“To hear a poem spoken in the voice of the person who wrote it is not only to witness the rising of words off the page and into the air, but to experience an aural reenactment of exactly what the poet must have heard, if only internally, during the act of composition. “ Billy Collins (b. 1941), U.S. Poet Laureate
The Voice of the Poet series was developed in 2005 by Random House. We only just discovered it and since I am enamoured of Auden’s work and am focusing on him right now, we picked up that one. However, this audio series includes other notable poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Frank O’Hara, and a collection of five women poets: Gertrude Stein, Edna St. Vincent Millay, H.D., Louise Bogan and Muriel Ruckeyser. Each set includes a CD of poetry readings collected from a variety of sources and occasions and a small book with the texts of the poems and a brief commentary by J.D. McClatchy, a poet, literary critic and an editor of the Yale Review. I completely enjoyed the Auden collection, recommend it if you are an Auden fan, and am moving on to get whatever others in the series can still be found. I would have written something else for today, but I just couldn’t pull myself away from this. It’s the sort of thing you enjoy and value if poetry – or a specific poet – is central in your life.
* * * *
“Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.”
The day would not be complete without a poem. Here’s Funeral Blues, one of Auden’s more well-known poems . . .
Video uploaded to YouTube by Reifgar
I’m not sure I entirely agree with Auden. I agree with the part about hearing a poem read aloud, and, there’s something to be said about hearing the author read their poem. But, i don’t know that I agree that hearing the author reading their own work is always the best exposure to how an author heard their poem. I think there are some poets who just are not very good at reading — their voices are flat and expressionless. (I suppose one could argue that they are intentionally reading it that way, so you can just hear the words, and not let the tone/inflections force the interpretation on you …. by speaking flatly, the listener is then free to make their own interpretation.) Which is why, on my blog, I always encourage readers to read the poem first, even make their own reading first, before listening to my reading (or another reading). It’s always interesting to hear how others ‘hear’ a poem…
I love Millay, but, I don’t enjoy listening to her readings of her work … it’s all so High Formal Poetry (which, I suppose is what she was writing), but, I find her readings unappealing.
I love this Auden poem (mostly because of the scene from “Four Weddings and a Funeral”), and I wasn’t sure I wanted to listen, since I think John Hanna’s reading in the movie is, quite possible, the best reading this poem will ever get. But, I wsa pleasantly surprised … Auden’s reading was quite good.
I know there’s always going to be a debate about how poetry should be read — whether it should be read slowly and sonorously, plodding along, or whether a poem should be read with a bit of flair and drama, almost as if acting. And, there are those who are just mortified by the whole Slam Poetry idea, claiming it’s not poetry at all.
Me, I like a bit of drama, or, at least a conversational tone in a poetry reading, rather than the highly formal ‘poet voice’….
I’m glad you shared the Auden … I’ll have to look for some more of his readings, I quite enjoyed this one.
I agree with you, John, that a poet is not always the best reader of his or her own poems. Some of us don’t have the voice or can’t project and there are people – often actors like John Hanna who did a remarkable job – who are infinitely better, especially when they truly do understand the poem. I haven’t heard anyone read Keats better then Ben Whishaw, who also does a fine job with Shakespeare . . . but then I wasn’t alive to hear them in their day and must rely on a proxy.
David Whyte is an outstanding reader as well as being a fine poet and a wise man. The Irish do often seem to have an edge on the rest of us.
On the other hand, as much as I love Arthur Sze, I don’t particularly care to listen to him deliver his own work, though I always get something out of the experience. I have heard some better readings of Auden than those of Auden himself; but I do love hearing his voice. I enjoy the added connection and often his emphasis differs from the way I hear the poem in my head … and more meaningful for it. He was a gentle man and an old-fashioned gentleman and his sweet spirit comes through in his reading. To hear him read Let Me Be the More Loving One (unfortunately not included in this product) is heartbreaking, especially when you know the context in which the poem was written. (Fortunately for me, I was still living in New York when he was there.)
The quote by the way is not from Auden. It’s from Billy Collins, who I think might have had a hand in marketing this product. (The quote is on the box.) I particularly enjoyed this video because we not only hear Auden read, but we see him go about his day.
I’ll get as many of these as I can collect, because even if they do not turn out to be favorite readings, I will learn something new, gain some new perspective … or, I just might fall in love with someone all over again.
John, thank you for your generously long and well-considered response here. Much appreciated.
I so appreciate hearing the poet read his/her own poetry. I’ve been sitting here shaking my head… I was taken back to the first time a person my age was diagnosed with an incurable condition. I was in my mid twenties. It was unfathomable, for about a day, how the world simply kept on going. “Pack up the moon, dismantle the sun…”
I think we all have that reaction to death and so this poem just resonates. Thanks, Amy, for your visit and experience shared.
Sorry I haven’t put up a post…I’m in a world of computer pain this weekend. I downloaded a free game on my Kindle and it’s slamming me with things I cant get out of. Hoping David has fixed it now.
This post makes me want to take a day off to do nothing but read poetry…but today I have to yield to the 49’ers. I know…never got into football until Reno’s Kaepernick got on board. Have followed him since his first game with the Wolf Pack against Boise. :0)
Well, I hope this finds you putting up your feet and turning on the TV to relax. 🙂
I am thinking first how many died after 36 – and how long Auden himself lived. The poem describes so well the monumental sadness one feels with a death, the loss of meaning, and so the double facts that it was at the beginning of such a huge tide of deaths, and that Auden himself survived whatever loss gave birth to the poem for so many years, feel very poignant.
But mainly the poem touches me because it puts one in contact with all kinds of personal losses and those moments of overwhelming grief.
Ditto that. Yes, he did first write this in ’36 and I was thinking ’38 because that’s when I think his finalized version came out. Karen, thanks for enriching this blog and my experience of this poem with your thoughtful comment.
I am just weeping now. Such a beautiful beautiful poem and reading. Thanks much. He is also one of my favorite poets. k.
Thanks, K. for letting me know. It is so exquisite.
It really is. Especially when you think of the date of the poem. Incredibly moving. k.
Hi Jamie, Thank you this was a real treat enhanced so by something that I did not expect – the photography.
Glad you enjoyed, Liz. It’s froma documentary on Auden. I recognize it but for the life of me cannot remember the name of the documentary . . . Old age!!! Yikes!!!
A little chuckle here. 😉