#32 “Too Marvelous for Words” (Johnny Mercer)

“Too Marvelous for Words” by Johnny Mercer is the second (and, I will disclose, last) of the jazz standards from the American “songbook” to be included in the Poetry Countdown. (It only hits #344 on the jazz-standard countdown behind that link. But hey, a lot of those standards have no words to speak of :) )

Again, it’s incumbent on me to defend the choice of a song lyric, however standard, as really matching up with “Sailing to Byzantium” and “Fish in the unruffled lakes.” And I do think that “Too Marvelous” is not only Mercer’s best song lyric, but a lyric poem that would stand up on paper through time even if all the music of the 20th century went the way of the mummies of the Pharaohs.

First of all, the lyric just swings, in a sense that once meant the highest praise in the lexicon of popular music. It is perfectly timed, perfectly rhymed, and intricately patterned – while being eminently sayable and singable.

But then there’s the deeply lyrical idea in the poem. Not just that of love, though to love someone beyond words is one of the most venerable ideas in literary history. (“I were but little happy, if I could say how much,” says one of Shakespeare’s in-love characters.)

But how do we convey a love beyond words? Obviously, by using words. But the poetry here aspires to the condition of music. In fact, it aspires to the condition of nature itself, to an animal call that is beyond, behind, and before language: “A love song from the birds.”

Poetry has never achieved a better expression of the paradox of language stalling at the limits of its own expressiveness – and still wanting to tell somebody about it.

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24 responses to “#32 “Too Marvelous for Words” (Johnny Mercer)

  1. This was a simple poem that passed on a simple message.Person in the poem is seriously in love. It is expressed through out the poem. To the aurthor to explain the sensation of beeing loved by the other person is beyond words. There no words to express it so the person must take the song of a bird which is beatiful and wordless to express feelings. It is a great beatiful thing to be that much in love. Others go by life never knowing or feeling what the aurthor is feeling at the moment.

  2. firewaterboi321

    This poem is a breath of fresh air from the heaviness of sadness we’ve encountered so far in this semester. Hopefully, every one of us has at one time or another felt this way about another human being. The joy of love that is so overwhelming for another person that our own capacity for language is almost inadequate. The songbird seems to have a more accurate way of expressing this feeling. Their singing is simple, melodic and has no likeness to human verbal expression. It is the closest representation to the feeling of “being in love” that Mercer could imagine, I would assume. This seems like a very reasonable metaphor for this type of feeling. I could not begin to express to my love how I feel. It really is impossible to express that kind of feeling in words.

  3. I really enjoyed this poem; it was very simply and extremely catchy. I believe that it is impossible to express love beyond words, without using words. That seems to be one of the hardest part when you love someone that much; expressing it. I actually looked up Webster’s definition for the word marvelous, and I would say in context, Mercers seems to be using it as, “of the highest kind or quality,” because he can’t seem to find the words that are good enough for this person.
    My favorite lines are from the poem are, “you’re much too much and oh, too very, very to ever be in Webster’s dictionary,” giving the idea that this marvelous person is too astonishing even for Webster’s, which contains every definition for every American word, ever. Something that was mentioned in class that was interesting to me was that he was “borrowing a love song from the birds,” as if to say that they would do a better job than him at expressing his love. This poem is a beautifully written love letter, and the person whom Mercer wrote it for was probably very lucky to have someone that loved them this much. :-)

  4. I loved this poem very much simply because it was easy to grasp and it had a lot of deep feelings attached to it–the feeling being talked about is love. I do believe that sometimes when one is in love, they have no words to describe the way they feel about the person they are in love with. This poem is reflecting the same thing–how people become wordless or run out of words when they try to appreciate their partners. The poem is so catchy and from the way it’s written, one can automatically feel or at least get a clue as to how the speaker really feels. The song we listened to in class definitely reflected the tone of the poem; the artist sounded really happy; and the tune was upbeat and danceable; compared to the other one we heard which was sad. This poem is a good love poem and song.

  5. I agree with firewaterboi321 this poem is a breath of fresh air. Once, when I was younger and very much in love I remember annoying my boyfriend by saying “I love you” too much. I couldn’t help it. I just wanted to let him know how much I cared for him and adored him, but the only way I knew how to say it was, ‘I love you!” I imagine the speaker in this poem felt much like I did back then. However, I’d have to say those feelings were better written in this poem than me repeatedly saying those three little words. The rhyming and placement of words is so catchy that even without the song being played I catch myself singing this song with my own beat. I find it very clever that the speaker is using words to express how words are not good enough to describe how marvelous this person is. This is one of my favorite poems and I’m a little sad that we will not be discussing other jazz standards this semester. I hope we will read some similar to this theme though.

  6. Too Marvelous for Words is what this poem is. It encapsulates the essence of Love and being in Love. For someone to love an individual THAT much that he or she doesn’t have the words to express it. That has to be a wonderful thing. The individual that was being spoken about in this poem must have had an enormous impact on the life of the author because he says that a word doesn’t even exist in the dictionary that can describe how marvelous he/she is to them. I am married and I love my wife, but I can think of a few words that can describe my love for her (and a few that describe her when I’m angry), but this individual is so marvelous that they exceed words that even mean marvelous. Webster’s defines Marvelous as “causing wonder : astonishing”. This can easily describe my wife, but would not be enough to describe the subject of this Poem. That’s amazing.
    The song that was played by Ella Fitzgerald was instrumental in bringing out even more the spirit of this poem. I’m not sure if it was the music that accompanied the lyrics, the lyrics themselves or maybe the soothing tone of Ella’s voice but something about that song brought out the core of the poems meaning.
    The question that was posed in class (How do you tell someone that words aren’t good enough by using word’s?) really made me think about this poem and what it is to Love and I came to the conclusion that the poem itself is “Too Marvelous for Words”.

  7. “Too marvelous for words “ is just that, a marvelous poem and more. I love its simplicity and how the writer expresses not having words to express his feelings. The structure and the form of the poem just reinforces not having enough words for expression, like how the speaker goes on blurting our rich words but still he cant find the words rich enough to describe his love. The reader of this poem doesn’t even have to know the speaker to know how deeply he feels for her. Anyone reading this poem could just melt reading it! I hope we get to read more poems like this one, even though there is no more jazz, which I must admit I enjoyed as well.

  8. “Too Marvelous for Words” is exhilarating. Listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing the lyrics made me want to slip on a strapless black dress, a strand of pearls, a pair of five inch stilettos and place a dab of Chanel No. 5 behind the ear and dance the night away until my feet beg for mercy. Ah yes, being in love is too marvelous for words no matter how you say it. The lyrics are “perfectly rhymed” and the use of the adverbs “too” and “very” truly capture the essence of love. In the commentary by Professor Morris, he asked the question, “How do we convey a love beyond words?” “Too Marvelous for Words” expresses a love that is floating on Cloud Nine, but what happens when the cloud turn ominous with a possibility of a torrential downpour of tears? To convey a love beyond words, a person has to move from words to action. A person has to go beyond words to make love real. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” says a love that is real will love thee to the depth ( trials and failures ) where love becomes “mute,” to the height ( successes and prosperity ) where love speaks volumes, and the breadth ( duration of the journey ) where love decides not to trade the forty in for two twenties. Real love will even love thee when you are ready to “Sail to Byzantium.” A love that is “Too Marvelous for Words,” does not keep a record of wrong or right. These are the things that birds understand, and that’s why they can sing love songs day or night.

  9. I really enjoy poems like this one because lyrics are very easy to follow and the poem itself is very easy to understand. “Too Marvelous For Words” is a short poem but relates to a broad audience. It does not specify gender so it can relate both ways, the poem is about somebody trying to express their feelings to another one. In my opinion just saying that you don’t even have words to explain how you feel, is an excuse to your lack of creativity, but somehow in the poem I can really feel the love from the speaker to the other. It is very interesting how such a small amount of words can express a feeling as big and great as love.

  10. Too marvelous for words is just simply a wonderful poem. I love this poem because it puts me into a happy and loving mood. The writer is in love and is trying to express how he feels. When you are in love sometimes it is hard to express with words how you feel to that person. Often times all you can say is i love you. When your in love you get a tingly feeling inside of joy. This is how the writer feels about a women. This is one og my favorite poems on the countdown simply because it has so much feeling to it

  11. andreamcginley

    This poem is like a bit of fresh air. It hits in the middle of sad and somber poems, I think that is why it stood out more than it might have originally we had been reading tons of happy and go lucky poems. The lyrics are catchy, which is another reason this poem stuck so well in my mind. To me a great poem should be able to connect many different people together, and this poem does such that. I mean how many times in our life have we felt so strongly about something that we just could not explain how we felt. This idea of being unable to put your feelings into words is the sole aspect of many chick flicks in today’s media world. This poem is similar to what I can imagine Romeo and Juliet talking about to one another. The feelings are too strong for any kind of language. Though probably my favorite part of the poem is when the speaker says “you’re much too much and oh, too very, very to ever be in Webster’s dictionary”. This part of the poem stands out to be because, I mean Webster’s dictionary is HUGE and for someone to be better than any word in the dictionary to explain must really have this person on cloud nine.

  12. Just to have a someone start a conversation with “your just to marvelous” would bring a smile to my face. Women are suckers for songs, movies, books, poems etc with content such as this. We have been like this since we were young girls watching the Disney movies and the guy says something romantic like this or the princess stories. So we grow up expecting men to be and do what we’re customed to seeing and hearing. Though it rarely happens like we see. But when it happens and its something like this poem its a Wonderful feeling. You can tell its a pure and sincere poem. You know it’s real love when you can’t express it in words. Nothing can truly define love, the feeling of it. Many have tried to catch the emotions of love through poem and song but it doesn’t to me feel sincere. For some reason this does. Maybe because he admits that words can’t truly define his feelings of love and you can never say it enough express it enough. Maybe it’s his honesty and transparency that makes this poem great. I’ve always heard that men can’t express their feelings well…well this one did very well.

  13. Too Marvelous for Words is a very nice simple love poem. Sometimes the way we feel about a person cannot be expressed with words. I think this is the kind of love we would all like to feel. Transferring this poem into a jazz song being sung by Ella Fitzgerald was an excellent choice. It adds beats to the heart that is filled with love and joy to the thought of being in-love. This poem makes me think about falling in-love for the first time as a child and not being able to express what they are feeling. It is a feeling that you know is there but cannot be put into words. We hum a song like the birds on a beautiful summer day. And oh, too very, very to ever be In Webster’s Dictionary tells a lot. It tells a lot about the feelings they have for that person is very strong. The Webster’s Dictionary is filled with a lot of words and to not find one word just blows me away! I can image me with a smile so big from hearing a man say “I am too marvelous for words”, which will make any woman smile and eyes light up. This poem is an expression of love. I think I will use it myself. Oh I really like this poem!

  14. I do actually like the irony of this poem about being too marvelous for words; yet the only way the author can express that is with words. We’ve learned so far and picked up from many poems that have been presented to us that the English language can be used effectively to describe many emotions, especially melancholy as we’ve discovered. But what happens when you feel something so powerful, and in this case, so wonderful that the limitations of language hold you back from expressing it? That’s why I think it’s so fitting that this poem was put into song, on paper it’s decent, but when put into song it gets a little bit closer to accurately conveying the feeling of being to marvelous for words. I’ve always been a fan of music, and it’s a wonderful way of expressing emotions without ever saying a thing, it can push and pull your emotions and make you feel what the composer wants you to feel. It’s the same way when Mercer writes “and so I’m borrowing a love song from the birds”, using music to help convey the feelings that language can’t express. It’s a wonderful feeling to be in love, and Mercer gets it right, because it really is just too marvelous for words.

  15. Every time I establish a poem we hear in class as my favorite, another one comes along and takes its spot, right now that poem is, “Too Marvelous for Words.” I love the fact that there can be a feeling so strong that cannot be described by using words, but I feel we can convey that love through our actions. Unless we are trying to share those feelings with the world, then we are left using words to describe an indescribable love. I think the poem had to use words to describe someone that was too marvelous because the speaker wanted to share with everyone just how marvelous this woman was. If I wanted to let someone know how special they are and could not find the words I would show them through my actions, but if I wanted to let everyone else know then I would have to use words. I agree with the Shakespeare quote and its meaning is parallel to the meaning of this poem. I think everyone would love to experience an indescribable love. Johnny Mercer’s poem was easily understood, not too complex, and had such a strong emotion behind it. I love it more than words can say, besides the words I have already used. Lol.

  16. I found Johnny Mercer’s poem “Too Marvelous For Words” to be an excellent poem. It was a poem that could easily be related to by anyone in this world. Everyone in this world has someone in their life that is too marvelous for words. It could be a mother, father, sister, brother, friend, or wife; someone that blows them away. For me it’s my wife, I could not help but think of her the entire time the poem was being read and during the playing of the song as well. I enjoy having a poem such as this on the countdown, with some of the poems it is so much for me to try and understand what they are trying to say. Poetry is a very hard subject for me to comprehend but with a poem such as this you can enjoy what is being said, how it is being said and you can relate to it.

  17. I chose Too Marvelous for Words by Johnny Mercer, because I think it is a neat idea to be so amazing there aren’t any words to describe you! The poem has an interesting flow to it that rolls of the tongue as you read it in a very fluent way. The poet is doing an amazing job of putting a feeling of great magnitude into a poem. To convey to someone, you truly idealize, how you feel can often be difficult. It is often said that actions speak louder than words so it is hard to prove yourself with words when you can show someone with your actions how you feel. The poem says that he is going to “borrow a love song from the birds to tell you that you’re marvelous.” I think that this is his/her way of expressing that the tunes of birds will do justice to the person. Some sounds can trigger feelings and make them felt in large amounts. The sounds of birds is no doubt a beautiful sensation to our ears and pleasant I think this is why he chose them but also because if you want to ever know someones feeling about you all that you have to do is listen to birds singing. I think that is a beautiful statement and does the person whom this was directed towards great justice.

  18. This poem doesn’t in my eyes have much meaning behind it (in my opinion). It seems like a poem just spit out by the author, along side several others, yet this doesen’t mean it is a “bad” poem, it obviously evokes a pool of emotions from the audience, also the diction although simple, is very good. The poem also has great use of alliteration and clever rhymes. It is a light poem meant for easy listening. If I could give this poem a setting, I would describe a dimly lit living room. An old couple sitting, reading on a couch. after the previous song (which most likely sounded an awful allot like this “Too Marvelous for Words”), yet when the couple hears it they share a glance. Each of them know that with the passing of many many years, they have probably used every word in their vocabulary and know what the other feels and need no words in order to define what they feel for each other. The sad thing is, this setting replicates a scene much like one in a black and white tv show from the “good old days” and most likely doesn’t exist anymore… Ok I’m not that cynical but my point is it kind of makes me sick.

  19. Once again its the poem that is written as a lyric that i found to be the most interesting. i think its my inherent love for music that makes me bias toward these types of poems. i think it is easier to convey the meaning of the words if they are accompanied by music, especally a love song. ive always been a fan of irony, and thats one of the reasons i liked this poem so much. i find it very ironic that the core idea of the poem is that it is impossible to describe the magnitude of the love he has for another using words. yet the way in which he conveys the core idea is through poetry, which uses words. so in a way it is possible to inderectly describe how much love he feels. but if he tries to describe it dirrectly he comes up short.

  20. “Too Marvelous for Words” is a very likable poem by Johnny Mercer. This poem obviously is themed around the most powerful and unexplainable emotion that we have as existing beings. The fact that this poem is a jazz standard is just another example of its brilliance. It is very hard to explain such an overwhelming emotion such as love, and I will not attempt to do so. This work shows how strong the author’s feelings are toward whoever it is he loves, and he must be getting that love back too. I like how he uses the Webster’s Dictionary in the poem to explain how unexplainable his love is. Many people go their whole lives without feeling many things, but I think that love is the most mutual and necessary emotion as everyone should be showered with it. In today’s society, it is very evident how love hungry people are. Everyone is always looking to be loved by everyone, it is only natural!

  21. In my opinion, this is probably the best poem in the countdown to date. It is very simply stated and very easy to understand. I’ve always favored poems that were written as songs or later recorded as songs. Those types of poems always seem to have more truth and relevance than other poems. That being said, I think that we’ve probably all been able to put ourselves in the speaker’s “shoes” at some point in our lives. When I read this poem, or hear Ella Fitzgerald sing the song, I picture the speaker attempting to describe their love for their significant other, but they just can’t find the words. They are “too marvelous for words,” and the reference to Webster’s Dictionary shows that true love really is indescribable…the words simply don’t exist.

  22. spontaneous12

    “You’re just too marvelous.” Words don’t always give the meaning of a certain feeling that you have for someone. The word can have little meaning to how deep of happiness that a person can bring to you. “Like glorious, glamorous, and that old standby, amorous.” You can be beautiful and not be glamorous. Some women are beautiful with no money and seem duller than a woman with riches and considering glamorous. You don’t have to be beautiful to be glorious as well. Being glorious could mean an all around magnificent character. These types of attributes attract the eye of men. Men want the perfect words to say sometimes to get a point that satisfies a certain feeling. The point takes time though. There is only one moment that expresses the ultimate feeling for a person and that’s marriage. Johnny Mercer writes “I’ll never find the words that say enough, tell enough, I mean, they just aren’t swell enough.” Sometimes you can say the right thing and not feel satisfied with the way someone reacts. We expect women to be in awe because that is the idea we have that somewhat describes behavior of the female gender. Being too marvelous is a good way to say that it’s really too indescribable how I feel about you.

  23. I would love it if someone would actually take their time to write me a poem about how wonderful I am that it is hard for them to describe it in words. The person who this poem is written for should appreciate the fact that there is someone out there who cares for and values them so much. Can you imagine how wonderful this person really is if there is no word to describe them even in Webster’s Dictionary? In contrast to some of the poems we’ve read, this one carries no negative words, emotions, or tones. I simply just love it!  It is so jolly and fun! The song made me like it even more because it put me in a tranquil mood. It also amazes me how the words are chosen so carefully and yet rhymed perfectly…I don’t remember the last time we read a poem and that I enjoyed so much. I guess that the simplicity of it makes the big difference. The idea of love in this poem is so grand that it is hard for the speaker to describe it and just can’t find the words for it. When someone is truly in love, or feel any other emotion very strongly, they cannot seem to put it into words. Any time someone is so deeply passionate about someone else, their (confusion) if I may call it that,? causes them to stumble over words and so to say lose their head when even trying to explain how they really feel  I’m sure everyone has an admirer who feels this way for them, and this poem can make someone realize just that simple opinion…

  24. Pingback: English Matters » Blog Archive » Lyric Centenary: Johnny Mercer

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