In this installment, Anne Waldman performs “Ode to the West Wind” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Waldman, poet, editor, performer, professor, curator, cultural activist carries in her genetics the lineages of the New American Poetry, and is a considered an inheritor of the Beat (Allen Ginsberg called her his “spiritual wife”) and the New York School (Frank O’Hara told her to “work for inspiration, not money”) mantles. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts award, the Shelley prize for poetry, and has had residences at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, The Atlantic Center for the Arts and at the Christian Woman’s University in Tokyo. Directing the Poetry Project at St Mark’s Poetry Project over a decade, she co-founded the Jack Keroauc School of Disembodied Poetics with Allen Ginsberg at the Buddhist-inspired Naropa University in 1974. She currently is a Distinguished Professor and Chair of Naropa’s celebrated Summer Writing Program and is working with the Study Abroad on the Bowery project in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Author and editor of over 40 books and small press editions of poetry, she has been working for over 25 years on the epic Iovis project (two volumes published by Coffee House Press, 1993, 1997) and has published most recently Marriage: A Sentence, Coffee House Press 2000; In the Room of Never Grieve: New & Selected Poems with CD collaboration with Ambrose Bye, Coffee House Press 2003; Dark Arcana: Afterimage or Glow, with photographs by Patti Smith, Heavenbone Press 2003; and Structure of the World Compared to a Bubble, a long Buddhist poem, Penguin Poets 2004. She makes her home in New York City and Boulder, Colorado. She was awarded a residency at the Rockefeller’s Bellagio center in April of 2006.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ode to the West Wind”
O WILD West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes! O thou
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill;
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, O hear!
Thou on whose stream, ‘mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning! there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Mænad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge
Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might
Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst: O hear!
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull’d by the coil of his crystàlline streams,
Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ’s bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,
All overgrown with azure moss, and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers
Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! if even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem’d a vision—I would ne’er have striven
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
O! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d
One too like thee—tameless, and swift, and proud.
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own?
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,
Like wither’d leaves, to quicken a new birth;
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
This poem was conceived and chiefly written in a wood that skirts the Arno, near Florence, and on a day when that tempestuous wind, whose temperature is at once mild and animating, was collecting the vapours which pour down the autumnal rains. They began, as I foresaw, at sunset with a violent tempest of hail and rain, attended by that magnificent thunder and lightning peculiar to the Cisalpine regions. The phenomenon alluded to at the conclusion of the third stanza is well known to naturalists. The vegetation at the bottom of the sea, of rivers, and of lakes, sympathises with that of the land in the change of seasons, and is consequently influenced by the winds which announce it.