continuing with Allen’s Naropa lectures
AG: Then, Fulke Greville has a very strange poem (on page 171), “Sion Lies Waste”, an adaptation of the Bible. I was looking at this the other day, saying, now, I wonder if (Bob) Dylan could write a Biblic Babylonian prophecy, Biblic prophecy about Babylon, Zion, with the power of this. What would he think if he saw this, because it’s now falling into his Biblical religious judgement shot. [Editorial note – this class is taking place in 1980] – His judgement, as seen by Fulke Greville in the..what? early Seventeenth-Century, no, probably it was about.. well, (he) probably wrote it (in the) middle of his life, so he was born in 1554. (so) 1590 maybe? [Editorial note – “Sion Lies Waste” comes from his verse collection Caelica in CX Sonnets – “The title page of the posthumous 1633 edition of his Collected works, describes them as “written in his youth and familiar exercise with Sir Philip Sidney. “These exercises of my youth”, he calls them again. The large part, at least, of Caelica was composed before 1586″]
AG: Well, it was published then, I guess. He died 1628. So..
Student: No, (1580’s)
AG: That was probably when it was published.
This is a little bit like the personal poems about death but this is on the whole culture now – “Sion Lies Waste” [Allen begins reading and then stops] – Well, you might like… Anybody got a Biblic voice? Anybody want to do Bible shit.. [ To Student] You want to try that? Okay, but you know, “Sion Lies Waste” [Allen affects oracular tone]. Remember, it’s John the Baptist up there, laying the prophecy trip on the city.
Student: Sion lies waste and thy Jerusalem O Lord is fallen to utter desolation…
AG: Wait a minute, wait a minute, it’s got some commas there!
Student: Oh, but it does run together doesn’t it?, it makes sense.
AG: It depends. You could, but you could say, “Sion Lies Waste. And Thy Jerusalem, O Lord, is Fallen to Utter Desolation”. I mean, it depends. You can do both, but, get a little bit of.. Don’t rush it so fast. I mean, let’s enjoy it, you know. We’ve only got this one, one or two minutes of poetry in our existence and why reduce it to half a minute. Okay? One more time?
[Student (resumes reading)]
“Sion lies waste, and Thy Jerusalem,/O Lord is fall’n to utter desolation;/Against Thy prophets and Thy holy men./There sin hath wrought a fatal combination;/Profan’d Thy name, Thy worship overthrown,/And made Thee, living Lord, a God unknown.
“Thy powerful laws, Thy wonders of creation,/Thy word incarnate, glorious heaven, dark hell,/Lie shadowed under man’s degeneration;/Thy Christ still crucified for doing well;/Impiety, O Lord, sits on Thy throne,/Which makes Thee living Lord, a God unknown.
“Man’s superstition hath Thy truth entombed,/His atheism again her pomps defaceth;/That sensual, insatiable vast womb,/Of thy seen Church, Thy unseen Church disgraceth;/There lives no truth with them that seem Thine own,/Which makes Thee, living Lord, a God unknown,
“Yet unto Thee, Lord – mirror of transgression -/ We who for earthly idols have forsaken,/ Thy heavenly image – sinless, pure impression – / And so in nets of vanity lie taken,/All desolate implore that to Thine own./Lord, Thou no longer live a God unknown.
“Yea, Lord, let Israel’s plagues not be eternal,/Nor sin for ever cloud Thy sacred mountains,/Nor with false flames spiritual but infernal,/Dry up Thy Mercy’s ever springing fountains:? Rather, sweet Jesus, fill up time and come/To yield to sin her everlasting doom.”
I was always impressed by this poem because of its rhetorical power – a couple of great.. (what you were doing really well) – “Thy powerful laws, Thy wonders of creation, Thy word incarnate, glorious heaven, dark hell” – Da-da – da-da-da.
So, this poem was a big influence on me and (on) “Howl”, in a strange way, just the vowelic power build-up in it. The things that I’ve always dug on that is – a couple of really interesting lines – That line.. let’s see… oh yeah… “Thy Christ still crucifed for doing well” – ([to Student] You didn’t get the “still” part right, you..again, you ran into that iambic, that “Christ still crucified”, and swallowed the “still”, but it’s “Thy Christ’s still crucified for doing well”). The “still” is really great there, and that line is one of his great lines. I mean, it’s a great, sort of a great slogan, like – “Christ – still crucified for doing well!” (it’s very English – “for doing well”, very Audenesque that – and I think a lot of (W.H.) Auden comes out of that line, “Thy Christ still crucifed for doing well” (very modestly put – “for doing well”)
I guess..where did Auden put it? ..actually, I bet, I bet you Auden’s elegy for William Butler Yeats probably echoes this particular use of “well” – “Earth receive an honored guest/ William Yeats is laid to rest/Let the Irish vessel lie/Emptied of its poetry” ” Time..
“..that with this strange excuse pardons..” (it’s about Time pardons poets even if they’re creeps) – “Time that with this strange excuse/ pardoned Kipling and his views/and will pardon Paul Claudel/Pardons them for writing well” – It’s that.. He didn’t say “pardons them for writing great”, he says “pardons them for writing well”. And it’s the way he (Greville) says, “Christ crucified for doing well”
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighty-three minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape]