Poetry from the Horse’s Mouth

I’m always fascinated by writers’ voices. I’m always curious to hear them, because that’s the voice they hear in their head as they write (well, it’s similar to it, because as anyone who’s heard a recording of their own voice attest, what we hear and what others hear is quite different).

I’m particularly curious to hear poets, because rhythm and tone are so crucial to poetry. So one imagines that the way a poet reads their work is, ideally, exactly how they imagine the poem should sound. Though of course, what’s in the writer’s head might not be exactly translated by their tongue.

Here’s W.B Yeats reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” in his later years. To be honest, it might be a little spooky to hear this in the middle of the night, but I like the fragility of his voice, which adds a poignancy to the poem’s desire for a simple pastoral peacefulness.


T.S Eliot reading “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:” it’s surprising for me to hear his English accent, considering he was 25 when he moved from the United States to England. I find his voice quite suits this poem:  the drab flat monotone of a bank clerk really matches the resigned depression of the embodiment of middle-class 20th century ennui.


Sylvia Plath reading “Daddy:” it’s tempting to read psychology into this reading, considering Plath’s struggles with depression and her suicide. What’s surprising about this reading is the confidence and sense of performance of it. Hearing writers read their work can be disappointing when we realise they’re ordinary people with ordinary voices. But this sounds like an actress reading it:

Dylan Thomas reading “Do not go gentle into that good night:” that deep Welsh bass is how I’d imagined Thomas would sound, and could easily be mistaken for Richard Burton:


Allen Ginsberg reading “Howl:” I’ve always loved Ginsberg’s voice since I first heard him on the Clash song “Ghetto Defendant.” Of all these recordings, this probably gives the best sense of what the writer was trying to achieve, as it’s such a stream-of-consciousness poem, only Ginsberg would have known the rhythm he wanted, and he has such a great distinctive reading voice, you can easily imagine this is what was in his head:


Of course the beauty of any writing is that we can have our own interpretation of it, and can appreciate how other people give their own slant on the author’s original. Still, we’re lucky to exist in a time when it’s so easy to hear a writer reading their own work, even if they’re long dead.

9 thoughts on “Poetry from the Horse’s Mouth

  1. Listening to T. S. Eliot is interesting, because he ALWAYS sounds like that. There’s a clip of him reading “Marina”, one of his most uplifting pieces, and he still sounds flat and monotone. I used to read Prufrock out loud to my senior students so that they could hear the rhythm of the lines, and I always got teary at the end–it’s such a powerful piece–well, to me personally.

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