Sunday, October 29, 2006

Stop This Day and Night with Me and You Shall Possess the Origin of All Poems

I just stumbled upon a wonderful recording: Orson Welles reading out selections from Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself" (or reading out some poems from the poem-cycle "Song of Myself" -- depends on how you look at it ("listen to all sides and filter them from your self."))

It's a marvelous recording, at least to my ears. Welles, of course, was a famous radio producer and actor before he turned filmmaker, and so his voice and aural presence is astonishing. He really puts a lot of life into the poems. Needless to say, it's just one interpretation -- not always how I hear it my head, and I'm sure not how you hear it in yours -- but it's a wonderful one. His selection is about 50 minutes long; I highly recommend listening to it.

The recording can be found here (link via); this is a direct link to the real audio file.

The numbers from "Song of Myself" that Welles performs are: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 14, 15, 21, 24, 26, 27, 28, 31, 33/46*, 48, 51, 52.

I put an asterisk next to 33/46 to signify that, in that instance, Welles (for some reason) attaches the first four lines of 33 to 46 (which is complete). Apart from that oddity, there are two lines which are skipped on the recording -- I think it's taken off a record. One is the sixth-to-last line of 14, which should read "I can eat and sleep with them week in and week out," but which skips and so sounds just like "week in". The other is, damn it, the very last line of 52 -- the end of the cycle ("I stop somewhere waiting for you.") -- which seems to have been cut off in the process of putting it online. Apart from that, the above-listed numbers are complete.

I don't know anything about the site that the recording is hosted on, but it looks like they have a bunch of other stuff. They have a brief 1890 recording of Whitman reading one of his own poems, "America" -- but one that is so scratchy as to be all-but inaudible. And, on a different page, along with some speeches by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, they have what purports to be Orson Welles's famous radio version of The War of the Worlds; but I haven't listened to that one to check.

One great American artist performs another. Check it out.

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

-- Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself", 2


Anonymous said...

Somehow that last bit, "Song of Myself" 2, reminds me of the part in the Book of Job when God's tearing a strip off Job in Ch. 38-41.

Stephen said...

Yeah, there are a lot of biblical echoes in Whitman, I think.