Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Conclusion)

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Allen Ginsberg’s 1980 Naropa class on Shakespeare’s Sonnets, continuing from here, concludes today. 

Student: Are there (Greek) epic poetry rhymes like this? (like Shakespeare’s Sonnets’ sequence)?

AG: Yes, some are. Some of them are very complicated. Well, not necessarily rhymes. I don’t think that Homer is rhymed, is it? – Homer ain’t rhymed, (but) Homer is just as complicated and different in other ways (Homer’s measured by the vowel-lengths of things – hexameter) – but it’s longer No, (Sir Philip Sidney’s) “Astrophel and Stella”, I think, is a longer Sonnet sequence, possibly.. Others.. There’s ones that mention the.. Samuel Daniel’s “Delia“, (Michael) Drayton’s “Idea”, (Edmund) Spenser’s “Amoretti”, Sidney’s “Astrophel and Stella” – they’re all enormously long – It was the style, it was the thing that people did, you know, to keep a sonnet..an autobiographical sonnet-sequence – usually of a love.

Student: It turns out to be a good length for a novel – How many pages does it take to..(complete)?

AG: Well, in this book it’d be..one-hundred-and-ninety-two pages, up to page one-hundred-and-fifty-two- How did that come about?  – Wait a minute, let me check that.  No, from page forty-one to one-hundred-and-ninety-two,  so..one-hundred-and-fifty pages

Student; How long did it take him to write?

AG: Well, it’s.. I don’t know, but it’s said three years, the whole cycle was three years of love. Then.. then, what’s interesting, is there are two more sonnets, and they are completely disrelated.. unrelated, and may not have to do with.. It may have been that he got so bored and so frustrated with it all he just tore up the whole thing and wrote two little pretty little sonnets about Cupid or something, about… about, actually, you know, a put-down of the whole idea of erotic love – Cupid lay by his brand and fell asleep (Sonnet 153)  (Cupid, the little guy of love)  – Cupid lay by his brand and fell…” – Cupid laid by his brand ( his torch) – Cupid lay by his torch and fell asleep” – “A maid of Dian’s (Diana) this” – “A maid of Dian’s this advantage found” (the goddess, Diana, “queen and huntress, chaste and fair”, the moon) – “A maid of Dian’s this advantage found/And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep/In a cold valley-fountain of that ground” (put cold water on his love fires) – “Which borrow’d from this holy fire of love/A dateless lively heat, still to endure/And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove/ Against strange maladies a sovereign cure” (a bath, you know, of love’s hot water, a hot waters water-bed?)- “But at my mistress’ eye Love’s brand new-fired/The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;/I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,/And thither hied, a sad distempered guest,/But found no cure, the bath for my help lies/Where Cupid got new fire; my mistress’ eyes.”

So it’s a little delicate sonnet, being a little bit cynical maybe about love for (the a) lady. Some people say it’s not his and some people say it was added later on. Anyway, I’d recommend reading them all through. If you sit down, you can read it through in two hours, or three hours, or one hour, but just read it like a novel and it makes a mad story and totally human, totally inside the skin, under the skin. I found them totally equivalent to the feelings I’ve had over the years with the different crushes and loves and, you know, sufferings, and accomplishments, you know (making out or not making out). The series of poems that I’ve been reading, that I read at the reading,”Love Replied(Love’s Answer), and so forth, those are sort of somewhat similar, like, adventures of love under different conditions

Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep:
A maid of Dian’s this advantage found,
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
In a cold valley-fountain of that ground;
Which borrow’d from this holy fire of love
A dateless lively heat, still to endure,
And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.
But at my mistress’ eye Love’s brand new-fired,
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;
I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,
And thither hied, a sad distemper’d guest,
But found no cure: the bath for my help lies
Where Cupid got new fire; my mistress’ eyes.

It’s twenty-five after. I thought… Two things I wanted to get. Should we go on with this next term or not? – or should we switch to “Milton”? Is anybody insistent on going to (“Milton”), not insistent, but is anybody inclined to go to William Blake’s prophetic book, “Milton“, instead of continuing with the chronologic count here? (or is this method satisfactory?)        I don’t know – A lot of people have been complaining it’s too slow (which it is) and the prospectus said “up to modern times” (which we haven’t got anywhere near). However, a lot of other people have said that they never did like classical poetry but they’ve developed a little bit of taste for it, and are not so much afraid of it anymore, and some appreciation of the possibility of actually reading it without getting freaked out, or bored, or feeling that it’s objective (objectionable), in the sense that it will crush their feelings or thwart their romantic heart. So it seems to be useful for some. I don’t know. I’m enjoying it. It’s easier for me to go on through this than go back to the Blake which is a little tough and heavy (but I can be doing either).

Student: Yes, I think we better continue this.. (We’ve not getting the chance for much feed-back here)

AG: How many people here will be here next term anyway, among you? and how many not? how many will be gone? – Well then, of those that will be here next term is there any who would rather do Milton? If you’d rather, please raise your hand. [a small number of students raise their hands ] – Then I guess we’ll do that [continue with Shakespeare, rather than Blake ] , but that means I’ll have to tell the Registrar, Susan, [sic], that, I guess, we’ve switched, just to warn people who are coming from..who are coming from Asia (to) read “Milton”. I’ll do a heavy Blake number for next term then, and we’ll spend at least a week on Blake.

So, you have for homework, Sonnets, if you could hand in..Anyone who has not handed in a student evaluation, please do, and anybody who has not picked up a student evaluation, please do – and we’ll adjourn to Naropa, those who have time and leisure for Gordon Ball‘s short movies and (my little eight-minute movie)…

[ Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-nine-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape]

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