A New Romantic: Breathitt lecture highlights popstar Taylor Swift


Taylor Swift. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for MTV

Gracie Moore, Reporter

The Gaines Center for the Humanities hosted the annual Breathitt Lecture featuring senior Hayden Osbounre on Thursday, April 13. 

The Breathitt lectureship is a prestigious award presented to undergraduate students with an interest in the humanities to honor former governor and UK alumni Edward T. Breathitt. 

This year’s award was presented to Osbourne, who is currently studying secondary English education. 

“When it was time to write my honors thesis, I knew I wanted to do it over (Taylor Swift’s) lyricism,” he said. “The first song I ever consciously remember learning the words to is ‘Our Song.’”

Osbourne said that he combined his love of Swift with his interest in literature to focus on her lyrical inspiration from poet William Wordsworth. 

Osbourne also said he looked at Swift as “an artist first” and looked at her writing style and poetic inspiration rather than what the media describes her as: a serial dater, a strategic businesswoman and an international popstar. 

Focusing on her eighth and ninth studio albums, “folklore” and “evermore,” Swift veered from her usual genres of country and pop to open up a new world of storytelling and characters through a new indie-folk style. 

Osbourne said that fan reactions to Swift’s new albums made it difficult for him to ignore how many literary elements were used.

“When so many people are latching onto the literary element of something, it almost makes you want to consider it in a new light,” Osbourne said. 

Osbourne said the idea for his project came from a specific lyric from a bonus track off “folklore.” 

The lyric from “the lakes” reads, “I’ve come too far to watch some name-dropping sleaze tell me what are my words worth.” 

Osbourne said how this alluded to the Lake District in the United Kingdom, an area where Wordsworth did much of his writing.

Wordsworth’s poetry focused on themes of nature, nostalgia and the imagination — three themes that Swift alludes to quite frequently in “folklore” and “evermore.” 

Swift utilizes themes of a fleeting childhood in her song “marjorie” from “evermore,” which is about wishing for more time with her grandmother before her passing. 

Another Romantic theme used in “marjorie” is the idea of how nature inspires memories of relationships. 

Osbourne compared this to Wordsworth’s poem titled “Tintern Abbey,” written about his relationship with his sister and how nature inspires the memories. 

Swift also drew inspiration from Wordsworth’s depiction of nature’s influence on relationships in “willow,” a song written about her relationship with reported former partner Joe Alwyn. 

On “evermore,” Osbourne highlighted her use of bodies of water to show the current of change, comparing this to Wordsworth viewing nature as a “key component to human life.” 

Osbourne continued to speak about the comparisons between Swift’s lyrics and Wordsworth’s poems, ending with the idea that Swift is a “new Romantic.” 

He argued that she redefined the idea of romanticism by engaging with people more than nature then shifted again to connection with the outside world with “folklore” and “evermore.” 

“These aren’t just pop culture artifacts,” Osbourne said. “They’re literary artifacts that people will study for years to come.”