Allen Ginsberg’s remarks on Basil Bunting’s lectures continues – see here, here and here
AG: So Louis Zukofsky, in modern times, was the most subtle person working with different measures and with a pure relation between musical forms and quantitative count and he was saying that the madrigal distorts words (because you’ve got several lines at once) and so words are not allowed to take whatever stress is appropriate to them in the madrigal. But in chanting, words are allowed to take whatever stress is appropriate to them. That’s an interesting phrase, words in a poem, words, (being) “allowed to take whatever stress is appropriate to them”, instead of forcing the stress to fit into a pattern. He was pointing out just the notion of words being “words “allowed to take whatever stress is appropriate..”. My terminology for that was “vernacular”, spoken rhythms.
Let’s see, what else?
[Ferdowsi (Firdosi) (c.940-1020)]
In.. (with) Firdosi, in the Persian poetry, it’s.. there’s a little cadence, or little pattern of sound that they use to bind the end of the first line to the beginning of the second line, a two-line couplet. They’re short bits of strictly metric sound. And then, before that, in the Persian poem, you could have as many syllables as you want(ed). So it was… But, limited only by the singer’s breath. In other words, how long.. not much breath.. That was the ultimate, the limit to how long the line can be.
He was also pointing out that line, division into lines, is not the characteristic of poetry, because ancient poetry, Greek poetry, is actually written out on papyrus or wherever, like prose, to cover the whole page. You know that Greek poetry wasn’t divided into lines like we divide it now, but was written out all the way on the page to.. just because they didn’t have no paper – to save paper, if nothing else.. but they didn’t have the line and stanza forms, so that therefore you can’t say that poetry is prose in paragraphs, or that prose is paragraphs and poetry is what’s divided into lines
Student; Poetry still has the line structure tho’
AG: (Yes) It has some lines but not a line, not a line. It has some verse maybe.
Student: Well in verse there’s a rhythmic unit where..
AG: Okay, so he says it’s the rhythmic unit, not the fact that it’s cut up onto the page and put into a line.
Student; Because they did the same thing in the early English (poetry)..
Student: In fact a lot of the Anglo-Saxon people copied over and over again for several centuries (their) poetry
Student: (And) But they also did that with some Middle English lyrics. It’s positively weird to see this written out, but still it exists. I don’t think you can say that it doesn’t have (lines).
AG: Well by lines, he was thinking in terms of.. By line, he meant literally the typographical line because he was pointing out that in the twentieth century, everything had degenerated into anything that you can chop up into a line so long as it doesn’t reach the end of the page then you can call it poetry. So he’s just trying to point out the verse..
Student: You mean we’re talking arbitrary, arbitrary rhythm they’re putting in there.
AG: No what he means is just because it’s a line, a separate line on a typewriter or on the ruled sheet, doesn’t mean that it’s poetry. That it used to be printed out straight through, and that there are intrinsic repeated cycles of sound that make it a verse, not the fact that it’s on a separate line. So his idea, it’s just a real simple point, you know. It was funny because I was thinking, like, all the poetry written in imitation of (Guillaume) Apollinaire,
or my own, or anybody else’s that has a long line to the point that you finally do get a modern poetry, New York School,
which is absolutely prose but chopped into lines for the humor of it, and, actually half the stuff you read is actually just poetry because it’s in lines, because it’s set out on separate lines. So he was.. I guess he was protesting about that and making that point.
Student: I wonder if Gertrude Stein
could be considered to be (like Bunting..)…
AG: Well, actually, she was interested in repeated cycles of sound. Sure, definitely.
She definitely has cadences.
AG: Definitely. Well, that was subsidiary to him saying that in Persian poetry you’re going to be as long as you want as long as the middle bit.. The piece between the end of the line and the beginning of the next stanza has this very definite pattern that brings it together, apparently. And that seems to be like some Old English stuff –[turns to previous Student] – do you know anything about that?
Student: By repetition of sound or..?
AG: No, rhythmic repetition – or a certain kind of rhythm, a very (fixed), strictly metrical rhythm – (so) the end of the line goes to the beginning
Student: You have the verse form..
Student: You have the verse form that sort of proceeds mosaicly, (in) little bits and fragments, that are not rhythmically identical but they’re ..with the alliteration, they’re obvious numbers.
AG: In the Persian case, he was saying that at the end of the first line linking the second line. That’s the only unit of measure that.. or that’s the only rhythmic, repeated rhythmic pattern that makes poetry. And then you chant it. And therefore is.. there’s.. nobody knows much about ancient Persian poetry (Bunting, incidentally, live in Persia, and was a chief of British Intelligence in the Middle East during the War and a London Times
correspondent. Prior to that, he’d been (W.B.) Yeats’
secretary, in Rapollo, (Ezra Pound
)’s secretary, and, prior to that, when he was seventeen he’d come from Newcastle to London and been secretary to Ford Madox Ford when he was doing a novel with Joseph Conrad
. So Bunting is a real smart guy. And now he’s this.. about eighty years old, and living in Newcastle. And these were lectures that he gave a couple of years ago in Durham
. Very rare gists, just some little.. I…probably the result of conversations with Yeats, Pound, and all those people, Ford Madox Ford, Wyndham Lewis
, all the accumulated little interior gossip that they put together, that they were working from when they first..
The earliest.. Yeah, he was pointing out the Moses.. Mosaic books – Psalms, Job – are antiphonal (for two choirs), and those.. that form was tidied up in Gregorian Chant (that was great – “tidying up to become Gregorian chant”!) – What else? Oh yeah – for music – the quantity of music – the quantity of syllables in music, he’s using the phrases “open vowels” and “closed vowels”, which is pretty.. that someone composing for song should be careful that.. to leave. to arrange plenty of open vowels for the singers to blow out, those long vowels, to match the length of note to the length of syllable.
I think I’ll bring those. I don’t know if… You see, they’re great lectures. They’re really what I’m doing, except much more practiced. And I’ve got three cassettes
, there about, I think, an hour each, but they’re really great. So I’ll find some way to get them at our disposal, or maybe if I have to take another trip away maybe (to) present them, they’re really worth listening to. I’ll put them up in the library. I’ll make copies and put them up in the library. It’s the smartest stuff I ever heard. It’s like condensed Ezra Pound. Everything’s there. It’s sort of morphological, beginning with the gorillas dancing all the way up to madrigal. Yeah, actually, he literally takes it from gorillas dancing to madrigal, basing poetry on physical..on the dance , and then saying,
So, before going on for more stuff we better wait for more people
[Audio for the above can be heard here – beginning at approximately twenty-eight minutes in and concluding approximately thirty-six-and-three-quarter minutes in]