Category Archives: Audio

Looking at Larkin

An LRB Podcast with Seamus Perry and Mark Ford

Looking at Larkin

Seamus Perry and Mark Ford discuss the work of Philip Larkin, drawing on articles from the archive of the London Review of Books, by Alan Bennett, Barbara Everett, John Bayley and others.

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Two sonnets for Shakespeare 400

By Wendy Cope

Two sonnets for Shakespeare 400My Father’s Shakespeare

My father must have bought it second-hand,
Inscribed “To RS Elwyn” – who was he?
Published 1890, leather-bound,
In 1961 passed on to me.
November 6th. How old was I? Sixteen.
Doing A level in English Lit.,
In love with Keats and getting very keen
On 
William Shakespeare. I was thrilled with it,
This gift, glad then, as now, to think
I had been chosen as the keeper of
My father’s Shakespeare, where, in dark blue ink,
He wrote, “To Wendy Mary Cope. With love.”
Love on a page, surviving death and time.
He didn’t even have to make it rhyme.

On Sonnet 18

So long as men can breathe and eyes can see” –
You don’t assume we’ll be around for ever.
You couldn’t know that “this gives life to thee”
Only until the sun goes supernova.
That knowledge doesn’t prove your words untrue.
Neither time nor the advance of science
Has taken anything away from you,
Or faced down your magnificent defiance.
That couplet. Were you smiling as you wrote it?
Did you utter a triumphant “Yes”?
Walking round the garden, did you quote it,
Sotto voce, savouring your success?
And did you always know, or sometimes doubt
That passing centuries would bear you out?
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Specially commissioned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
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Listen to The Poetry Archive’s 400 Collection containing recordings of twenty sonnets read by ten major poets.  Each poet has chosen a favourite sonnet by Shakespeare and, inspired by that sonnet, has written a new sonnet of his or her own.
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A reminder that on April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters. Please bring your own selection of this genre for discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections posted to-date.

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Anne Sexton’s lost tapes

By Kelsey Osgood

Anne_SextonIn early March 1966, poet and public-television presidium Richard O. Moore traveled to the buttoned-up Boston suburb of Weston, Massachusetts, to interview the poet Anne Sexton at the home she shared with her husband, Kayo, and young daughters Linda and Joy. The interview was to be a cinéma vérité–type glimpse into the life of the increasingly famous poète maudite, who just a year later would be awarded the Pulitzer for her second collection, Live or Die. Sexton’s star had been on the rise since the 1960 publication of her first book, To Bedlam and Partway Back, which focused on her psychiatric hospitalization and subsequent return to a degree of normalcy (hence “partway”). Throughout the interview, later aired on San Francisco television station KQED, Sexton presents her home life to the viewer: she reads her work, comforts her daughter, cajoles her camera-shy husband to join her on film, and contemplates death. At one point, she puts on a Chopin record, Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 23. Sexton melts at the opening notes; her demeanor, hitherto coquettish, becomes euphoric. She closes her eyes, arches her neck, and bites her lip as if she’s seducing someone or being seduced. The camera travels down her long, pale arm, which swings just slightly to the beat.
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“I’ll tell you what poem I wrote to this,” she says to Moore, smirking. “‘Your Face on the Dog’s Neck.’ Makes no sense, does it? A love poem.” As the music crescendos, the frenetic camera homes in on Sexton’s eyes, which she closes as she exclaims, “Oh, it’s beautiful!” Her joy is overwhelming and carnal and more than a little disturbing. “It’s better than a poem!” she says. “Music beats us.”

Read the complete article
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We will be reading and discussing the poetry of Anne Sexton on July 27.

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Beethoven’s A-minor String Quartet (Op. 132): The magical music that inspired T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets

Excerpted from Chamber Music: A Listener’s Guide by James M. Keller

Beethoven_s A-minor String QuartetThe A-minor String Quartet (Op. 132) is the second of the triptych Beethoven wrote for Count Nikolas Galitzin. It occupied the composer from about February through July 1825, and its content is very much wrapped up with the vicissitudes of his life during those months. By that time he had reached a sorry state, increasingly isolated through his deafness. In 1825 he was actually arrested as a vagrant – a mistake, but an understandable one in light of what was reported to be his increasingly slovenly appearance.
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Read the complete excerpt: Beethoven-A-minor-string-quartet
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Listen to Quatuor Ebène play Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet number 15 in A-minor Op. 132
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Another reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing more of  T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our March session. On March 23 we will focus on “The Dry Salvages” and “Little Gidding.” Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

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T. S. ELIOT’S FOUR QUARTETS: A PATTERN OF TIMELESS MOMENTS

BY GLENN HUGHES

eliot_guinnessMy first encounter with T. S. Eliot’s masterpiece, the poem-cycle Four Quar­tets, took place when I was twenty years old. The conditions were unusually felicitous. I was visiting family friends in southeast England, and during a pe­riod when my host family was away for a few days, I noticed a BBC program announcement in the newspaper. That evening there was to be a broadcast of Alec Guinness reading Eliot’s Four Quartets in its entirety.
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At the appointed time I turned off all but one lamp, lay down on a couch, and listened. This first encounter with the Quartets was therefore appropriately audito­ry and incantatory. It was also vision-inducing, strangely moving, and deeply perplexing. Eliot has said, famously, that great poetry communicates before it is understood; this experience remains my touchstone for the truth of that remark. (The remark also reminds us that art is concerned with elemental meaning: “communication” occurs before “understanding” because a great poem conveys, through the music and imagery of poetic language, the mean­ingfulness of certain “purely experiential patterns,” prior to any careful anal­ysis of a poem’s meaning or structure.)1
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Within days I had bought a cheap paperback edition of the Quartets and had begun the process of reading and rereading what I am inclined to think of as the greatest English-language poem of the twentieth century. In order to critically explicate some of the spiritual aspects of Eliot’s com­municative aims in Four Quartets, no guidance is more useful than that provided by Voegelin’s philosophy of consciousness and history.
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Where Voegelin’s thought was helpful for understanding the viewpoint informing Dickinson’s poetry [alluding to an earlier essay in the book–ed], it is more so, indeed seems tailor-made for understanding the design of Eliot’s thinking and artistic intentions in this work. As we shall see, Eliot’s poetic vision of existence and history in Four Quartets and Voegelin’s philo­sophical analysis of existence and history are mutually compatible and illumi­nating to an extraordinary degree, not only in overall vision but in significant detail.

Read the complete article
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Listen to Alec Guinness read Four Quartets
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Another reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions. On February 23 we will focus on “Burnt Norton” and “East Coker.” Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

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A meeting of minds

By Katie Mitchell

‘I should like to get something of this into verse,’ wrote TS Eliot about Beethoven. Katie Mitchell tells how she united the two artists’ work.
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ts-eliot-and-beethovenIn 1994, on a dusty bookshelf at a friend’s house, I stumbled across an old tape recording of Ted Hughes reading my favourite poem, TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. I was struck by the power of hearing the poem read aloud. When you read it to yourself silently, you can appreciate Eliot’s use of alliteration, or the way in which he cuts the cloth of his ideas in different metrical patterns – but the appreciation is cerebral. When you hear it spoken, the musical impact of the language, metres and rhymes crystallises the meaning and releases the emotion. The more I listened to Hughes’ recording, the more I became convinced that the poem was written to be read out loud, and that hearing it made the material more accessible.
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I began to wonder how you could make it into a live performance. With this in mind, I approached Stephen Dillane, one the few actors I knew who would not be daunted by the scale and potential loneliness of the undertaking. And so, three years ago, rehearsals began, fitted around our other work commitments.
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It was only by chance that we discovered – in Lyndall Gordon’s book on Eliot’s later career, Eliot’s New Life – that the poem was inspired by one of Beethoven’s late string quartets. Once the initial connection had been made between the two pieces, I started to research them both, with a view to working out how to put them together. The idea of an evening that somehow combined a reading of the poem with a performance of the string quartet was born.

Read the complete article

Listen to the Borodin Quartet play Beethoven’s string quartet, Opus 132 in A minor – the music that inspired T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.
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Another reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions. On February 23 we will focus on “Burnt Norton” and “East Coker.” Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

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T.S. Eliot and Beethoven

by Richard Whitehouse

ts-eliot-and-beethovenPoetry and music might be felt to go hand in glove so far as expressive affect is concerned, which makes it the more surprising that the two are not more frequently juxtaposed in live performance. This pairing was suggested by the acknowledged influence of Beethoven’s ‘late’ string quartets on T. S. Eliot’s most searching investigation into the essence of poetic thought – his “Four Quartets.”
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Initially a stand-alone entity – “Burnt Norton” – in 1935, Eliot went on to continue the sequence during 1940-42, though what resulted is neither a multi-part poem – as is “The Wasteland” – nor an extended verse-drama of the kind he had evolved with “Murder in the Cathedral” and also “The Family Reunion.” And if the interplay of authorial voices may be thought analogous to that of instrumental parts in music so frequently contrapuntal as are Beethoven’s late quartets, Eliot’s reiteration of verbal motifs is more to do with rendering an idea from several poetic perspectives – albeit as simultaneously as the perception of words will admit – than the evolution and expressive intensification of a formal process.
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Moreover, while the mode of address becomes richer and more complex as each ‘quartet’ progresses, the intention is surely to create a sense of change by moving circularly to a point of closure – rather than the overtly dialectical method embodied in Beethoven’s instrumental music in general, and his ‘late’ string quartets in particular. Completed in 1825, the A minor String Quartet is the fourth of the five works that constitute his spiritual testament and, though not the most forward-looking in terms of formal continuity, has a tonal and harmonic disparity across and between each of its five movements that made it as influential on future generations as any of the pieces from his so-called ‘third period’.

Read the complete article
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Listen to the Alban Berg Quartet play Beethoven’s string quartet, Opus 132 in A minor – the music that inspired T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

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Another reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions. On February 23 we will focus on “Burnt Norton” and “East Coker.” Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

 

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Poetry and Exile: T. S. Eliot, ‘Four Quartets’

By Professor Belinda Jack
poetry-and-exileThese poems retain a stubborn opacity and no interpretation is ever wholly satisfactory. The difficulty of Eliot’s poetry is partly a function of the poems’ dense allusions to so much other poetry. But by exploring the idea of exile in relation to locality and the idea of space more abstractly, the shape of Four Quartets as descriptive of a spiritual journey comes into better focus. Autobiographically it is clear that Burnt Norton, the house and its extensive gardens, East Coker, and above all the religious community at Little Gidding, matter greatly to our understanding of both Eliot’s life and also his poetry. But the antithesis of place, that is the idea of exile from place, is equally important.

Read Professor Belinda Jack’s complete transcript and watch the video of her presentation.
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Another reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions. On February 23 we will focus on “Burnt Norton” and “East Coker.” Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

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On “Burnt Norton”

By Helen Gardner, Morris Weitz, F. O. Matthiessen, Hugh Kenner, Denis Donoghue, Donald J. Childs and A. David Moody.

on-burnt-nortonThe more familiar we become with Four Quartets, however, the more we realize that the analogy with music goes much deeper than a comparison of the sections with the movements of a quartet, or than an identification of the four elements as ‘thematic material’. One is constantly reminded of music by the treatment of images, which recur with constant modifications, from their context, or from their combination with other recurring images, as a phrase recurs with modifications in music. These recurring images, like the basic symbols, are common, obvious and familiar, when we first meet them. As they recur they alter, as a phrase does when we hear it on a different instrument, or in another key, or when it is blended and combined with another phrase, or in some way turned round, or inverted. A simple example is the phrase ‘a shaft of sunlight’ at the close of ‘Burnt Norton’. This image occurs in a rudimentary form in ‘The Hollow Men’, along with a moving tree and voices heard in the wind:
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There, the eyes are

Sunlight on a broken column

There, is a tree swinging

And voices are

In the wind’s singing

More distant and more solemn

Than a fading star.
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At the close of ‘Burnt Norton’ a ‘moment of happiness’, defined in ‘The Dry Salvages’ as a ‘sudden illumination’ is made concrete by the image of a shaft of sunlight which transfigures the world:
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Sudden in a shaft of sunlight

Even while the dust moves

There rises the hidden laughter

Of children in the foliage

Quick now, here, now, always —

Ridiculous the waste sad time

Stretching before and after.
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Read the complete article
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Anyone interested in Thomas Howard’s Dove Descending: A Journey Into T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets may also enjoy viewing his enlightening lecture available on YouTube here: A Reader’s Guide to T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”
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Another early reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for details.  Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

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Eliot’s and Beethoven’s Voices Yoked

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI

a-meeting-of-mindsIn 1931, while listening to a gramophone recording of Beethoven’s String Quartet in A minor (Op. 132), T. S. Eliot wrote a letter to his friend Stephen Spender, the English poet and novelist. Eliot found the Beethoven piece “quite inexhaustible to study,” he wrote.
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“There is a sort of heavenly, or at least more than human, gaiety about some of his later things,” Eliot continued, “which one imagines might come to oneself as the fruits of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering; I should like to get something of that into verse before I die.”
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Eliot did so in “Four Quartets,” his series of four lengthy, connected poems written over six years and first published together in New York in 1943. Among Eliot scholars, it seems, there is debate about how, precisely, this effort was inspired by the Quartet in A minor, one of Beethoven’s astonishing late works.
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Read the complete article
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Listen to the Borodin Quartet play Beethoven’s string quartet, Opus 132 in A minor – the music that inspired T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.
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An early reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for details.  Please bring your own favourite excerpts, interpretations and comments for discussion about these challenging poems.

Leave a comment

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