Haunting recording of F. Scott Fitzgerald reading Keats

F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1921

I recently started working my way through The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1963), the first large collection of his letters to be published. In a number of letters to his daughter he stresses how influential reading poetry was on the development of his style, often mentioning Keats.

One letter, dated August 3, 1940, makes note of eight poems, which he says are, “a scale of workmanship for anybody who wants to know truly about words, their most utter value for evocation, persuasion or charm. For a while after you quit Keats all other poetry seems to be only whistling or humming.” In particular he mentions ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ which he says he “can never read through without tears in my eyes.”

That reminded me of a recording I heard of him reading this poem several years ago and so looked it up. Apparently it was a recitation from memory, recorded shortly before his death, which makes it all the more haunting. Just to hear his voice is marvelous, but to hear it in this context leaves me without words. Check out the clip below, with thanks to Granta. Also worth noting is that he took the title to his fourth novel, Tender Is the Night, from this poem.

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