Hear Dylan Thomas Recite His Classic Poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

When Dylan Thomas was a little boy his father would read Shakespeare to him at bedtime. The boy loved the sound of the words, even if he was too young to understand the meaning. His father, David John Thomas, taught English at a grammar school in southern Wales but wanted to be a poet. He was bitterly disappointed with his station in life.

Many years later when the father lay on his deathbed, Dylan Thomas wrote a poem that captures the profound sense of empathy he felt for the dying old man. The poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night," was written in 1951, only two years before the poet's own untimely death at the age of 39. Despite the impossibility of escaping death, the anguished son implores his father to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."




The poem is a beautiful example of the villanelle form, which features two rhymes and two alternating refrains in verse arranged into five tercets, or three-lined stanzas, and a concluding quatrain in which the two refrains are brought together as a couplet at the very end. You can hear Thomas's famous 1952 recital of the poem above. To see the poem's structure and read along as you listen, click here to open the text in a new window.

And to hear more of Thomas reciting his own works (and more), please visit our prior post 8 Glorious Hours of Dylan Thomas Reading Poetry–His Own & Others’.

All poems have been added to our collection of Free Audio Books.

Note: an earlier version of this post originally appeared on our site in August 2012.

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Hear Langston Hughes Read His Poetry Over Original Compositions by Charles Mingus & Leonard Feather: A Classic Collaboration from 1958

Have you looked up Charles Mingus lately? You should. Mingus, who died in 1979, has a “lost” album coming out—live recordings made in ‘73, aired on the radio once, then disappeared into obscurity until now. Seems there’s always something new to learn about our favorite jazz musicians—and our favorite jazz poets. Newly-discovered poems from Langston Hughes, for example, appeared a few years back, written in “depths of the crisis” of the Great Depression.

These poems are dark and bitter, “some of the harshest political verse ever penned by an American,” writes Hughes scholar Arnold Rampersad. They are not the celebratory Hughes we read in school. While angry conservatives and McCarthyism may have forced this side of him into hiding, in Hughes’ view, poetry, like jazz, had room for everything, whether it be love or rage.




“Jazz is a great big sea,” he wrote in his 1956 essay “Jazz as Communication.” The music “washes up all kinds of fish and shells and spume and waves with a steady old beat, or off-beat.” His task, in poems like “The Weary Blues” had been to put “jazz into words,” with all of its wild mood swings, lovers' quarrels, rapid-fire conversations, and heated arguments.

Throughout his career, Mingus had been moving in the other direction, taking storms of ideas—angry, melancholy, joyful, etc.—and turning them into sounds. But his music, always “supremely vocal,” notes The Nation’s Adam Shatz, spoke in one way or another. Mingus “collaborated with poets in East Village Coffeehouses” and won his only Grammy for a piece of writing, the liner notes for his 1971 album Let My Children Hear Music.

For Mingus, critic Whitney Balliett remarked, jazz “was another way of talking.” For another composer, pianist and journalist Leonard Feather, language and music played equal roles. Feather, notes Jason Ankeny, was known both as “the acknowledged dean of American jazz critics” and author of “perennial” standards “Evil Gal Blues,” “Blowtop Blues,” and “How Blue Can You Get?”

Two years after Hughes read “Jazz as Communication” at the Newport Jazz Festival, he collaborated with Feather’s All-Star Sextet and Mingus and the Horace Parlan Quintet on an album first released as The Weary Blues. It has recently been re-released by Fingertips as Harlem in Vogue—22 tracks of Hughes reading poems like “The Weary Blues,” “Blues at Dawn,” and “Same in Blues/Comment on Curb” (top) over original compositions by Feather and Mingus, with six additional tracks of Hughes reading solo and two original songs by Bob Dorough with the Bob Dorough Quintet. (Mingus plays bass on tracks 11-18.)

You can stream the album in full above (and buy it here). Here, listen to the Poetry Foundation’s Curtis Fox, jazz musician Charley Gerard, and poet Holly Bass discuss the record and Hughes’ relationship to jazz and blues. Hughes’ poems, notes Gerard, are “structured just like blues,” their meters, rhymes, and rhythms always invoking the sounds of Harlem’s musical scene. In these recordings, Feather and Mingus transpose Hughes’ language into music, just as he had turned jazz into words.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear Meryl Streep Read Sylvia Plath’s “Morning Song,” a Poem Written After the Birth of Her Daughter

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Pregnancy and parenting are “extreme experiences that stretch our understanding,” writes Lily Gurton-Wachter at the Los Angeles Review of Books. They “push us beyond comfort or even comprehension.” Women risk their own lives to give life to a stranger, a tiny human whose future is entirely uncertain. Parents live with constant dread of all that could befall their children, an anxious state, but also a vulnerability that can make us deeply sensitive to the fragility of human life. Gurton-Wachter compares motherhood to going to war, “a profound, frightening, exhilarating, transformative experience at the boundary of life, an experience from which one comes back a different person.”

It’s a comparison Sylvia Plath would likely appreciate. With her ability to compress personal experience in collections of surprising, often violent, images, Plath expressed deep ambivalence about motherhood, undercutting a tradition of sentimental idealization, giving voice to fear, discomfort, bewilderment, and mystery.




In “Metaphors,” from 1960’s Colossus, she begins with a playful description of pregnancy as “a riddle in nine syllables.” Within a few lines she feels effaced and starts to "see herself merely as a ‘means,’” notes Shenandoah, “almost an incubator… This culminates with the last line, where she realizes that she is forever changed, irrevocably”: “Boarded the train,” she writes, “there’s no getting off.”

In 1961, after the birth of her daughter, Frieda, Plath wrote “Morning Song, which might be read as almost an extension of “Metaphors.” It is “one of her most unusual poems,” writes Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, “both paean and requiem for new motherhood—the love, the strangeness, the surreal and magnetic disorientation of it.” Published posthumously in Ariel, the poem addresses itself to the new arrival, in a series of stanzas that capture the awe and anxiety of those first hours after her birth. In the audio above from the Academy of American Poets’ annual Poetry & the Creative Mind event, hear Meryl Streep read the poem “with uncommon sensitivity,” Popova writes, “to the innumerable nuances it holds.” As you listen, read along below.

MORNING SONG

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Streep's reading of Plath will be added to the poetry section of our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

via Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Rapping, Deconstructed: How Some of the Greatest Rappers Make Their Rhymes

If high school English teachers can challenge skeptical students to cultivate an appreciation for Shakespeare and poetry with rap-based assignments, might the reverse also hold true?

Many aficionados of high culture turn up their noses at rap, believing it to be a simple form, requiring more braggadocio than talent.

Estelle Caswell, rap fan and producer of Vox’s Earworm series, may get them to rethink that position with the above video, showcasing how great rappers assemble rhymes.




Caswell uses visual graphing to explain the progress from the A-A-B-B scheme of early rapper Kurtis Blow’s "The Breaks" (1980) to the complex and surprising holorimes of her personal favorite, MF DOOM.

To appreciate her visual breakdowns, you must understand that raps can be scored like traditional music. Here the bar reigns supreme—each bar consisting of four beats. The further out we go from rap’s origins, the more its practitioners play with placement and rhyme.

Above are some lyrics from Eric B. and Rakim's 1986 cut, "Eric B. Is President," featuring internal rhymes highlighted in yellow and multi-syllabic rhymes picked out in pink. You’ll also find them escaping the tyranny of the bar line, continuing the rhyme on the first beat of the next bar.

Caswell is so intent on examining the late Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize," that she overlooks a rather sizable elephant in the room, the misogynistic POV behind those en and oo sounds.

Shortly thereafter, Mos Def ups both the rhyming game and the feminist accountability, by stuffing his compositions with multi-syllabic words and phrases that sort of rhyme—cinnamon, Entenmann’s, adrenaline and “sent to them.”

Meanwhile, Andre 3000 is playing with varying the accent of his rhymes, relative to the beat and bar, rather than committing to a predictable thudding.

Eminem, who has the distinction of penning the first rap to win an Academy Award, places a premium on narrative, and refuses to concede that nothing rhymes with orange.

Current chart topper Kendrick Lamar’s galloping "Rigamortis" establishes a musical motif that Caswell compares to Beethoven’s famous fifth.

MF DOOM kicks the ball further down the court with double entendres, wordplay and a willingness to steer clear of the expected “b word.”

Listen to a Spotify playlist of the songs referenced in the video.

Delve further into the subject by reading the thoughts of rap analyst Martin Connor, whom Caswell credits as a sort of beacon.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Patti Smith, The Godmother of Punk, Is Now Putting Her Pictures on Instagram

As evidenced by her Instagram feed the Godmother is just like you and me. She posts pictures of her kids.

She gives her mom a Mothers Day shout out…

She celebrates her friends’ birthdays, posts selfies, travel shots, and pet pics

She’s not above self-promotion if the situation warrants.

But the accompanying captions set punk's poet laureate apart. No LOLs here.  It’s clear that the award-winning author of Just Kids  and M Train thinks about her content, carefully crafting each post before she publishes. Each is a bite-sized reflection, a page-a-day meditation on what it means to be alive:

This is day two of my Venice report.

I bummed around thinking of 

Venice in the seventies. It had

a strong Rasta vibe with Reggae

music drifting from the head shops

and boom boxes on the beach. 

Burning Spear and Jimmy Cliff

and Bob Marley. Venice has an 

ever changing atmosphere but 

I always like walking around, 

anonymous, just another freak. 

On Pacific next to the Cafe Collage

I had steamed dumplings and 

ginger tea at Mao’s Kitchen. 

The food is great and reasonable.

Because it was early it was 

nearly empty. Since I was awake

since 4am i was nearly hypnotized 

by the turning of their overhead 

fan. Before I left they gave me a

fortune cookie. It was a true one.

Reflecting my past and certainly 

my future. A very good day.

Follow Patti Smith on Instagram here.

via W Magazine

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight premieres in June at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

See The Iliad Performed as a One-Woman Show in a Montreal Bar by McGill University Classics Professor Lynn Kozak

Homer’s Iliad staged as a one-woman show? IN A BAR! It's an outrage. A desecration of a founding work of Western Civilization™. A sure sign of cultural decline.

But wait…. What if McGill University classics professor Lynn Kozak’s performance returns the epic Greek poem to its origins, as a dramatic oral presentation for small audiences who were, quite possibly, inebriated, or at least a little tipsy? Kozak’s Previously on… The Iliad, described as “Happy Hour Homer,” presents its intimate audience with “a new, partially improvised English translation of a bit of The Iliad, all the way through the epic.”




The performances take place every Monday at 6 at Montreal’s Bar des Pins. Like the story itself, Kozak begins in medias res—in the middle, that is, of a chattering crowd of students, who quiet down right away and give the story their full attention.

Ancient Greek poetry was performed, not studied in scholarly editions in academic departments. It was sung, with musical accompaniment, and probably adapted, improvised, and embellished by ancient bards to suit their audiences. Granted, Kozak doesn’t sing (though some performances involve music); she recites in a manner both casual and dramatically gripping. She reminds us that the stories we find in the text are distant kin to the bloody serialized TV soap operas that occupy so much of our day-to-day conversation, at home, on social media, and at happy hour.

The liberties Kozak takes recreate the poem in the present as a living work. This is classics education at its most engaging and accessible. Like any poetic performer, Kozak knows her audience. The Iliad  is a lot like Game of Thrones, “because of the number of characters that you have to keep up with,” Kozak tells the CBC’s As It Happens, “and also because of the fact that there’s not always clean-cut kind of villains or who you’re supposed to be rooting for in any major scene—especially in battle scenes.”

The performance of the “anger of Achilles” (top, with beer pong) conveys the moral complexity of the Greek hero. “He must be brutal and ready to risk brutality,” as UNC professor of philosophy CDC Reeve writes. “At the same time, he must be gentle to his friends and allies, and able to join with them in group activities both military and peaceful.” Is Achilles a tool of the gods or a man driven to extremes by rage? Homer suggests both, but the action is set in motion by divine agency. “Apollo was pissed at King Agamemnon,” Kozak paraphrases, then summarizes the nature of the insult and checks in with the young listeners: “everyone still with me?”

The story of The Iliad, many scholars believe, existed as an oral performance for perhaps 1,000 years before it was committed to writing by the scribe or scribes identified as Homer. But the poem “isn’t really a theatre piece,” says Kozak, despite its musical nature. “It’s really a story. It’s really a one-person show. And for me it’s just important to be in a place that’s casual and where I’m with the audience.” It’s doubtful that the poem was performed in its entirely in one sitting, though the notion of “serialization” as we know it from 19th century novels and modern-day television shows was not part of the culture of antiquity.

“We’re not really sure how The Iliad was broken up originally,” Kozak admits. Adapting the poem to contemporary audience sensibilities has meant “thinking about where or if episodes exist in the epic,” in the way of Game of Thrones. Each performance is styled differently, with Kozak holding court as various characters. “Sometimes there are cliffhangers. Sometimes they have resolutions. It’s been an interesting mix so far.” That “so far” extends on YouTube from Week 1 (Book 1, lines 1-487) to Week 14 (Book 11, line 461 to Book 12, line 205). Check back each week for new “episodes” to come online, and watch Weeks One through Four above and the other ten at the Previously on… The Iliad YouTube channel.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Bill Murray Reads the Poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Billy Collins, Lorine Niedecker, Lucille Clifton & More

Who among us wouldn’t want the ineffably mellow, witty, and wise Bill Murray to crash their party, wedding, or White House press briefing room? Maybe you’re one of the few who could resist his comic charms. But could you throw him out if he brought along a cellist and read Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “Dog”? Not I.

Murray appeared at SXSW on Monday and read the poem as part of the promotional campaign for Wes Anderson’s new stop-motion animation film Isle of Dogs. And it can seem when we look back at Murray’s many public appearances over the last few years, that the one thing he’s done more than crash other people's parties and star in Wes Anderson films has been read poetry in public.

Murray, as Ayun Halliday pointed out in a previous post, is a “documented poetry nut,” who once wrote poetry himself as a much younger man. He’s been “wise enough,” writes Gavin Edwards at Rolling Stone “not to share it with the world.”  Perhaps we’re missing out.




But we do have many, many clips of Murray reading his favorites from other poets he admires, like Ferlinghetti, and like Wallace Stevens, whose “The Planet on The Table” and “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts,” he reads above at New York’s Poets House, an institution he has wholeheartedly supported.

Wallace Stevens is a famously difficult poet, but he is also quite funny, in an obliquely droll way, and its no wonder Murray likes his verse. Poets House director Lee Bricoccetti observes that there is “an alignment between comedy and poetry… a precision in the way you handle language.” Some of my own favorite poets—like Frank O’Hara and the “willfully ridiculous” Stevie Smith—are also some of the funniest writers I’ve ever encountered in any form. Murray’s own poetic efforts, were we ever to hear them, may not measure up to the work of his favorites, but he is undoubtedly “a master of linguistic control and pacing.”

We also know that he can turn in finely nuanced dramatic performances when he wants to, and his mastery of the spoken word contributes just as much to moodier poets like Emily Dickinson, whom he reads above in a surprise performance for construction workers at work on the new Poets House home in 2009. You might agree, however, that he really shines with comic fare, like Billy Collins “Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House” and Lorine Niedecker’s majorly condensed “Poet’s Work.”

Any of these readings should grant Murray admission into the most uptight of literary affairs. If anyone still doubts his skill in the craft of reading literature well in public—which, any writer will you, is no easy thing by far—then hear him read Lucille Clifton’s uplifting “What the Mirror Said” (above), or Sarah Manguso’s “What We Miss,” Billy Collins’ “Forgetfulness,” and Cole Porter’s song “Brush Up on Your Shakespeare.” Hear him read from Huckleberry Finn and mumble his way through Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm,” in character in the film St. Vincent.

Oh, but does the multitalented Bill Murray, "master of linguistic control and pacing," sing show tunes? Does he ever….

Find these poetry readings added to OC's collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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