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Audio: Jack Kerouac reads his poem “Old Angel Midnight”

“…I want to hear the sounds thru the window you promised me when the Midnight bell on 7th St did toll bing bong & Burroughs and Ginsberg were asleep & you lay on the couch in that timeless moment in the little red bulblight bus & saw drapes of eternity parting for your hand to begin & so’s you could affect-and eeffect — the total turningabout & deep revival of world robeflowing literature till it shd be something a man’d put his eyes on & continually read for the sake of reading & for the sake of the Tongue & not just these insipid stories writ in insipid aridities & paranoias bloomin & why yet the image-let’s hear the Sound of the Universe, son, & no more part twaddle-And dont expect nothing from me, my middle name is Opprobrium…”

Running time: 2 minutes

Email subscribers may click on the title of this post to listen to the poem.

Old Angel Midnight is a long poem by American novelist and poet Jack Kerouac. It was culled from five notebooks spanning from 1956 to 1959, while Kerouac was fully absorbed by his studies of Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy. Kerouac’s notes were written while staying in the Lower East Side where he initially heard sounds coming through a tenement window from the wash court below. He then heard voices coming from kitchens of the other occupants in nearby apartment buildings and a man named Paddy arriving home drunk, and even a junky stirring in his bed. Kerouac’s one dogma was to compose the poem strictly in pencil by candlelight. Kerouac said of the poem: 

“Old Angel Midnight” is only the beginning of a lifelong work in multilingual sound, representing the haddalada-babra of babbling world tongues coming in thru my window at midnight no matter where I live or what I’m doing, in Mexico, Morocco, New York, India or Pakistan, in Spanish, French, Aztec, Gaelic, Keltic, Kurd or Dravidian, the sounds of people yakking and of myself yakking among, ending finally in great intuitions of the sounds of tongues throughout the entire universe in all directions in and out forever. And it is the only book I’ve ever written in which I allow myself the right to say anything I want, absolutely and positively anything, since that’s what you hear coming in that window… God in his Infinity wouldn’t have had a world otherwise — Amen.”


Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac (1922 – 1969), known as Jack Kerouac, was an American novelist and poet who, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, was a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Of French-Canadian ancestry, he was raised in a French-speaking home in Lowell, Massachusetts. Kerouac “learned English at age six and spoke with a marked accent into his late teens.” During World War II, he served in the United States Merchant Marine; he completed his first novel at the time, which was published over 40 years after his death. His first published book was The Town and the City, and he achieved widespread fame and notoriety with his second, On the Road, in 1957. It made him a beat icon, and he went on to publish 12 more novels and numerous poetry volumes. Kerouac is recognized for his style of spontaneous prose and poetry. Thematically, his work covers topics such as his Catholic spirituality, jazz, travel, promiscuity, life in New York City, Buddhism, drugs, and poverty. He became an underground celebrity and, with other Beats, a progenitor of the hippie movement, although he remained antagonistic toward some of its politically radical elements. He has a lasting legacy, greatly influencing many of the cultural icons of the 1960s, including Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and the Doors. (bio adapted from Wikipedia)

4 comments on “Audio: Jack Kerouac reads his poem “Old Angel Midnight”

  1. vengodalmare
    November 6, 2022

    I didn’t understand anything, too fast for me, but at the same time I can say in all sincerity ‘but what a beautiful poem’, like when you listen to a song in a foreign language and say what a beautiful song. The voice, the rhythm, the sound, those words that seem to roll, and then turn around and throw yourself headlong to finally go back into the beauty of poetry… (my bad English doesn’t allow me to express myself at my best). Thanks a lot.


    • Vox Populi
      November 6, 2022

      Thank you, Marina, for this wonderful description of what it’s like to listen to poetry in a foreign language.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Loranneke
    November 5, 2022

    Wow: the rhythm, cadence, the lists, the images, the “oo” assonances, the deep breaths he takes to keep on going: what a poem!

    Liked by 2 people

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