Adonais

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[Sketch of the poet John Keats, July  1819,  by Charles Armitage Brown]

AG: Then a similar thing to Shelley was a very great poet at this particular colossal rhyme, the colossal breath, heroic or colossal breath, I guess, is Adonais (do folks know that? Adonais? – how many have read through Adonais? – how many have not? – Adonais – well, that’s a great one. That’s his elegy on the death of poor old John Keats, (it’s on (page) 685, well the verses I want are on 685). That’s really best… You notice it begins on page 676 and ends on page 686, it’s ten solid pages of fifty-five stanzas. So we’ll start at the beginning (no… I’ve..read it aloud a number, well, maybe five, times in my life, all the way through from beginning to end and it’s a total gas, it’s really great. So I would recommend you go home, get in the bathroom, turning on the shower, and reading it aloud all the  way through. However, what we might do is check out the last four or five stanzas, stanza 51.  Keats is buried at Rome (as it says in 49, stanza 49) and there is the same ecstasy that rises and the same build-up, like a fugue or sort of colossal musical construction, that rises at the  end and then liberates itself from its body in the end and it becomes pure breath in the last stanza, almost like a death-breath, or like annihilation into the breath, or a complete..such identity with the breath that the clouds of cold mortality scatter and fade from his body, (as) the breath becomes a column of air and the body’s, like, empty or hollow. The condition of inspiration seems to be that the body becomes hollow, or that it has the feeling of being hollow. The spine is straight and there’s a column of air that enters into the body and comes out unobstructed. Unobstructed breath – I guess that’s the thing – unobstructed breath. If you’ve ever seen photographs of Ramakrishna, the Indian holy man of the nineteenth-century, in ecstasy, it”s usually that straight spine (with) his hand pointing up like that, with the abdomen out, and a complete expansion and you know that the breath is just going like the ocean, back and forth, when he breathes – adamantine tide. So, there is an element of that here, if it’s read right, but part of it is the build-up (like in Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor, or in any great piece of music) is the build-up from the beginning, like da-da-da-da  da-da-da-da-da.  So you get the first statement on (in)  the very first stanza – “I weep for Adonais – he is dead!” – da-da-da  da-da-da – “I weep for Adonais – he is dead!” – That’s like one of the great youthful romantical lines of poetry that everybody weeps over when they’re fourteen to twenty ((Jack) Kerouac did, I know – all his friends in Lowell, Massachusetts, went around – they were all Greeks anyway – went around Lowell  saying, “I weep for Adonais – he is dead!” –  in 1938! – 1936, in the middle of the Depression –  “I weep for Adonais – he is dead!”)  – Kerouac’s best friend, Sebastian Sampas was his, like, boyhood romantic chum idol poet (but) Kerouac later married Stella Sampas, his sister. So Kerouac’s widow is Stella Sampas (but) Sebastian was killed in World War II on the beach-head at Anzio in Italy in some, like, murderous bloody attack, but just before he died, I think he sent Kerouac a little tape-recording, a little tiny record (one of those cheap home-made records that you make in a little machine at the railroad station?) which was “Dear Jack, here I am in Italy. “I weep for Adonais – he is dead!””  Then I remember Jack playing it to me, like fifteen years later in Long Island – this scratchy ancient voice of this young poet from Lowell – “I weep for Adonais – he is dead!”

So, to find the body of Adonais (Keats).  “Go thou to Rome – at once” (this is page 685) – Keats is buried in the English graveyard (along with Shelley, incidentally, and.. who else is in there? do you remember?)

Peter Orlovsky:  Which one?

AG: The English graveyard in Rome

Peter Orlovsky: In  Rome?

AG: Near a little pyramid callled Cestius’ Pyramid, by the walls of Rome, actually, where there is a tiny pyramid, maybe as high as this school (sic)

Peter Orlovsky: Did we go there?

AG: Yeah, You and I and  (Fer)nanda (Pivano) went there to look at Keats’ grave, Shelley’s grave. Keats has written on his grave, “Here lies one who’s name is writ in water” – or “fame”? – is it “name”?

Peter Orlovsky: Water

AG: “..whose name is writ in water”?  – Really smart. Like (Robert) Creeleys line, “Everything is water if you look long enough”

Peter Orlovsky: Fame is in water?

AG: No, I think it’s John Keats, writ in water.   Who else is there?  – Well, there are various,.. (Edward) Trelawny, I think and various other expatriates of that era

Student: What is Shelley’s epitaph?

AG: Huh?

Student: What is Shelley’s epitaph?

AG: I saw it about a year ago. It was…  cor cordium (heart of hearts) cor cordium . Because his friend (who was it? (Lord) Byron, I think, grabbed Shelley’s heart out of the funeral pyre and put it.. sent it to England, (no), sent it to the Roman cemetery while they were burning his body, Byron reached into the burning flame and grabbed out the heart of Shelley. That’s what Byron did.

Peter Orlovsky; And then did what to the heart?

AG: (Like I said),  brought it to Rome and buried it in the English cemetery, or had it buried, or Trelawney  brought it to Rome. Anyway.. (try it) – You’ve really  got to have that authentic faith, you know, that what you’re doing is the heart of hearts, the real heart of hearts, it isn’t just any ol’ schlemeil’s heart – it’s got to be Shelley’s heart, or you’ve got to know that he’s got the advantage here of writing an elegy to Keats, so he knows he’s on the right track – he knows that, you know, Keats has been attacked by all the English jerks and..but Keats is one of the great.eye, mind, and imagination turn-on(s) to Shelley.

[From approximately fifty-six-and-a-quarter minutes in to approximately sixty-and-a-half minute in, Allen recites the last seven stanzas of Shelley’s “Adonais”]  So, to find Keats’ grave then –  “Go thou to Rome – at once the Paradise,/The grave, the city,and the wilderness/And where its wrecks like shatter’d mountains rise/And floeering weeds, and fragrant copses dress/The bones of Desolation’s nakedness/Pass, till the spirit of the spot shall lead/Thy footsteps to a slope of green access/ where,like an infant’s smile, over the dead/ A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread;/ And gray walls moulder round, on which dull Time/Feeds, like slow fire upon a hoary brand;/And one keen pyramid with wedge sublime,/Pavilioning the dust of him who plann’d/This refuge for his memory, doth stand/Like flame transfotm’d to marble, and beneath, A field is spread on which a newer band/Have pitch’d in Heaven’s smile their camp of death/Welcoming him we lose with scarce extinguished breath” –   (scarce extinguished breath/  Here pause; these graves are all too young as yet/To have outgrown the sorrow which consign’d/Its charge to each and if the seal is set,/Here one fountain of a mourning mind,/Break it not thou! too surely shalt thou find/Thine own well full, if thou returnest home,/Of tears and gall. From the world’s bitter wind/Seek shelter in the shadow of the tomb./ What Adonais is, why fear we to become?/ The One remains, the many change and pass;/Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly;/ Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,/Stains the white radiance of Eternity,/Until Death tramples it to fragments. Die/ If thou woulds’t be with that which thou dost seek!/Follow where all is fled! – Rome’s azure sky,/Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words, are weak/The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak./ Why linger, why turn back, why shrink, my Heart?/Thy hopes are gone before; from all things here/They have departed, thou shouldst now  depart!/A light is passed from the revolving year,/And  man, and woman, and what still is dear/Attracts to crush, repels to make me wither./ The soft sky smiles, the low wind whispers near:/ “Tis Adonais calls! oh hasten thither,/No more let Life divide what Death can join together/ That Light whose smile kindles the Universe,/That Beauty in which all things work and move/That Benediction which the eclipsing Curse/Of birth can quench not, that sustaining Love/Which through the web of being blindly wove/By man and beast and earth and air and sea,/Burns brifghtor dim, as each are mirrors of/The fire for which all thirst; now beams on me,/Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality./ The breath whose might I have invok’d in song/Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven,/Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng/Whose sails were never to the tempest given;/The massive earth and sphered skies are riven!/ I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar/Whilst, burning through the inmost vale of Heaven,/The soul of Adonais like a star,/Beacons from the abode where the Etermal are.”   (So it’s probably “Beacons from the abode where the Etermal are – yeah “are”, rises there – “Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are” – (I guess, I haven’t been able to get that “are” right – do you want to try that last one, (page) 551? or (5)52 -the one remains? – Because that’s the great.. like “Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,/ Stains the white radiance of Eternity” – Everyone know that line, it’s sort of like the third most famous line in the English language!

Okay – One, two, three  [From approximately sixty-one minutes in to approximately sixty-four minutes in, class reads Shelley in unison] – Is there anybody who didn’t do this now, this exercise for the class, you’re all supposed to open your mouths.  Well, when I do that, (and I do it (occasionally)) ,I actually get a little tingling feeling.  Does anybody else?  I mean, is that audible? is that tangible? anywhere else, beside…  Pretty good, pretty good, (how to get high without (drug-taking).

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-eight-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-four-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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