[Ignacio Sanchez Mejias (1891-1934)]
[Allen’s Lorca class, continuing from here. A student is reading from Lorca’s Llanto por la muerte de Ignacio Sanchez Mejias“ (“Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias“)]
Student: “La piedra es una frente donde los suenos gimen/sin tener agua curva ni ciprerss helados./La piedra es una espalda para llever al tiempo/con arboles de lagrimas y cintas y planetas.”
AG: That’s a pretty great line, in English – “Stone is a shoulder on which to bear Time/with trees formed of tears and ribbons and planets.” Let’s see now, “ “Stone is a shoulder” – “La piedra es una espalda” – used to carry time, you can carry time on – “A stone is a shoulder you can carry time on” – “With trees of tears” – “con arboles de lagrimas..” – trees made out of tears (and “cintas” could be “belts”) or ribbons and planets – “Tears, ribbons and planets”.
It’s funny. His mind jumps like “War passes weeping with a million grey rats”. The great quality of this poem, particularly this section, it gets to a mind-jump at the end that’s so collosal it becomes prophetic, just through the sheer playfulness of poetic juxtaposition. When you get to the end of this.
[Allen to the student] Go on. Do you want to read on in English, so we get the sense of it a little.
Student [reading] : “I have seen grey showers move towards the waves/raising their tender riddled arms,/to avoid being caught by the lying stone/which loosens their limbs without soaking the blood.”
AG: Yeah. I should interpolate here that I don’t understand half of this bullshit, so to speak, half of the combinations here. I haven’t examined them that deeply in Spanish. It’s just highlights of the rhetoric that come through really clear and sometimes astoundingly practical, like “War passes weeping with a million grey rats”. And like the line at the end of this section. [to student] so, go on..
Student [continues reading] : “For stone gathers seed and clouds/skeleton larks and wolves of penumbra:/but yields no sounds nor crystals nor fire,/ only bull-rings and bull-rings and more bull-rings without walls”
AG: That’s good – “sino plazas y plazas y otras plazas sin muros” (but the English is good – that “bull-rings and bull-rings and more bull-rings without walls” – “boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through (the) snow” [Allen is quoting from his own “Howl” here] – , only “bull-rings and bull-rings and…bull-rings..”). [to Student] Go on.
Student: “..I will not see it!/The moon wide open”
AG: Where? No, no.
AG: Yeah. Watch out [regarding the loose-leaf pages of the anthology] (Once) you’ll get these things mixed up, you’ll never get them back again… Next would be “Now, Ignacio the well born lies on…stone”. You got it?
Student [reading]: “Now, Ignacio the well born lies on the stone/All is finished. What is happening?
AG: Well, it’s “All is finished”. It’s really “All is finished”.
Student [continuing]: “All is finished. What is happening? Contemplate his face/death has covered him with pale sulphur/and has placed on his head a dark minotaur.”
AG: “(P)laced on him the head of a dark minotaur” – Go on.
Student [reading]: “All is finished. The rain penetrates his mouth/The air, as if mad, leaves his sunken chest,/and Love, soaked through with tears of snow,/warms itself on the peak of the herd.”
AG: That sounds pretty good the way you’re doing it. You’ve got a lot of force. That’s good – Go on.’
Student [reading]:”What are they saying? A stenching silence settles down./We are here with a body laid out which fades away,/with a pure shape which had nightingales/ and see it being filled with depthless holes.”
tape ends here – turns over – continues (after some delay)
AG: “Agujeros“. (“y la vemos llenarse de agujeros sin fondo“) What is “agujeros“? Does anybody know Spanish well enough to know?
AG: “Agujeros“. Not exactly “hole” [no?]
Student: I’m not sure but it could be “(a) well”.
AG: Yeah. “Aqua” (water) – Agujeros. So it’s pools or ponds or springs or, like, agujeros – a little hole in which you get a little water.. The bottom-less.. well, “well.. it’s a hole-in-the- ground too. (A) spring is the actual water in a way. Spring-holes. What do you call it? What do we have there? Water-holes
AG: Surface-well, yeah. There may be another English word, but they couldn’t find another one, so they wound up with…
AG: I didn’t like.. I think that’s one of the solecisms of this translation. “Depthless holes” for “bottom-less wells”..
AG: And you don’t get the water, exactly.
This is interesting, also, because there was the somewhat extravagant stuff of “death has covered him with pale sulphur” – Okay, you could buy that – some kind of.. goes in the ground and turns into chemicals – “(P)laced on him the head of a dark minotaur” – Okay, a minotaur, symbolic of confrontation with death. Then, All is finished”. Then, a totally literal line – “The rain penetrates his mouth”. He’s got so far out into Surrealism that it got literal – “The rain penetrates his mouth” – because it’s both a Surrealist line and an absolutely literal line – that the rain does penetrate the mouth of a corpse, or trickle down into the mouth of a corpse – but “penetrates” – “penetra por su boca” – Yeah – which is a good image of death – “La lluvia penetra por su boca“. Yes?
Student: Did they lay the dead out in the plaza or anything for anybody to see?
AG: Probably in a church, I’d imagine.
Student: Maybe it was raining?
AG: No, I would imagine, ultimately, it would make more sense, just a corpse in the ground, the rain penetrates the mouth. You don’t have to… there might be some topical local literalism, but..just as an image of death.
Then, “The air, as if mad, leaves his sunken chest”.(“El aire como loco deja su pecho hundido“) Well, that’s pretty good, because it does give the spasm of the expiration of the last breath (if it was a violent last breath). It’s really a funny thing to call the air “mad”. But then he carries it out with “leaves his sunken chest”. You get some literal sense of a heaving of expiration.
“Love, soaked through with tears of snow” (el Amor, empapado con lagrimas de nieve”) – that’s kind of nice. The body will be soaked through with tears (or with snow, in any case). So he just exaggerates a little – “A stenching” – stinking? – is that stenching?
Student(s): Stench.. Stenching..
AG: “Hedores” – “Un silencio con hedores” – “odor”?, “hedores“, I guess. Hedore – I don’t know the word but I guess it means stink – That’s a funny thing, a silence with smell – a bad-smelling silence for the corpse – “We are here with a body laid out which fades away” – (“Estamos con un cuerpo presente que se esfuma“) – he’s got in mind the idea of Surrealist tricks – a body which fades away, like magic. But it’s also totally literal (like the rain entering the mouth). Drops of snow (which he calls tears) – Body fades away. The amazing thing, the reason I like Lorca so much, is that his Surrealism (which is Surrealism – that is, (the) astounding combinations of words and images put together – unreasonably remote, in fact – his imagination jumps so far that it finally comes right back where it started, all the way around the universe, and becomes completely literal.
Student: Isn’t he almost specifically describing the corpse’s body lying out..
AG: Yeah. Yes. But the images he’s using to do it sound like somebody writing a Surrealist poem – his body fades away, the rain penetrates his mouth. That’s what’s so great – it’s literal and it’s Surrealist. It’s naturalistic and has that flavor of total imaginative flight jump. [to student] – Go on. We go on. Because it gets at the best at the end.
Student [continues reading]” “Who creases the shroud? What he says is not true!/ Nobody sings here, nobody weeps in the corner,/nobody pricks the spurs, nor terrifies the serpent./Here I want nothing else but the round eyes/to see this body without a chance of rest./ Here I want to see those men of hard voice./Those that break horses and dominate rivers/those men of sonorous skeleton who sing/with a mouth full of sun and flint.”
AG: Boy, that’s great!
AG: Can you do that in Spanish? – “Yo quiero ver aqui los hombres…”
Student: “..con una boca llena de sol y pedernales“
AG: No, no, the whole one.
Student: The whole thing?
AG: The whole quatrain is a really terrific one.
Student: Yeah – “Yo quiero ver aqui los hombres de voz dura./Los que doman caballos y dominan los rios:/los hombres que les suena el esqueleto y cantan”
Student: “…esqueleto y cantan/con una loca llena de sol y pedernales.”
AG: Let’s see. What is it in Spanish? – I want to see.. I want to see.. I want here..I want to see here those men with voice hard.. macho.. I want to see the big macho-voiced tough-guys here – (“Yo quiero ver aqui los hombres de voz dura“) -“Los que doman caballos y dominan los rios” – break horses and dominate rivers (that’s pretty good) – los hombres que les suena el esqueleto..” – those men who… “suena” is what? dream? daydream skeletons?…I don’t know how they got it – “Sonorous skeletons” is beautiful in English.
Student: In Spanish, it’s the same.. (“les suena el esqueleto y cantan“) – Their very bones sing…
[Allen gets momentarily lost again in issues of translation]
AG: “Suena” means “sing”?
Student: No, no – “Sonorous skeletons”
AG: Yeah. But what’s “suena” here. Here it says…
Student: The skeleton dreams to them.. they dream of the skeleton.. les suena – it’s..
AG: “Men who of them dream their skeletons”? – “Men whose skeletons dream of themselves?
Student: “Men who dream of the skeletons.”
AG: Men who are dreaming their skeletons?
Student(s): Of.. yeah.. ..the singing skeletons.. It comes from “suena“.. and..
AG: No, see ‘y” means :”and”. So “skeleton” and “sing” with a mouth full of sun and flint (“con una boca llena de sol y pedernales“) … so “suena“, what does “suena” mean?
Student: I’m not sure, but to..
AG: To sing maybe?
Student: Sonores? Sound.
AG: See, I don’t get what the “les” is then – “Men who sing them the skeletons” – “Men of the skeletons sing”? “Men who sing them their skeletons? – But “cantar” is “sing”. I don’t know. Sound this skeleton? Men who sound them? – I don’t know. We don’t have a Spanish-American dictionary. I’ll look that up. (It’d) be kind of nice to know. Or does somebody have a good access to a Spanish dictionary?
Student: Wouldn’t the library have it.
AG: Well (perhaps) someone’s got one at home that he uses or she uses.
Student: I’ve got one at home,
AG: Yeah, look it up – suena – See what verb it is.
However, the English is fine, the Spanish is fine. Skeleton which sings, “skeleton” and “sings” – singing skeletons (are) always great. You can always score with a singing skeleton. You can always score a good line with a singing skeleton!
So what’s a singing skeleton? If you take.. It’s just a quality of the poetry there that’s interesting. If you put a word like “singing” next to a word “skeleton”, you can always score for a little thrill always, because the juxtaposition is uncany enough.
I was talking about this toward the end of last term , particularly when you get it in Lorca. Sometimes you can take an abstraction or a general word and out put next to it a particular word or a concrete word and the combination will turn you on – “animal shoes” – or, my own favorite was in my own writing – “hydrogen jukebox” (“jukebox, which is a relatively common, vulgar word – and then “hydrogen”, which is somewhat scientific and abstract, sort of). So if you take “hydrogen” and “jukebox” and put them together you get a little explosion.
In modern Surrealist poetry, we’ll see over and over again surprising combinations like that. And the original Surrealist image (out of “Song of Maldoror” by (Comte de) Lautreamont, a nineteenth-century prose-poem, which was cited by Andre Breton and the Surrealists as being the acme of Surrealist expression) was – “the meeting of..” – does anybody remember that? -“the meeting of a violin-case and a sewing-machine on an operating-table” – “the encounter of a violin-case and a sewing-machine on an operating-table” – just putting things that didn’t belong together, together (like a violin-case and a sewing-machine – two modern.. well, an ancient and a modern, on an analytic table, an operating table) – “the encounter of”, the “love-making”, or “conjunction”, (the) meeting, of a sewing machine and a violin case on an operating table” -[editorial note – the actual quotation from Lautremont reads “beautiful as the fortuitous meeting of an umbrella and sewing-machine on a dissection table”] And then various Surrealist painters tried to paint that, actually tried to get it out, as a visual image.
So just “singing skeleton: is an obvious (example) – “..Skeleton and sings out of a mouth full of flint and stone – sun – sun and stone – “pedernales“. “Pedernales” – I don’t know if that’s flint.
Student: That’s flint. That is flint.
AG: It is flint. Definite flint.. That’s where (President) Lyndon Johnson had his Pedernales River at his farm (in Texas) – a place called “Pedernales”. I didn’t know it was flint. – “Mouth full of sun and flint/Here I want to see them/In front of this stone’ – [to student] Go on.
Student: “Here I want to see them.Before the stone..Before this body with broken reins..” (“Delante de este cuorpo con las riendas quebradas..”)…[Student keeps reading the next four stanzas, the fourth being – “I don’t want them to cover his face with handkerchiefs/that he may get used to the death he carries/Go Ignacio, feel not the hot bellowing./Sleep, fly, rest – even the sea dies!” (“No quiero que le tapen la cara con panuelos/para que se acostumbre con la muerte que lleva/Vete, Ignacio – No sientas el caliente bramido./Duerme, vuela, reposa – Tambien se muere el mar!“) – Yeah, that’s the great line, I thought -“even the sea dies!” – Now how did he get to that? Because this was..what? 1933? So he said “even the sea dies!”. When I first read that, in 1946 or so, or (19)45, I said, “That’s too much! – “even the sea dies!” – where did he get that? – and what does that mean even?”. So I figured that poetry didn’t have to mean anything, if you could say, “even the sea dies”(because how could the sea die?). But then, in 1965, after Silent Spring, I saw that Jacques Cousteau (had) said that forty percent of the life of the ocean was dead, and that Lake Erie had died, and (that) the Black Sea is now dead.. The dead fish… So seas could be polluted, so “even the sea dies”.
Student: Well, that’s a very good point. The Dead Sea, and the salt seas.. that are dead.. like muerto ..in Mexico.
AG: Right. They are already (dying).. but to conceive of the Atlantic and the Pacific dying… was inconceivable to me. So it seemed (originally) like a trope, or a hyperbole, or an exaggeration – that poetry could go beyond reality.
Student: Technologically it was less possible in (19)46.. than it is now
AG: Yes. So how did a poet come to the conclusion that even the sea dies?
Student: I think the sea dies..
AG: Why would he allow himself to do that? – What? Yeah?
Student: It could also mean that it just becomes very calm. He’s just talking abut how the sea “dies”..
AG: Yes. That’s begging the question. And it’s also a trick answer that, technologically, it could die. At one point, I figured out, well, the one thing you can get out of this is you can write something down which isn’t true. You can write something down which is beyond true, but by the promptings of the imagination. If you could follow the imagination, you could go beyond the world. If you go into the imagination, you go beyond the world and write “even the sea dies” and some day that combination of words will come true and have a meaning.. if you’re an inspired poet.
Student: (you just have to be) impressionable to the future..
AG: Well, yeah, that’s one way. (William) Burroughs is doing it. My idea of that was that the total imagination of the mind knows more than we know rationally, so if the entire mind comes up with a weird combination (like “even the sea dies”) you have to respect that as something (which) might have some meaning on some level or other, and you’ll likely find out, before you die yourself. That happens to a lot of poetry. Gregory (Corso)‘s poetry is full of things like that – Corso’s poetry is full of little incomprehensible ditties, which later on make sense, or were intended to make sense, and made perfect sense at the time, but they were so subtle I didn’t catch on. Like the last lines, which are in this book [his Expansive Poetics anthology], of “Bomb” – [Allen reads from Corso’s poem] – “Know…/that in the hearts of men to come more bombs will be born/magisterial bombs wrapped in ermine all beautifull/ and they’ll sit plunk on earth’s grumpy empires/fierce with moustaches of gold” – That was a beautiful combination of words but I had no idea of what it meant, or why did he wrap it in ermine? Is it just to wrap it in something pretty? I asked him. He said ermine is the judge’s robes, ermine is what the judge wears. So he’s saying bombs of judgement, or Last Judgement, or Apocalypse. But it sounded to me, at first, that he was just making up something pretty – putting an ermine wrap around the bomb’s neck! – Like “bomb, I want to kiss you, I want to kiss your clank (and) eat your boom”..”I’ll put a wig of Goldilocks on thy baldy bean” – I’ll wrap some ermine around you off to the theatre together, you’ll get your ermines married, we’re going to the theatre” [this third example is Allen’s own made-up improvisation] – I thought it was just nonsensical, but, actually, he knew what he was doing.
And maybe I don’t know what.. Lorca.. That’s also a funny combination – “Sleep, fly, rest..” – bam!, bam!, bam! – even the sea dies – don’t be ashamed to die, even the sea dies. Nature dies. “Tambien se muere el mar!” – Duerme, vuela, reposa – Tambien se muere el mar – I think that line , “Sleep, fly, rest – even the sea dies!” is one of the great lines of any poetry in thus century, because it’s such a colossal statement for anybody to make. So far out – and so full of feeling (he’s trying to comfort the heroic friend, saying, “Well, you don’t have to be ashamed of death, being a captain strapped down by death. Even the hard guys, “with mouths full of sun and flint”, tough guys, who break horses and dominate rivers, they can’t hold out either. Even the sea dies.”)
Towards the end.. Who else would like to (read out loud)?.. Richard (Poe) would you like to pick it up from there – “Alma Ausente” (“The Absent Soul”) – Section 4 – See of you can…
Student (Richard Poe): Exaggerate?
AG: Yeah, just exaggerate the tones. Usually for reading, one does have to straighten one’s spine. That’s the secret – that, in order to get an unobstructed breath, you have to sit up straight, because, otherwise, if you’re hunched over (which is more or less of a defensive posture and a withdrawal – like going back in the womb) there is not the possibility of expanding the chest and resonating outward from the inside out and projecting the voice. There’s a need to hold the sternum, which is this part of the breast [Allen points to it] up, and shoulders back, and relax the belly, so that the voice can come out of the middle of the body. That’s another thing I forgot about in terms of the physical placement of the voice. You actually can speak from the heart, literally, it’s not a metaphor, it’s a physiological fact that the voice can resonate from the breast area, rather than from the top of the head. But in order t0 do that you’ve got to sit up straight and lay it out.
Student: Breathe right
AG: Breathe right, yes. So if you’ll put your feet on the ground and sit up straight, Richard, and sing.
Student (Richard Poe): “The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree,/nor the horses..”
AG: The other thing is also pay attention to the commas. Breath where there is a comma. Because otherwise a comma doesn’t mean anything. But if it’s there, it must mean that it’s time for a musical rest, (a) slight breath (bigger or little breath). And also it gives you a chance to space it out and get into the thing [Allen to Richard Poe] – Begin
Student (Richard Poe): “The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree,/nor the horses..”‘
AG: No, no, breathe. Really. Just pause and breathe between the commas. Try it.
Student (Richard Poe): “The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree,/nor the horses, nor the ants in your own house./ The child and the..
AG: No, no, there’s a period.
Student (Richard Poe):”The child and the afternoon do not know you/ because you have died for ever…” (“porque te has muerto par siempre”) – [Student Richard Poe finishes the poem, reading in English) – “It will be a long time, if ever, before there is born/an Andalusian so true, so rich in adventure./ I sing of his elegance with words that groan/and I remember a sad breeze through the olive trees.” (Tadara mucho tiempo en nacer, si es que nace,/un andaluz tan claro, tan rico de aventura./Yo canto su elegancia con palabras que gimen/y recuerdo una brisa triste por los olivos“)
AG: Well, you got a little delicacy tenderness in there but if you would stop, really slow down and stop for the punctuation, then your body could settle more in the words.
Someone else try that? , because it’s a really pretty thing – “Alma Ausente” (“The Absent Soul”). Yeah, [to Richard Poe] You want to do it one more time?.
Student (Richard Poe): Do it over?
AG: “The Absent Soul”. Remember “because you have died for ever” is the refrain. (“porque te has muerto par siempre”) – It’s also a very funny refrain because you’re dead for ever. It’s simple-minded, simple as can be – Porque te has muerto par siempre
AG: I swear there’s a relationship between your stumbling on “black” and your failure to observe the comma. See, if you rush your mind ahead, you’re speeding it, and so, naturally, there’ll be some confusion. If you just slow down, slow down and relax, and do it.
Student 2 : Try standing up too.
AG: Yeah, standing up, maybe. Please.
Student 2: Put your feet on the floor
AG: Yeah, I’ve been thinking (about this) for years, and people have asked me, and this is about time (I think it’s something) that we should be teaching here – pronunciation. Vocalization. We should be actually doing vocalization in class, instead of just referring to it – So I guess, from now on, that’ll be part of the teaching (here at) the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.
AG: Okay – “The bull does not know you..”
Student (Richard Poe): “The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree,/nor the horses, nor the ants in your own house…” [stumbles again]
AG: How come you can’t..
Student: You’re right, Because I keep forgetting..
[Student (Richard Poe): then attempts (and completes) a reading of the entire”Absent Soul” section]
AG: Umm, When you were doing it, I was thinking what.. the structure of cadence in that is really terrific. However, I notice it’s different in English than it is in Spanish. However, the English was written by poets and the Spanish was written by poets and both have their excellencies, but, to take the Spanish, the first line is by itself, the second line, is by itself. And then the third and fourth lines are a continuous breath. Repeated in the second stanza. The first line in Spanish, by itself, with a comma, the second line, terminal, and then two lines together with one long breath. So it’s just like a piece of musical notation of the cadence
Student: Isn’t that funny because..
AG: In the English, they’ve broken it.
Student: In the English there’s commas and..
AG: Well, it’s alright.They’ve got a good balance anyway.. And, oddly enough, it’s kind of interesting in English because what you do – in Lorca’s original, the first and second stanzas have the same configuration, the same cadence, so to speak. In the English, the first two lines are broken up in the first stanza, and then you get into the solid cadence of Lorca in the second stanza. So there’s a logical build-up. In English – “The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree..” – Duh-dah-duh-uh-dah dah-dah-dah.. – so it’s just like a musical phrase. The second one repeats the first, but goes on and continues…
Student: And (for) each of these last two sections of these four-line stanzas, there’s one five-line stanza. I wonder if you could comment on that.
AG: Well, let’s go one-by-one. I was just getting up stanza-by-stanza
AG: The same thing goes in the third and fourth, over on the (next) page. In other words, it’s really repeated – “The autumn will come with small white snails,/misty grapes…” – Duh-dah-dah, So it goes right on through. And then repeated. Then it gets really brilliant, because then he repeats the last line – “Because you have died for ever/like all the dead of the Earth,/like all the dead who are forgotten/in a heap of lifeless dogs” – So he has the same lengthy breath, but he changes the words and changes the ideas. So it’s really like a piece of music, the way it’s built.
Then, I guess, there’s the funny staccato – “Nobody knows you. No. But I sing of you.” – All in the same line.He’s broken it up into three. The most in English it was was two, and it had never been broken up before, that first line of the statement.
Now what are the rhymes – “canto“, “gracia“, “conocimienot“, “boca“, “alegria“. Well, I guess it’s “siempre“, “Tierra“, “olvidan“, “apagados” – oh, it rhymes a good deal in Spanish.
I don’t have any particular idea why he would have five, except, in this case, each line is a singular statement, except the first. The first is a triadic – three trumpet horns. And then the four lines of the five-line stanza that follow are all straight statement.
And then, broken up into twos in Spanish, the couplet just before the end, and then concluding with one long breath containing two lines. See, they don’t have a comma in Spanish, and I don’t know why Spender (and Gili) were dumb enough to put a comma thrre, because they didn’t need a comma – “I sing of his elegance with words that groan/and I remember a sad breeze through the olive trees” – is just as well as ““I sing of his elegance with words that groan,/and I remember a sad breeze… Because the Spanish is “Yo canto su elegancia con palabras que gimen/y recuerdo una brisa triste por los olivos” – So it’s just one long sustained cadenza, but I don’t know why five there, particularly.
Okay, I think we’re running overtime. We’ll get on to Hart Crane. If you look up Hart Crane next time, because that’ll be the next post-Whitman comment
tape and class end here