Student: Yes.. The whole poem?
AG: Yeah, why not, it’s a great poem. It’s a classic poem.. the.. It’s like the.. I suppose, in the time that Donne was considered the greatest, this was supposed to be the acme of Donne, “The Ecstacy”
Student: Well, I don’t know.. It was considered..
AG: It was considered..?
Student: …so much philosophy.
AG: Yeah, at this point, the sensuous poetry does move over into philosophy, but, Donne… This is metaphysical poetry, and the word was given to it by Dr. Samuel Johnson, I think, (who objected somewhat (to it) too), but this was what happened, and this was… what?… I mean it’s kind of a turning point of mentality, or consciousness, in English poetry, when it moves, begins to move from Donne. It goes through some very acute crises, and moves from the raciness and humanness of Shakespeare (who’s also quite intelligent and intellectual) to an almost.. moments of almost exclusively pointed intellectuality in Donne (so-called “metaphysical”)
Peter Orlovsky: Why?
AG: Why did he do it?
Peter Orlovsky; Why did it happen?
AG: I think the beginning of the disintegration of faith in God (or in the Church, certainly, the break-up.. the break-up of (a) universal Church, and Church wars…)
Peter Orlovsky: In Donne’s time?
AG: Before Donne’s time. See, Dante, a couple of centuries before, was able to keep it all together, but here… although, Donne wound up a priest. He was the..
Peter Orlovsky; At St Paul’s?
AG: In St Paul’s Church in London – and preached great sermons, and wrote great religious sonnets, there is a skepticism and an intellectual trying-to-figure-out (of) sin and… well, the relation.. actually, the intellectual attempt to relate the body and the soul (and they did seem to get separated by Donne’s time, body and soul) – in fact, that”s the big thing – the dialogue of the body and soul, or the reconciliation of body and soul). Before, the other poems we had before, like Sir Walter Raleigh, it was “..God will raise me up, I trust“. So, flesh is dust, gold is dust. Rich men, in your gold don’t trust, but “(My) God will raise me up, I trust”. So there was.. They..I guess it was, like, life was suffered and seen as one thing, bodily, and the body was trusted in more, and then it was assumed that the body would turn to dust – But maybe people began having mystical experiences and having the experience of out-of-the-body?
Peter Orlovsky; After Shakespeare’s time, you’re saying?
Student; One thing that was different was, in the fifteen-nineties, they had the figure of Elizabeth (I) , (who ruled up until sixteen-oh-three),
Student: …and she was a tremendous magnet – mother-figure, Virgin queen...
Student: …patroness of all the arts and the result of that was.. had a lot to do with the sudden break-up…
AG: Like (John Fitzgerald) Kennedy’s death, some big movement in the….some big movement in the body politic.
Student (reads John Donne’s “The Ecstacy“) – “Where, like a pillow on a bed/A pregnant bank swell’d up to rest/The violet’s reclining head,/Sat we two, one another’s best./Our hands were firmly cemented/With a fast balm, which thence did spring;/Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread/Our eyes upon one double string/;So to intergraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one,/And pictures in our eyes to get/Was all our propagation..As ‘twixt two equal armies fate/Suspends uncertain victory,/Our souls (which to advance their state/Were gone out) hung ‘twixt her and me./And whilst our souls negotiate there,/We like sepulchral statues lay;/All day, the same our postures were,/And we said nothing, all the day./If any, so by love refin’d/That he soul’s language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,/Within convenient distance stood,/He (though he knew not which soul spake,/Because both meant, both spake the same)/Might thence a new concoction take/And part far purer than he came./This ecstasy doth unperplex….”
AG: Shall we pause a moment? Does everybody follow the meaning, or shall we explain as we’re going along on this, a little? (because, more and more, I realize people don’t understand it too easily.
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-two-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-eight minutes in]