On Shelley’s “Ode To The West Wind” (Breathing)


Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

AG: Another person who.. (we’re getting back to breath now) is Shelley’s “Ode To The West Wind” (in this book on page 669). How many have read Shelley’s “Ode To The West Wind” here? How many have not? How many have not read Shelley’s “Ode To The West Wind”? How many have heard it read aloud ? [show of hands] – Okay . And how many have read it aloud themselves? – Well, it’d be interesting.. Let me try reading it aloud once and then we’ll all read it aloud. It’ll be fun. But the only thing is (that) I’m saying, (that) I’m pointing to – it’s the breath, just the breath and so, whatever you do, it’s like blowing a tuba or something, or trumpet, french horns, symphonic. But mainly, (it’s) like, you’re playing a wind-instrument in the poem. And see if it doesn’t tell.. if you actually do pronounce it with full voice, with your spine erect, if it doesn’t catalyze a sort of tingling among the nerves of your limbs and open the breathing.

But I would like to read it once through because I want to follow the punctuation. Then we’ll try it through like that, just like that, just follow punctuation, okay? – Is that alright or is that too long? – Okay – It’s the West Wind so it’s the Big Spirit. The spirit of.., What is the West Wind traditionally?  Is it something like  the change of the seasons? – I don’t know.. When does the wind come from the west ? Does anybody know? – Particularly. Is there a specific time when the wind comes..?

Peter Orlovsky: Maybe winter time, in the fall, spring time, in the summer time, any time.

AG: There’s probably some very prophetic time..

Peter Orlovsky: A lot of times, it comes all the time.

AG: Portentous times? – Okay.. [Allen, at approximately thirty-five minutes in begins reading Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”, concluding at approximately thirty-nine-and-a-half minutes in] (“O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being….”…”The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind!/ If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”) – Well, if you follow the breathing, it get to be real ecstatic. But you’ve really got to follow the breathing, you’ve got these short bursts where you get, “Be thou, Spirit fierce,/My spirit!”, so you get a chance to punch them home (because you can’t punch them home, you know you can’t say them with authentic breath, you can’t say them with authentic breath, unless you get enough breath in your body to say “My spirit!” (otherwise you have to say, “Be thou, Spirit fierce,/My spirit!”, “Be thou, Spirit fierce,/My spirit!”). So you get yourself a little time there. It’s like, a trumpeter, you know, you get da-da-da

Peter Orlovsky. How would (Andrei) Voznesensky read this poem?

AG: Well, it was like that probably Russian oratorical style. I don’t know how Shelley read it, but, certainly, it’s like a musical score, that you can expand.. that you can use as a..like ..Rubinstein-ian…

Peter Orlovsky: Did Shelley ever read this aloud anywhere? If so, how many times and where?

AG: Does anybody know? -[to Student] Pat (sic) , do you know?

Student (Pat): I don’t know.

AG: There, he’s a PhD and he doesn’t know. I don’t know. I’ll have to look it up

Peter Orlovsky; What’s your guess?

AG: I think he might have read it aloud to (Lord) Byron, something like that (because I think threy were hanging around somewhat around that time) – or maybe Leigh Hunt or (Edward) Trelawny, his friend, or someone like that, some of the soldiers of fortune and macho studs of that day, or maybe his girlfriend maybe (maybe he read it aloud to the author of Frankenstein)

Student: Who was that?

AG: His wife, Mary Shelley. Okay, shall we try all that together. A little slower than I did. Just remember it’s like a.. big symphony. It’s like, you know, Tchaikovsky.. no..what is it like? what’s the music that it’s like? – da da-da daWagner, a little bit. A little Wagner, a little Bruckner, Bruckner, a bit of Mahler here and there, Brahms, I suppose.. Okay , one, two, (it’s on page 669, new page, “Ode to the West Wind” – okay?) – Did everybody… But loud, you know. I generally start sort of like, what do you call it? legato? – slower, and then you build up to the end (because you have to save voice). I began a little too loud, you know. It should be “O wild Wind..” [At approximately forty-two-and-a-quarter minutes in, Allen leads the class in a group reading of Shelley’s poem, which cuts off on side one and continues on side two of the tape – “I bet that’s never been done before”.”It was like a big chorale symphony or something”] – So, when you get the wind, the breath (and it certainly is wind and breath and spirit) and he just so unloosened, you know, like unloosened his body, unleashed the breath, or unlocked the doors of the body for the wind to blow through, that it is possible to get into a kind of ecstatic high state, actually, following his breathing. It’s like he’s scheduled the breathing so that you’ll hyperventilate in a way (maybe just like a simple hyperventilation trick or something. On the other hand, it does have the intellectual structure that goes with it.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-three minutes in and concluding approximately forty-nine minutes in]

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