A brief respite from the ballads today (but more song!) – and more anon! – one recent
You Tube-posted-video that we missed (from a few weeks back, from April of this year) – spry nonagenarian Lawrence Ferlinghetti attempting William Blake‘s joyous “The Nurse’s Song” (“and all the hills echo-ed”), and, recollecting fondly the genius of his dear friend Allen.
This short film by Mauro Aprile Zanetti – “Fernanda Pivano – Complice La Notte” begins with discussion and appreciation of Allen’s great Italian translator, Fernanda Pivano, before moving in to more general discussion of the Beats and of Allen and, in particular, Allen’s rendition of Blake’s lyric. (Lawrence goes searching for the text, writes it out (for the interviewer’s benefit), and then follows with his own croaky spirited rendition).
[Fernanda Pivano (1917-2009)]
Interviewer: The Club Tenco [in Lecco] is going to have a night on May 13 dedicated to Fernanda Pivano, and here we are to ask you. She was, and she’s considered as the muse by the Italian musicians, singer-songwriters that know about the Beat Generation, because she translated (them). So can you tell me how..when did you meet Fernanda? when was it?
LF: Oh I met Fernanda when she came to San Francisco with her husband ,who was the…I think he was the designer for the original Olivetti typewriter. Ettore Sottsass was very sick and he came here to go to the hospital in Stanford, down in Palo Alto, and so ‘Nanda came with him of course, and she came and visited me on Potrero Hill where I was living and I think it was just after Howl, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” was published (because I have a photo of her reading Howl, and I think it’s a photo of her reading the first copy of Howl. It would have been 1956). She was enamoured of Allen Ginsberg but not really very much interested in the other Beats. She wasn’t at all interested in my poetry, for instance. She loved Gregory Corso, but it was really Allen who turned her on. And it wasn’t Allen as a singer (Allen hadn’t become a singer and a chanter until much later in his career.In 1956, when “Howl” was published, he just recited his poems. There was no music. It was only much later when he became attracted to Indian music and Ravi Shankar came to this country, and Allen took up doing his poems with the harmonium (a harmonium was a squeeze-box), and it was very beautiful some times what he did.
Interviewer: So you met her in that moment?
LF: Yeah, in 1956, in San Francisco.
Interviewer: And what happened later?
LF: I was in contact with her over the years but.. and I know that I was aware that she became known as the authority for poetry for the Beat poets in Italy. So, anything she said about the Beat Generation was taken as authentic and true, whereas I felt that many things she said about the Beats was not true, things that she’d imagined (things that she said about me that were totally imaginary). And I think she had a lot to say about Gregory Corso – and about (Jack) Kerouac (she liked Kerouac very much, it was more Kerouac’s novels than his poetry that ‘Nanda liked, Kerouac’s On the Road was her interest, Kerouac was making the connection with American jazz, so that’s the connection with the musicians in Italy). He was doing always with a Buddhist theme, like his chanting and using the harmonium, it usually sounded like Buddhist chants. And he used to sing William Blake. The Songs of Innocence bu William Blake. Allen Ginsberg would sing them to the harmonium and they were.. It was beautiful. – “Tyger, tyger, burning bright, /In the forest of the night/What immortal hand or eye/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry”
Interviewer; So Ginsberg used to play harmonium and (be) reading these poems..from William Blake?
LF: Yes. And then he would do.. more and more he would do his poems with various kinds of sound, various music. Like, he had a poem called “Don’t smoke“ – “Don’t smoke, Don’t smoke, Don’t smoke, Don’t smoke” – and he would do it with he drums – “Don’t smoke, Don’t smoke, Don’t smoke..” It went on like that forever.
[LF begins singing, attempting to recall William Blake’s “Nurses Song” from memory]
“When the voices of children are heard in the land..” – That’s William Blake – I wish I had the harmonium! – “When the voices of children are heard in the land, and….” – “My heart is at rest within my breast..and everything else is still” – “When the voices of children are heard in the land and everything else is still” – “And all the hills echo-ed”
[LF & Interviewer browse through Lawrence’s library for the text]
LF: What about down the lower left? – I can’t see anymore.
Interviewer: It’s a Beat book?
Interviewer: Ah, it’s a collection [continues searching]… The Essential Neruda,…. Coney Island of the Mind (oh, the Italian version!)… So, under “Blake”, there is… in Italian.. poetry.. “Balthus”.. “Barzelleta“.. “Belgian”.. “Ballad of the Ancient and Moderns”.. “Beat poets”… [Interviewer gives up on the printed source] – Oh, on-line I can find it very easily.
[Lawrence writes out the poem]
Interviewer: Well, well, go and play till the light fades away ..and ..then go home to bed..The little ones..
LF “and all the hills echo-ed” – That’s it, right?
Interviewer: Yeah, you got it. Faster than the printer!
LF: Okay [Lawrence attempts to read the poem] – Allen had a deep voice. “When voices of children are heard on the green,/And laughing is heard on the hill/My heart is at rest within my breast,/And everything else is still./”Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down/ And the dews of night arise/Come come leave off play, and let us away/Till the morning appears in the skies”./”No, no, let us play, for it is yet day/And we cannot go to sleep/Besides, in the sky the little birds fly/ And the hills are all covered with sheep.”/”Well, well, go and play till the light fades away/And then go home to bed.”/The little ones leap’d/and shouted and laugh’d/And all the hills echo-ed” – “an all..and all the hills echo-ed..and all the hills echo-ed..and all the hills echoed, all the hills echoed, all the hills echo-ed – “and all the hills echo-ed’ – (Allen would get the whole audience singing this!) – this chorus – “And all the hills echo-ed, “And all the hills echoed, And all the hills echoed, And all the hills echo-ed”….