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Sounds for National Poetry Day

It’s National Poetry Day on 1 October, so to mark the occasion, we thought we’d bring together a few occasions on which poetry has been absolutely central to how an artist has reimagined the sounds of the world – when a poem is at the heart of a recomposed piece, it’s often very beautiful.

Arquà Petrarca, Italy

We start out in Arquà Petrarca, a small Italian town that was (the clue is in the name) once the home of the poet Petrarch – listen in to this recording of the town’s lovely church bells:

City version:

The recomposed piece takes the town of Arquà Petrarca’s status as the home of Petrarch, transposing his famous poem “Sonetto a Laura” over the sounds of the bells, with multiple layers of ondes martenot linking the poem from the past with the bells of the present over the centuries.

Memory version:

Seville, Spain

For the next National Poetry Day stop, we’re off to Seville in Spain, with midday bells ringing out across the rooftops of the old town.

City version:

Walker Wooding reimagines the sound of bells in Seville using a reading from Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Bells’.


Land’s End, England

From sunshine to showers now. In this recording, it’s a miserable afternoon in a beautiful part of the UK – Land’s End is (obviously!) one of the remotest spots in the UK, once you get past the attendant gift shops and gaudy entertainment that has been put in place to commemorate the fact.

Today, though, the weather is so horrible that everything is closed, and there are no tourists, so we can experience it as it was meant to be – a desolate promontory that juts out into the ocean, the very end of our country and an unforgettable vista – just don’t turn around.

In this recording you can hear the rain coming down in a heavy, constant sheet, but there’s also a mysterious, consistent and regular beep coming from one of the buildings behind us, which gives the recording a really sinister edge.

City version:

Listening back to this recording on a miserable, rainy day in the circumstances of a more or less total lockdown in the UK due to the global coronavirus pandemic, I was filled with both a strong urge to be there, standing at the edge of the cliff and gazing out to sea, but also a sense of profound melancholy for the world’s colossal halt this year.

Around the same time, I’d heard an absolutely beautiful recording of Sir Patrick Stewart reading out Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, with the devastating couplet:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom
These two things came together into this mournful piece, which at once yearns to be out in the wilds of nature, but laments for the world’s grinding lockdown to end safely for as many of us as possible.

Reimagined by Cities and Memory, and I hope Sir Patrick doesn’t mind the use of his beautiful reading.

Memory version:


A more abstract sound to end with, as we tune into the sound of a dual hydrophone recording of sand being blown by desert wind in Senegal, recorded by George Vlad.

City version:

Nick Jones’ recomposed piece uses poetry to powerful effect: “As its source material this piece uses the sound of sand being blown around a desert in Senegal. I loved the tactile nature of this recording when I first heard it and it immediately thought of the sand in an hour glass being used to measure time. My piece explores the relationship between time passing and physical states changing and uses text from the poem ‘Hourglass Sand’ by Kurt Hearth.”

Memory version: