wrote the material for most of this album back home in Iceland, and she had originally named it “Domestika”, but the title was later changed to “Vespertine” which makes perfect sense when you picture Björk working with her music in the wintertime on Iceland with only a few hours of light during the day.

The video for “Pagan Poetry” was directed by Nick Knight and created quite a stir when it came out. It was banned from MTV in United States because Björk appears topless in a dress designed by Alexander McQueen. When making the video Nick Knight gave Björk a mini DV camera, and asked her to record some scenes from her private love life. Björk’s own recordings turned out to be rather sexual, and they were used in the video. The more explicit scenes were altered with digital effects, but rumour has it that the beginning of “Pagan Poetry” is actually Björk and Matthew Barney, who she had a relationship with at the time, having sex.

The harpist on “Pagan Poetry” is Zeena Parkins, who also played the harp for Courtney Love’s band Hole on their MTV Unplugged performance.

The tattoo on Björk’s left upper arm is an ancient Icelandic symbol called “Vegvisir “, which was a sort of compass intended for guidance through rough or foggy weather back in the Viking Age. Björk has said that it makes sure she never gets lost.

Björk has performed “Pagan poetry” live many times, and a beautiful example is this recording from Riverside Church in New York with a Greenlandic choir.


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