“Western Wind” and “A Thousand Miles Away From Home”

Allen Ginsberg continues his discussion of early English lyrics

AG: “Westron Wynde” – Does anybody know that? – “Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow?” – Huh? – Before we get there – wait a minute- yeah, “Westron Wynde” (page sixty-nine). How many people… how many have heard of that before? – Raise your hand if you have [a scattering in the class raise their hands] – You mean there are (only) five people in this class that have ever heard of that? . Okay. This is maybe the greatest poem in the English language. Really! – Like, the archetype poem of the entire English.. history of English poesie!

“Western wind, when wilt thou blow/That the small rain down can rain/Christ, that my love were in my arms/And I in my bed again!”

Westron wynde, when will thou blow,/The smalle raine downe can raine./Crist, if my love were in my armas/And I in my bedde agine!” 

Some soldier in the fields of France, hoping to get back to England? – “Western wind, when wilt thou blow/That the small rain down can rain – (that’s a really weird piece of rhythm there – “the small rain down can rain”) – “Christ, that my love were in my arms/And I in my bed again!” It’s really… Why is that so good, though? It’s like some great haiku – On the verge of total deprivation and loss, you know, he’s really in the soup, you know, life has changed, and it’s never going to be the same again, and he’s out on the battlefield, and…

What is happening there, actually?  I never did figure that out. He’s asking the Western Wind when it’ll blow, and then there’s a question mark.

Because, the problem here is we don’t have…  we may not have the original (Let me see, I’ve got another book that might have the original). No, this is an edited version, with the spelling changed, and maybe even the punctuation changed, and maybe the original manuscript has no punctuation in and maybe it’s just oral tradition.. Yes?

Student: (Do you know if it’s a soldier on the battlefield because it seems to me like a sailor?)
AG; Maybe, maybe.
Student:   (Because he needs the wind..)
AG: Maybe, yes..  Well, let’s see..  Oh, listen, here’s how it is in the original – “Westron wynde – (W-E-S-T-R-O-N) – Westron wynde, when will thou blow”  (same) – “The smalle raine downe can raine” -(and there’s an “e” after “small”, “rain” and down” ) – “the smalle – (S-M-A-L-L-E, R-A-I-N-E. D-O-W-N-E), “Crist..” (C-R-I-S-T) – C-R-I-S-T not C-H-R-I-S-T, that’s what I’ve got – (because I used that spelling of Christ in a poem called “Laughing Gas, or, “Aether, and everybody accused me of being unscholarly, because I misspelt the word “Christ”, but I said “C-R-I-S-T” too).

“Crist, if my love were (W-E-R)  in my armes”  (A-R-M-E-S)/ And I in my bedde (A-G-I-N-E)”- Westron wynde, when will thou blow//The smalle raine downe can raine./Crist, if my love were in my armes – Crist, if my love were in my armes – /And I in my bedde agine” –

Well, I guess he might be a sailor, might be a sailor, but he’s somewhere far from home. It’s like the  “All Along the Water Towers” [sic]

Student: Watchtower.

AG: Watchtower. No, no, not  the (Bob) Dylan  (the Jimmie Rodgers)

…not the Dylan..what was that line? “a thousand miles from home?”…no, no, seriously now, I’m trying to find the line – “a thousand miles from home”…

Student: He wrote,  “All around the water tanks…”

AG: Yeah. How does it go?

Student: “.. waiting for a train/ A thousand miles away from home/ sleeping in the rain”

AG: Yes, “A thousand miles away from home,/ sleeping in the rain” – Jimmie Rodgers– It’s about as good as.. I mean, imagine Jimmie Rodgers lyric lasting six hundred years like this? -“Christ, that my love were in my arms/And I in my bed again!” – “A thousand miles away from home/ sleeping in the rain”? – ” waitin in the rain?”
– (AG begins singing) –  “All around the water tanks/waiting for a train/A thousand miles away from home/ sleeping in the rain”

It’s classic. You can’t get away from it.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-five-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-and-a-quarter minutes in]


  1. Love this. Allen does not get into whether my absolute favorite Dylan ballad, “Tomorrow is a Long Time” is derivative of “Westron Wynde” but I have been convinced since I listened to KCBX and one of its affiliates’ radio play Rosalie Sorrels singing the song on Valentine’s Night in a campground in driving rain… “If only my own true love was waiting/ and I could feel her heart beside me, softly pounding/ Yes, only if she was lying by me/ and I could lie in my bed once again”

  2. I have loved Westron Wynde ever since I read it in high school. However, I find it curious that all of the analyses assume the writer is male. Am I the only one that visualized the writer as a woman whose lover was a sailor? She faces west, into the wind, looking for her lover’s ship is sail back across the Atlantic. I’ve even seen her as a woman in the early 1700’s whose husband has traveled west to explore the unknown lands of North America. Am I the only one?

  3. Lovely; I never really thought that much about the gender of the writer, to be honest. It’s about a universal feeling of longing, for love and for home, for me, and I think we all have felt that.

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