John Donne continues – 9

[Gustav Klimt – The Kiss (Lovers)  (1907-08) – oil and gold leaf on canvas, 180cm x 180 cms, Osterreichische Gaerlerie Belvedere, Vienna]

Allen Ginsberg on John Donne’s “Ecstacy” continues – part 2

AG:  [continues reading from the poem] – “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 halt a moment? – Is everybody following the meaning? –  or should we maybe, explain, as we’re going along on this, a little – because I…more and more I realize that people don’t understand it too easily..

Peter Orlovsky; It seems to me if he writes a poem all day he’s not talking to his wife

AG: No, no, not, it’s the opposite. He’s lying in bed with his girl and they’re looking in each others eyes…… and they haven’t…

Student: They’re going to..they’re going to ball…

AG: But actually, they’re.. .are they?.. I don’t know if there’s copulation yet, here. They’re just..,

Student: It’s finished.

Student (2): No, there’s…

AG: Well, first of all – they’re holding hands (hands are “firmly cemented”) ..  Now, where were they? – Well, they “sat” (and they were lovers, “one anothers best”)

Peter Orlovsky:  “Our hands were firmly cemented”  means orgasm, right?

AG: No, no no, hands clasped together (we’ll get to that later). Come on.. It’s cemented “with a fast balm”

Student: I think the idea is that they’re sitting on some kind of.. ground

AG: Yeah, on “a pregnant bank”, a “violet..”, a swelling bank of a river or a …and violets…

Student: Their souls are negotiating…

AG: …it’s like soft earth (they’re in nature, on soft earth, where violets are), on a bank, and..

Peter Orlovsky: What does “balm” mean? – “balmy weather”, you mean?

Student: No, it’s like an ointment

AG:  An ointment –  “fast”, close – meaning “holding fast”, I think

Peter Orlovsky: Well isn’t that (orgasm) jism?

AG: Aw, come on, Peter! This is not about that. You haven’t read the whole poem, – ever, so why do you insist that it must be, right now?

Peter Orlovsky: I wasn’t insisting,  I was (just) asking.

AG: Well I said no and I said it twice.  I don’t think it is –  yet. It’s something else they’re talking about (maybe they’ll get there later, but let’s look at the poem!)

Student: The poem’s usually more of a medicine…

AG: Yeah

Student: (The poem is more about trees, actually…

AG: Yeah

Student: …probably more than about medicine)

AG: Probably just (about) sweat, maybe – but,  “Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread/Our eyes upon one double string” – So they’re looking in each others eyes, (and silently, presumably – or maybe some talk, but they’re actually..) –  have you ever..? anybody had that experience of looking in someone’s eyes a long long long time, calmly, gently, very lightly, till, like, there’s some, oh, I guess, union of  spirit or soul..?

Student; What about that famous picture of you and (Jack) Kerouac staring into each others eyes.. I think that …

AG: Something different than this.

Student: Oh!  Well…

AG: Well, it’s looking into somebody’s eyes, right

Peter Orlovsky: That’s what you do when…

AG:  We were having fun!

Peter Orlovsky: That’s what you do when your cum, sometime, between lovers, when you…

AG: Yes, but this is not about the physical , this is about the mental !

Student: (I think the line reads very clearly)

Peter Orlovsky: You said something at the beginning there before about…  that they were making love, that’s why I was..

AG: I just said you’re blocking traffic with (that).

Student: I  just thought that they were making love too

AG: Yes they are but it isn’t fucking, yet!  – It maybe.. later in the poem..

PO: You said you didn’t know where it was in the poem, so you’re looking for where it was (the line)…

AG: It may not be in the poem. Let’s today .. read the poem.                                                        Not yet –  please – and maybe not at all – It’s about something else, it’s about not fucking!

Student: What is the line here?

Student (2): Well the line is.. As the poem goes on, they’re becoming one, but they’re not fusing in the usual sense. First their hands, the  sweat on their hands (sticks, cements), then their soul goes up to their eyes…

Student: Are they hallucinating?  Is that coming out of the poem?

Student (2): I don’t think so. Ecstasy develops very gently.

AG: See, toward the end, toward the end, see, it’s like lovemaking, very slowly and gently, and then, toward the end, it gets down to the body.

Student: Yeah, why don’t we read it through, before…

AG: Yeah,  that figures  That’s the whole point of the poem. The point of this poem is that you take a long time before you actually get to the physical. You’re insisting on coming in the third line!.   

Peter Orlovsky: I only said that  because you said somewhere in the poem they’re making love, you didn’t know where, you said

AG: Well, I did, actually, towards the end

Peter Orlovsky: I was starting  to say something, that it was at the beginning….

AG: No, no, no, that’s the whole point.

Student: (In some) Toulouse-Lautrec paintings, there’s something just like this poem…….

AG: Well, yeah, I guess everyone’s had that experience, of slow love, slow good love where you take your time, (a) long long time and let it build up and then…

Peter Orlovsky: How long?

Student: As long as you can

AG: Apparently, in this case, it’d be a long long time. That is the real point of the poem – that it’s urging that

Peter Orlovsky: What two days? three days?

AG: Probably do it in one day, a good long day   

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-eight minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-two-and-a-half minutes in]

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