History of Poetry – 6 (Thomas Campion)

Anonymous – Portrait of A Lutenist, oil on canvas, French, c. late 17th century]

Allen continues his 1975 Naropa lectures on “The History of Poetry”

AG: Campion 1567-1620. (Thomas) Campion, also, at this point, writing music, got interested in quantitative verse – vowel-length verse – as the measure for his poetry, and he is one of the great ears in English poetry. Most of these, or some of these, are songs. I’ll read the famous one(s) that you know mostly – “Rose-cheekt Laura, come/ Sing thou smoothly with thy beaweies/ Silent musick, either other/ Sweetely gracing/ Lovely formes do flowe/ From concent devinely framed;/ Heaven is musick, and thy beawties/ Birth is heavenly. These dull notes we sing/ Discords neede for helps to grace them;/ Only beawty purely loving/ Knowes no discord. / But still mooves delight,/ Like clear springs renu’d by flowing,/ Ever perfect, ever in them-/ selves eternal.”

Now the first line is “Rose-cheekt Laura (comma) come”. Now if he were trying to measure that by accent you’d say something like “ROSE-cheekt LAUra COME”. And there would be a tendency, mechanically, in fact, there is a tendency when this poem is taught in high-school for the teacher to say “Rose-cheekt LAUra COME” (instead of “Rose-cheek’t Lau-uh…come.”. And only a musician would know that. It’s obviously the first line of something like..[Allen starts singing with harmonium] “Rose-cheekt Laura (breath) come”, and the music would move to another chord or another note. So, “Rose-cheekt Laura… come’. It has such a nice sound. Such a pretty timing. So that timing coming from Campion, his very perfect musician’s ear is why (W.S) Merwin exclaimed in delight when Campion’s name was mentioned..I guess [turning to Merwin] is that part of your interest in Campion?

W.S.Merwin (sitting in on the class): I just love Campion. Do you know that shadow poem? It’s the one of your Buddha

AG: Why don’t you read that

W.S.M: Well, the title is the first line. “Followe thy faire sunne, unhappie shadowe” – . “Followe thy faire sunne, unhappy shadowe,/ Though thou be blacke as night,/ And she made all of light,/ Yet follow thy faire sunne, unhappie shadowe. Follow her whose light thy light depriveth/ Though here thou liv’st disgrac’t,/ And she in heaven is plac’t,/ Yet follow her whose light the world reviveth. Follow those pure beames whose beautie burneth/ That so have scorched thee,/ As thou still black must bee/ Til her kind beanes thy black to brightnes turneth/ Follow her while yet her glorie shineth;/ There comes a luckles night,/ That will dim all her light;/ And this the black unhappie shade divineth/ Follow still since so thy fates ordained;/ The Sunne must have his shade,/ Till both at once doe fade,/ The Sun still proud, the shadow still disdained.”

AG: You know, I’ve never understood that poem. Can you explain it to me?

WSM: I don’t understand it

AG: I love it. It’s really beautiful

WSM: I don’t know who he’s talking about, if that’s what you mean

AG: Yeah, I tried to figure it out

Student: Isn’t he talking about the sun? Isn’t he talking about earth following the sun?

WSM: Well you get that part of it clear enough. He’s talking about the sun and the shadow and that the..

AG: And lovers too, right? I always thought it was some masochistic love relationship.

WSM: I’ve never figured out the sex requirements.

AG: Its probably a faggot masochism.

WSM: One of the things that I know about it is the thing you’re talking about, is this thing – You can’t go through that poem fast, You can’t read it any faster than he wants you to.

AG: Yeah,, that is a very conscious vowel-length adjustment there. I guess the lines are made equivalent to each other by the count of the vowel-length. I’ve never analyzed that out. Have you? Somebody must have

Lewis MacAdams (also in attendance): That may be one of the ones he analyzed himself in that essay about the Art of English Poesie

WSM: ..In which he said that no poem that cannot be sung is a real poem.

AG: So Pound loved Campion for that statement. Maybe Pound even got that idea from Campion. So you can see what a degeneration we had with poetry in America when you had these poems which were written to be declaimed at high-school graduationsb or even read. Let’s try that. It would be interesting to figure out what that poem’s about.

WSM: It’s a poem about illusion too.

AG: “Followe thy faire sunne, unhappie shadow’ – so that could either be Earth, as you say, or (a) lover, or just a shadow, an actual shadow, but then he’s got it unhappy – “Though thou be blacke as night,/ And she made all of light/Yet fllow thy faire sun, unhappie shadow”. So we still haven’t figured out who that combination would be

WSM: No, but the funny thing is the sun becomes female.

AG: “she” – that’s right. “And she made all of light” – so it’s a lover, sort of, we could assume – “Follow her whose light thy depriveth” – meaning the girl, or sun, is so bright, and so pretty, and so knocked-out, that the one who’s following around is completely put in the shade and can’t talk, hardly. “Though here thou liv’st disgrac’t,” – “liv’st disgrac’t” – L-I-V-S-T – he wanted that, get that?, “liv’st” instead of “livest disgrac’t”, because he was counting those lengths – D-I-S-G-R-A-C-apostrophe-T, to get it a little faster. But her “thou livs’t didgrac’d/ And she in heaven is plac’t/Yet follow her whose light the world reviveth” – So that could be Beatrice at this point, Beatrice, some heavenly vision

WSM: He’s counting the vowels. He makes the consonants completely unimportant

AG: “Follow those pure beames whose beautie burneth/ That so have scorched thee,/ As thou still black must bee/ Til her kind beanes thy black to brightnes turneth” – so she’s going to make it, or smile. or look with favor, she’s going to make it with the masochistic lover who can’t talk and who’s light is dimmed by her sparkling babble. “Follow her…” Unless this is a big mystical poem about Mary or Beatrice. “Follow her while yet her glorie shineth” – so it’s not eternal, it must be human. “There comes a luckles night” – L-U-C-K-L-E-S, not “luckless”, “luckles” – “there comes a luckles night”

Anne Waldman: Sounds like “lux” meaning light. Lightless

AG: Yeah, just the way they spelled it. They didn’t have two “s”‘s – “There comes a luckles night/ That will dim all her light/ And the black unhappie shade divineth’ – Figures out, prophesies. So it must be human, I guess. If she is going into the luckles night”

WSM: (Indecipherable) works in all of them

AG: Well, with the divine, “”Follow her while yet her glorie shineth/ There comes a luckles night/ That will dim all her light. So that means that if she is divine, the divine will die

WSM: No, divine in the sense of guesses and figures out, and does, like a water-diviner, understands that this is what is going to happen.

AG: Oh yeah. “Follow still since so thy fates ordained;/ The Sunne must have his shade,/ Till both at once doe fade,/ The Sun still proud, the shadow still disdained.”- Now he’s got the thing turned around, the sexes turned around – The sun must have his shade

WSM: You could use that possessive of either sex, it doesn’t matter

AG: Huh?

Student: Could it be life and death?

AG: Yeah. It could be anything, It’s hard. But in a way it’s so good because it’s so vague. It could be yang/yin, could be life and death, could be the sun and the earth, it could be lovers. I always read it as mystical experience actually

So you heard that really odd beautiful spacing, stately spacing of the vowels there, because, when you’re singing, you’d be able to play with those vowels and elongate them [Allen starts singing] – “And this the black unhappie shade divine-eth”. So he’s hearing it for song, he’s hearing it for melody, instead of ” And THIS the BLACK unHAPpie SHADE diVINeth”, or “And this THE black unHAPpie shade divineth” – it’s a much more interesting way of hearing, or composing, if you’re going to hear a scheme, if you ‘re going to hear a scheme in the verse at all, a regular repeated scheme, if you’re going to build the stanzas around any kind of repeated, repeatable, paradigm or structure, measurement, the use of vowels and training your ear to hear vowels or maybe even just doing it with music, is a lot better than what I was trained to write with, which was just the accents, back in the ’30s and ’40s. I guess that’s why I sort of rebelled so strongly because my father wrote in very fixed accents and that was what I was brought up with, and it was totally heavy automatonism, that led to that kind, where the actual meaning and pronunciation was regularized and standardized and homogenized to iambic pentameter or quatrain of iambs, so it didn’t mean anything, finally. That’s why I sort of went overboard into a kind of free verse that had no regulation except rhythms that I could hear, spoken rhythms that I could hear, or chanting rhythms that I could hear around me. Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of songs so that I find that I’m coming back to forms like these, or forms that are countable by accent or quality.

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