Samples Poetry Desert Rose: Literary Analysis

Desert Rose: Literary Analysis

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Regardless of being released more than 16 years ago, Sting’s song ‘Desert Rose’ continues to attract more and more listeners, partly due to its emphasis on cultural differences. Namely, it is argued that while in other countries the song was just a moderately successful single, in the States ‘Desert Rose’ ‘became a phenomenon, turning into one of the biggest sleepers’ of all times (Doyle par. 6). The song had been written by Sting in 1999 and then released in 2000. ‘Desert Rose’ has, however, become classics and its lyrics are still perceived by many as meaningful today. When examining the text of the song through the lenses of postcolonial theory, it becomes evident that ‘othering’ and ambivalence are not embedded in the song. While some artworks do consciously or subconsciously create dichotomy in the Western/non-Western cultures relationship, where ambivalence, ‘othering’, exoticism and the dominant ideology are common features, this song abstains from this. Thus, one of the reasons why ‘Desert Rose’ is so popular with its listeners is because Sting, by employing several literary devices, such as symbols and allusion, managed to combine both the elements of Middle Eastern and Western cultures, thus showing that they can live in a mutual harmony.

The tone of the song is calm and thought provoking. This is foremost achieved with the help of music that encourages the audience to become a part of the Middle Eastern world by offering an Oriental melody. Specifically, the music sounds Middle Eastern and has a distinctive Arabic tinge. This effect is further reinforced by the fact that in the beginning and in the end the song contains Algerian lyrics that are unfamiliar to the Western audience. The audience thus is introduced to exotic oriental world that yet contains some Western elements and therefore to some extent seems unreal. In the meantime, Sting’s voice in the song sounds distant and superficial, which also provokes the audience to ream. Finally, given that Sting himself is a Western artist and yet performs a song that sounds Arabic, this unusual combination brings the audience into a dreamy and slightly exotic mood.

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There is a strong appeal to the culture of the Middle East in the song that is supported by the wide use of symbols. The author, having a European background, constantly mentions the so called Desert Rose, which is the symbol of a beautiful woman from the Middle East. While some critics argue that the ‘desert rose’ might be the formation of gypsum and sand that appears in deserts and reminds of a flower (Song Meanings), it would be logical to assume that Sting meant a girl given that an image of a girl is evident from the rest of the lyrics. Namely, it seems like the author is singing about a beautiful woman that he is in love with when repeating phrases such as ‘each of her veils’, ‘her shadows play in the shape of a man’s desire’, ‘and as she turns, the way she moves’ etc. The author shows that love and affection can exist between individuals that come from different cultural backgrounds, such as the Western and the Middle Eastern. The song also contains a number of other imageries that symbolize the culture of the Middle East. For instance, the song contains lines such as ‘I dream of gardens in the desert sand’. It would be logical to assume that here gardens stand for the West, while the desert sand stands for the Middle East. In a literal sense, it is impossible to have gardens in the desert sand. The author thus shows that, regardless of the fact that there is the deeply embedded stereotype that Western and Middle Eastern are contradictory, he still ‘dreams’ of how they coexist, which means that he still sees such an opportunity as real. Also, the song contains the line that says ‘I dream of rain’. In my opinion, the imagery of rain stands for the so much needed tolerance and acceptance that will help gardens ‘grow in the desert sand’. In other words, the author argues that tolerance and acceptance will enable cooperation between the West and the Middle East.

Western culture is also implicitly embedded in the song with the help of allusion. The song contains a notion about Eden – the biblical ‘Garden of God’ in the line ‘the memory of Eden haunts us all’. This might be the reference to the green paradise that was the first home of Adam and Eve, according to the Bible. In my opinion, the author tries to say that initially different cultures were meant to live in a mutual harmony and not be affected by any acts of xenophobia or intolerance. He thus encourages the audience to return to this original state of ‘Eden’. In addition to this, the ‘desert rose’ that the author of the song constantly refers to can also symbolize Eve, who is a biblical character. According to this interpretation, the ‘desert rose’ can stand for both the Middle Eastern woman and Eve who is the quintessential women from Biblical teachings in the West. By this conflation the author tries to bring to the audience that, regardless of all the cultural differences, the representatives of the Western and the Middle Eastern cultures are not so different and can exist as one whole unit.

Whilst the bigger part of the song is performed in English, the song begins and ends with the same Arabic lines, which is often referred to as an ‘envelope verse’ device in poetry. Arabic lyrics are effectively combined with English lyrics, thus representing a mix of the two cultures on the level of linguistic expression. The framing method in this case played an important role of reminding the audience that the song, regardless of being performed by a Western artist, has a distinctive Oriental character. It is important to note, however that the song does not show the modification of the two cultures as a result of interaction between them, but simply emphasizes differences between the two cultural traditions that, nonetheless, can be reconciled to enable cooperation. Because of the social values that call for tolerance, acceptance and cultural relativism and that appeared relatively recently in Western societies, ‘Desert Rose’ fits the attitudes of the larger society and is popular with the respective audience.

Through a number of literary techniques, such symbols, allusions and ‘envelope verse’ technique, the song contains the elements of both Western and Oriental cultures, thus showing that, regardless of the fact that these two cultural traditions might seem different, they can coexist and produce something beautiful as a result of this coexistence. The tone of the song is calm and thought provoking, which is foremost achieved with the help of music that encourages the audience to dream of the unusual and exotic combination of Western and Oriental cultures. The examination of the Sting’s song ‘Desert Rose thus adds new dimensions to our understanding of cultural differences, the consequences of globalization and their reflection in artworks. Namely, it demonstrates how Western cultural tradition can rub shoulders with the one that is non-Western, and that this state is absolutely natural and has a strong esthetic value that should to be appreciated.

  • Bloechl, O. (2005). Orientalism and Hyperreality in “Desert Rose”.Journal Of Popular Music Studies, 17(2), 133-161. 
  • Doyle, Jack. “Sting and Jaguar, 1999-2001.”, 27 Sept. 2008. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
  • Gable, C. (2009). The Words and Music of Sting. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • Song Meaning. “Sting -Desert Rose.” June 2010. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
  • Sting – Desert Rose. Sting Lyrics. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.