[Hesperus – As Personification of the Evening (1765) by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779), oil on canvas, 6′ 3″ x 5′ 1o”]
Continuing where we left off, with Allen’s “History of Poetry” class. You might recall that there was some intervention from Gregory Corso, that intervention continues. Hesperus, the morning or the evening star? – a hart, a deer or a rabbit? – Ben Jonson or Samuel Johnson?. Fortunately Allen keeps his temper and things become clear. Allen reads Ben Jonson, John Fletcher and John Ford. Here is a transcript:
AG: Ah. Getting onto Shakespeare’s friend, (Ben) Jonson for a moment. Funny, witty Jonson, also writing for music. This is a hymn (so, literally, to music), but here more stately than any of the “cherry ripe themselves doe cry” sort of pop songs. Like..”Cherry ripe themselves doe cry” is a 16th century pop style. Jonson is..when? – 1572, born (to) 1637. I’ll read it stopping my breath,or taking a breath with his commas (which was something that I think I mentioned when I was reading the Shelley the other day, that in reading older poetry, if you will pay attention to the actual punctuation, (if you can find a text that has the original punctuation, particularly in (William) Blake, but especially in very sensitive poets like (Thomas) Campion or (Ben) Jonson, whose ears are perfect, and whose hand, therefore, was perfect in marking time), if you pay attention to the commas, semi-colons, or dashes, or the line-lengths, you’ll get some indication of how to breathe while vocalizing the poem. Sometimes it’s very delicate, like in this hymn – “Queen” (comma) – and Huntress (comma) – chaste (comma) and fair (comma)/ Now the Sunne is laid to sleepe..”. So it’s like a very funny music that is being set up. “Queen” and “Huntress”, “Chaste” and “fair”. No, I didn’t do it right, because I didn’t breathe. [Allen proceeds to read Ben Jonson’s “The Hymn of Hesperus” from “Cynthia’s Revels” in its entirety].Whether or not you.. I was just doing sound and time so I wasn’t even hardly following what it was all about, what the poem was about, and I don’t even know if I could figure it out. “Queene and Huntress” is who? – “Queene and Huntress, chaste and faire”?, that would be Diana, the moon, “Queene and Huntress, chaste and faire”Noe the Sunne is laid to sleepe, so it’s an address to the moon. “Noe the Sunne is laid to sleepe,/ Seated in thy silver (moon) chaire,/ State in wonted manner keepe:/ Hesperus intreats thy light” – Hesperus? Morning star? Hesperides, morning star, right? Is Hesperus not the morning star?
Gregory Corso: No
AG: What is?
AG: Aargh! Then what is Hesperus?
GC: The Bible has it that..
AG: We had this yesterday
Student: Lucifer is the morning star
AG: Well, okay, then Hesperus, the evening star, would “intreat” the light of the moon.
GC: No, they’re the same, That guy’s bull-shitting…
AG: Right on. Answer him back.
GC: But he is bullshit. It’s the same – the evening star and the morning star are both Venus.
Student: Different name.
AG: Oh, the planet, huh? They are both on the planet Venus, is that what you’re saying?..
AG: Is that true?
Student: You see Venus in the morning and you call it Lucifer. You see it in the evening, they call it…
AG: So the rising of Venus..
GC: In the Bible, you don’t find that Lucifer is kicked out of Heaven. But they have in the Old Testament that Lucifer fell. The evening star fell.
AG: Which would be..what?
AG: Meaning morning or evening?
GC: Well, both, maybe. I told you but you started screaming that they’re both the same!
AG: But Hesperus himself, Hesperus, however, is a specific name for the evening, or the morning, then. You’re saying that Lucifer would be morning and Hesperus would be evening..
GC: ..I’m saying that the lover of Diana was Actaeon…
AG: Wait a minute.. let’s get to Hesperus. I would like to get this straight. Hesperus, then, would be evening and Lucifer, morning?
GC: Lucifer’s evening
AG: Which is which? Does anybody know?
GC: Lucifer fell. In other words, evening fell
AG: Might be. Well then, why would Hesperus..
GC: I might be wrong.
AG: ..Why would Hesperus entreat the light of the moon? Why would Hesperus entreat the moon to be lit up?
GC: (indecipherable – alas!)...that I’ve been so wronged!
AG: Okay. Oooh. “I know everything there is to know because there ain’t that much to know“. It’s a great line actually. Does everyone remember that line?
Student: Lucifer means light-bearer, so it probably is the morning star.
AG: Uh-huh. Okay. Well, Hesperus would make sense here, Hesperus, the evening star, entreating the light of the moon
Student: Who’s Hesperus, though?
AG: Right on. Who is Hesperus? Who knows Hesperus? Who knows Hesperus?
Student: Hesperus may be the name of something known as the sun behind the sun. I think it has something to do with the sun. But I’m not…
GC: (indecipherable) Hyperion
Student: Well, that’s not the right answer
GC: See, I knew what he was..
AG: I’ll find out who Hesperus is by Friday.
GC: Lucifer was the evening star and it fell.
AG: Well, we’ll find that out too.
GC: Wake up!
AG: Wake up. “..let not thy envious shade/ Dare itself to interpose/ Cynthias shining…” Well, so, he doesn’t want the Earth to get in the way there. “Cynthia’s shining orbe was made/ Heaven to cleere, when day did close:/ Blesse us then with wished sight,/ Goddesse excellently bright.” – So all it’s saying is, “Moon, c’mon and shine!” (but a hymn to the moon to shine – “Lay thy bow of pearle apart,/ And thy cristall-shining quiver” – Diana was also a huntress – “Give unto thy flying hart” – H-A-R-T, the hart is a deer..)
GC: It’s a rabbit.
AG: Rabbit or deer
GC: You wanna bet? How much do you wanna bet?
AG: Wanna take a vote? Let’s take a vote. Who wants it to be a rabbit? [show of hands]/ Who wants it to be a deer? [show of hands]. You’re outvoted three-to-one!
GC: How much money am I going to make tonight? Assholes! – A hart is a rabbit.
AG: We’ll find that out, too – “Give unto the flying hart,/ Space to breathe, how short soever:/ Thou that mak’st a day of night/ Goddesse, excellently bright” – Somebody must have set that to music and made a really solid anthem-like hymn of that, because it’s such a perfect set-up, that “Queene and Huntress, chaste, and faire,/ Now the Sunne is laid to sleepe”, it’s such perfect time and stately time.
Allen then reads Ben Jonson’s “Epitaph of S.P.” (Salomon Pavy, a child-actor of Queen Elizabeth’s Chapel) – “Weepe with me all you that read..” – “It’s just witty and intelligent and sympathetic and appreciative of a thirteen-year-old actor, who, for three “zodiacs” (three years) had played old men, and died at thirteen. I like its small-town, small scale. I don’t know how many people who lived in London then that would have gone to the theatre, but it’s for something that everybody would know who “S.P” was (that he was Salomon Pavy, as he was called), everybody would know who he was and everybody would have seen him around the streets or would have seen him on the stage.
GC: I may have made the mistake that maybe a hart might be a deer, but I thought it was a rabbit. So… (indecipherable)
AG: Yes, its a deer. It’s a deer.
GC: I also insisted that it was a beautiful little rabbit
AG: I wrote a line years ago about “tame the hart” and “wear the bear”
GC: The hart is then, what? A young dear?
Student: It’s a mature deer.
GC: A mature deer?
Student: I think. Isn’t it? Somebody said a mature deer.
GC: Oh, I’m so embarrassed. I told the class I knew everything!
AG: “Song to Celia” – so now we’re actually into an area where you’re already familiar. We’ve brought the lyric up to a place where you’ve heard it already, which is… [Allen sings Ben Jonson’s “Song to Celia” – “Drinke to me, onely, with thine eyes.”]
– I wasn’t following exactly the breathing, because I couldn’t remember the exact tune. So that tune survives. I guess that’s an old tune, isn’t it?, survives from (Samuel Johnson‘s time [sic]), Shakespeare’s time.. Next, Johnson (Jonson) on Shakespeare. Has anybody ever read it? It’s sort of literary and boring. I think I’ll skip it.
GC: I didn’t say.. He made a mistake on America. You know, the time of the Revolution, he said America sucked!
AG: Jonson said? in that particular song?
GC: At that time, man
AG: No, in that song?
GC: He sided with the King.
AG: In that particular thing on Shakespeare?
GC: Not on Shakespeare, but just in history,
AG: Well, I liked Jonson’s ear, (I like Jonson’s ear). That “Queene and Huntress, chaste and faire” doesn’t suck, because it reads..
GC: No, I’m not talking about that one (Jonson), I’m talking about what he (Johnson) said about America, man.
AG: I was talking about his memory of Shakespeare.
GC: When I first took your class, I put something up of Sam(uel) Johnson’s on the wall (about “I hate mankind”)
AG: This is Ben Jonson we’re talking about!
GC: Sam Johnson
AG: Ben Jonson
GC: Oh, Ben is top class.
AG: You idiot! – I mean(t) Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare. The one who didn’t know a hart was a deer, you thought “hart” was a rabbit! You’re un-done! You’re unmasked! Proven a fool!
So now we’re up to John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont. [Allen reads William Shakespeare’s, (or possibly John Fletcher’s), “Orpheus With His Lute Made Trees..” – “Orpheus with his Lute made Trees/ And the Mountaine tops that freeze/ Bow themselves when he did sing..” )
AG: Right. Who said that.
GC: Westminster Abbey
AG: Who said it originally?
GC: “O rare Ben Jonson”?
Student: He said it to himself
GC: Right on
AG: He did?
AG (indecipherable) played for Ben Jonson. You’re the scholar here, then
Student: No, I just happened to know that
AG: You visited Westminster Abbey? – or St Paul’s or Westminster Abbey?.. It’s a very famous classic sort of approach to a poem, that I guess (John) Milton picked up on later from the playwright. These are songs from plays by Beaumont – John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont. There’s a play listed here, “The Nice Valour”, which has a first line – “Hence all you vaine Delights”, which you can just tell what’s coming on there. And then, I guess, Milton took some of that rhetoric too. “Hence all you vaine…” – do you want to hear what comes after that? It’s just that one line that I really like. [Allen reads John Fletcher’s “Hence all you vaine Delights..” – “Hence all you vaine Delights/ As short as are the nights/ Wherein you spend your folly…”] That’s pretty good, actually. It’s a very varied verse form. It’s not just simple quatrains. And the last lines (“Then stretch our bones in a still gloomy valley/ Nothing so daintie sweet, as lovely Melancholy”) are almost like the end of a sonnet.
Next, (John) Ford. What I’m doing, as I think I said, I’m running through the specific poems that most influenced my ear when I was thirteen to twenty-five. John Ford, another playwright, 1586-1640. [Allen reads Ford’s “Can you paint a thought? or number..” – “Can you paint a thought? or number/ Every fancy in a slumber?” – That’s a really great little fast rise into ecstacy, and then… And very intelligent in terms of psychology, in terms of self-observation. Can you paint a thought? or number / Every fancy in a slumber?” – Can you paint a thought? or number / Every fancy in a slumber?/ Can you count soft minutes roving/ From a dyals point by moving?/ Can you graspe a sigh? or lastly,/ Rob a Virgin’s honor chastly”. “No, o no” (no comma, o, no semi-colon), “yet you may/ Sooner doe both that and this,/ This and that and never misse”, “Sooner doe both that and this,/ This and that and never misse”, you could sing that , weirdly. Well, it must have been sung [Allen continues singing – “Sooner doe both that and this/ This and that and never misse/ Then by any praise display/ Beauty’s beauty, such a glory/ As beyond all Fate, all Story/ all armes, all arts/ All loves, all hearts,/ Greater than those, or they/ Doe, shall, and must obey” – That is to say, the “Greater than those” is all fate, story, all arms, all loves, all hearts, anything even greater than those arts, hearts, loves, fates, must, do, shall and must obey beauty’s beauty. So the hero is beauty here
Student: What was that Allen?
Student: What was that called?
AG: That’s “Can You Paint A Thought” (is the title given here, by (W.H.) Auden, I think) from a play called “A Broken Heart”. There is a… What time is it?
AG: Oh, good. We’ve got all John Donne to go through, (and) so I’m going to save him till next time, and get on to a fellow named James Shirley. And I’m going to read a poem by James Shirley and a poem by myself, because, as I was saying, these are things that I heard, or got in my ear when I was… [second side of audio-tape ends here]