Pagan Poetry

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"Pagan Poetry"
Single by Björk
from the album Vespertine
  • "Aurora"
  • "Domestica"
  • "Batabid"
Released5 November 2001 (2001-11-05)
  • 5:17 (album version)
  • 4:01 (radio edit)
Björk singles chronology
"Hidden Place"
"Pagan Poetry"

"Pagan Poetry" is a song recorded by Icelandic singer Björk for her fourth studio album Vespertine (2001). It was released as the second single from the album on 5 November 2001, by One Little Indian Records. A moderate commercial success, the single peaked at number 38 in the United Kingdom and number 15 in Canada.

Writing and recording[edit]

Björk had always wanted to work with music boxes, but was waiting for the right occasion. Until then, she had been collecting them and wanted to write her own songs in them. According to her, the music box company were not very excited in the beginning. "They'd made wooden boxes for eons and I wanted see-through plexiglass. They couldn't get their head round it - they were like 'Why?' They wanted to make the plonky sound softer with wood but I wanted it as hard as possible, like it was frozen. In the end, they said it was the best thing they'd ever done".[1] Björk then featured the music box into the song's composition.[2] The song is written and recorded in C sharp minor.

Critical reception[edit]

Heather Phares of AllMusic said of "Pagan Poetry" that it "shares a spacious serenity with the album's quietest moments" and included this song as a track pick.[3] Rolling Stone said, "In 'Pagan Poetry', she deploys the implied heaven of Zeena Parkins harp and a flotilla of music boxes with an Asian-teahouse touch".[4] Blender said "'Pagan Poetry' sounds like the prelude to a particularly exotic sexual interlude".[5] Saul Campbell from 7 magazine called the track "terrifying" and an album standout.[6]

In March 2006, on the Spanish edition of Rolling Stone, "Pagan Poetry" was ranked number 38 by Spanish music professionals and experts on a list of the best songs of the 21st century.[7] Pitchfork placed the song at number 227 on its list of "The Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s".[8]

Music video[edit]

Björk wearing an in-body-pierced-wedding dress designed by English fashion designer Alexander McQueen in the music video.

The accompanying music video for "Pagan Poetry" was directed by Nick Knight, who had previously photographed the cover image for her third studio album Homogenic (1997).[9] The video is described as being about "a woman preparing herself for marriage and for her lover". It features highly blurry and stylized images of explicit sex from Björk's personal footage, including fellatio and ejaculation, and images of large needles sewing pearls to skin.[10] The second half of the video features Björk in a dress designed by Alexander McQueen, which covers only the lower portion of her body. The upper portion of the dress consists of pearls piercing her skin, which is shown throughout the first half.[11] The video ends with a shot of a Corset piercing.

The video had three stages of shooting: a video shoot of piercings, a private video shoot handled by Björk, and a film shoot of Björk. The piercings video and film shoot were done in a day in June 2001 in Knight's studio in London. The sole light source was diffused sunlight shining through the ceiling windows of the second floor daylight studio. This studio gave a "northlight" look and had a rawness to it that matched the subject matter, photography director Simon Chaudoir said.[11]

Five young women who were into subculture and piercings were cast for the video. Knight directed Chaudoir to shoot the piercings by placing the Sony Mini DV camera on the women's bodies—mostly chests, arms, and shoulders—and getting as physically near as he could while maintaining a close, macro focus on a wide-angle lens. A nurse and piercing unit were on hand, but no thimble, so the bleeding most often came from cast girls' thumbs as they pushed the needles in. "It was one of the most difficult things I've ever filmed because I felt I was on the verge of throwing up. I liked to actually only watch it by the video monitor rather than with my eyes as it were because it was just too much", Chaudoir said.[11] Björk also pierced her own ear at the shoot, but all other piercings were the cast girls'. Knight gave Björk a Sony Mini DV camera and asked her to shoot her own private scenes.[11]

"I wanted to strip her down. She's actually quite raw, womanly and sexy. There's a different side to her that doesn't come across normally in her videos. That's what I asked her to do and that's what she did. I gave her a Sony Mini DV camera and asked her to shoot her own private scenes ... She asked me to make a film about her love life, so I merely gave it back to her and said, 'Film your love life.'"

—Nick Knight on the video's development.[12]

Tired of music videos which featured the singer looking to the camera and lip-synching throughout, Chaudoir suggested having Björk lip-synch and look into the camera only for some of the last lines. He also suggested using a track so they could move closer to her as she sings these lines or move closer before she sings them—"so it's like a reveal of her", he said.[11] There was no script, so some improvisation made it to the final cut.[11] Since blue-screening and CGI work were not involved, Chaudoir did not use diffusion or consulted with post-production, and he arrived with only a few assistants—a gaffer, loader, grip, focus puller, and some electricians. "Basically what I was asked to do and what I thought I'd be able to do is more or less there. It would have benefited from being simplified down to a much more bold and direct visualization of what she was trying to do. I think we were too subtle in that", Knight said.[11]

The video was banned by MTV in the United States, but was eventually shown in unedited form on MTV2 in a presentation of the "20 Most Controversial Music Videos".[13] The music video was placed sixth on the "20 Of The Most Controversial Music Videos Ever" list by NME, which described it as "scarier than her dead swan dress or when she punched that photographer".[14] It was also included on the list by Rolling Stone, "The 15 Most NSFW Music Videos of All Time",[15] and was considered by Slant the sixth best music video by Björk.[10] The dress was shown in Björk's MoMA retrospective in 2015.[16] It was sold as part of Kerry Taylor Auctions "Passion for Fashion" sale in London, in June 2016.[17]

Live performances[edit]

In 2001, Björk performed "Pagan Poetry" on the Late Show with David Letterman with a Greenland women's choir, harpist and electronica duo Matmos.[18]

Track listing[edit]


Weekly chart performance for "Pagan Poetry"
Chart (2001) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[25] 106
Canada (Nielsen SoundScan)[26] 15
European Hot 100 Singles (Music & Media)[27] 70
France (SNEP)[28] 49
Italy (FIMI)[26] 20
Portugal (AFP)[29] 4
Scotland (OCC)[30] 60
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[31] 6
UK Singles (OCC)[32] 38
UK Indie (OCC)[33] 5

Year-end charts[edit]

Year-end chart performance for "Pagan Poetry"
Chart (2001) Peak
Canada (Nielsen SoundScan)[34] 197

Release history[edit]

Release dates and formats for "Pagan Poetry"
Region Date Format(s) Label(s) Ref.
Australia 5 November 2001 CD Polydor
United Kingdom
One Little Indian
France 6 November 2001 CD Polydor
Japan 14 November 2001
  • CD
  • DVD
France 1 February 2002 DVD


  1. ^ "Björk". Record Collector (276): 43. August 2002. ISSN 0261-250X.
  2. ^ "Björk - Pagan Poetry / Releases // Drowned in Sound". Archived from the original on 28 December 2019. Retrieved 28 December 2019.
  3. ^ Phares, Heather. "Vespertine – Björk". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  4. ^ Fricke, David (20 August 2001). "Vespertine". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  5. ^ Kot, Greg. "Bjork - Vespertine". Blender. Archived from the original on 24 October 2004. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 February 2004. Retrieved 12 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "Las 100 mejores canciones del siglo XXI". Rolling Stone España (in Spanish). No. 77. March 2006.
  8. ^ "The Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s: 500-201". Pitchfork. 17 August 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  9. ^ "Pagan Poetry". Archived from the original on 29 June 2012. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  10. ^ a b Cinquemani, Sal (5 July 2013). "Top 10 Björk Music Videos". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Alien, Rock (2002). "The Light of Love: The Making of the Pagan Poetry Video". Archived from the original on 9 May 2005.
  12. ^ "The piercing sound of Bjork". NME. 19 October 2001. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  13. ^ Robinson, Joe (5 July 2013). "Bjork, 'Cocoon' – Banned Music Videos". Townsquare Media. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  14. ^ Wright, Lisa (20 March 2015). "Top 10 Björk Music Videos". NME. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  15. ^ "The 15 Most NSFW Music Videos of All Time". Rolling Stone. 13 July 2011. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  16. ^ "Scandalous dress". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  17. ^ "Björk's Alexander McQueen pearl beaded 'bridal' gown, made for the Pagan Poetry' video, 2001". The Saleroom. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  18. ^ "Letterman's Musical Legacy". Pitchfork. 12 May 2015.
  19. ^ Pagan Poetry (UK CD1 liner notes). Björk. One Little Indian. 2001. 352TP7CD.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  20. ^ Pagan Poetry (Australian CD single liner notes). Björk. Universal Music Australia. 2001. 570 488-2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  21. ^ Pagan Poetry (UK CD2 liner notes). Björk. One Little Indian. 2001. 352TP7CDL.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  22. ^ Pagan Poetry (Japanese CD single liner notes). Björk. Polydor Records. 2001. UICP-5011.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  23. ^ Pagan Poetry (UK DVD single liner notes). Björk. One Little Indian. 2001. 352TP7DVD.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  24. ^ Pagan Poetry (European CD single liner notes). Björk. Polydor Records. 2001. 570 490-2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  25. ^ "Response from ARIA re: chart inquiry, received 5 June 2015". Imgur. Archived from the original on 5 June 2015. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  26. ^ a b "Billboard". December 2001.
  27. ^ "Eurochart Hot 100 Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 19, no. 48. 24 November 2001. p. 7. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  28. ^ "Björk – Pagan Poetry" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  29. ^ "Top National Sellers" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 19, no. 48. 24 November 2001. p. 7. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  30. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  31. ^ "Björk – Pagan Poetry" Canciones Top 50. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  32. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  33. ^ "Official Independent Singles Chart Top 50". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  34. ^ "Canada's Top 200 Singles of 2001". Jam!. Archived from the original on 26 July 2002. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  35. ^ "The ARIA Report: ARIA New Releases Singles – Week Commencing 5th November 2001" (PDF). ARIA. 5 November 2001. p. 25. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 February 2008. Retrieved 19 February 2022.
  36. ^ "New Releases – For Week Starting November 5, 2001: Singles" (PDF). Music Week. 3 November 2001. p. 29. Retrieved 18 August 2021.
  37. ^ "Pagan poetry – Björk – CD maxi single" (in French). France: Fnac. 6 November 2001. Retrieved 19 February 2022.
  38. ^ "Pagan Poetry – 77island • official Björk discography". 77ísland. Retrieved 19 February 2022.
  39. ^ "Pagan poetry – DVD Zone 2" (in French). France: Fnac. 1 February 2002. Retrieved 19 February 2022.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]