The History of Poetry – 3 (Tom o’ Bedlam)

William Hogarth (1697-1764) – The Interior of Bedlam (Bethlem Royal Hospital) from The Rake’s Progress – Plate VIII – The Rake In A Madhouse, engraving published 1763

Allen’s 1975 “History of Poetry” class at Naropa continues from here

AG: “Around his (Shakespeare’s) time there was a lot of great language and song. So I want to run through some of the short songs, or short poems or lyrics of (the) 16th Century, 16th, and maybe 17th, Century. I don’t think I put it on the reading list but one very good anthology, or one very good survey of all the poetry in the English language, is one done by (W.H.) Auden and Norman Holmes Pearson in the ’50s or ’60’s called Poets Of The English Language, and what I’m reading from is the second volume (Marlowe to Marvell), beginning with an anonymous “Tom o’ Bedlam’s Song”. There are several versions of this. Where Auden got his I’m not sure. There is a collection of English songs, like the collection of folk ballads now, called Percy’s Reliques, Bishop Percy’s Reliques. Relics of early English poetry and song that has a slightly different version, and has music in it too. But these were songs, so we might as well try to improvise as song. I don’t think that it’ll be anything like the chords that they used then. [Allen begins singing, with harmonium accompaniment – “From the hagg and hungrie goblin…” – “Tom o’ Bedlam’s Song”, in its entirety]. Actually, singing like that, you don’t get the run-on rhythmic charm of the actual versification. “From the hagg and hungrie goblin/ That into rags would rend ye./ And the spirit that stands by the naked man/ in the Book of Moones defend ye/ That of your five sounde sences/ You never be forsaken/ Nor wander from your selves with Tom/ Abroad to begg your bacon…” “Of thirty bare years have I twice twenty” (40).. “bin enraged/ And of forty bin three tymes fifteene/ in durance soundlie caged” (in the looney bin!) – “On the lordie loftes of Bedlam ” (that’s Tom o’ Bedlam talking, Bedlam, the local bug house in London) – “Oh the lordie loftes of Bedlam/ With stubble softe and dainty/ Brave braceletts strong, sweet whips ding-dong/ With wholesome hunger plenty/” – “With a thought I tooke from Maudlin” (now “Maudlin” was, I think, that was the women’s equivalent of Bedlam – Bedlam for men, Maudlin for women)

W.S.Merwin: They were both in Bedlam at that time.

AG: What is Maudlin, here?

WSM: I think it’s an ironic reference to Oxford, (an) Oxford college

AG: Maybe. Maybe “Maudlin College” (sic), but I think..

WSM: Mary Magdalene (pronounced “Maudlin”)

AG: one time there was..

WSM: Mary Magdalene

AG: Yeah. Maudlin is English short form for Magdalene. But at one time, I think, they were separate. I think, I’m not sure, I once read something. “With a thought I tooke for Maudlin/ And a cruse of cockle pottage/ With a thing thus tall, skie blesse you all,/ I befell into this dotage./ I slept not since the Conquest,/ Till then I never waked,/ Till the rogysh boy of love where I lay/ Mee found and strip’t mee naked” (it’s actually a very sexy poem all the way through, there’s a lot of great, funny, somewhat homoerotic, suggestions in it too, everybody horsing around). “When I short have shorne my sowre face/ And swigg’d my horny barrel,/ In an oaken inne I pound my skin/ As a suite of guilt apparell./ The moon’s my constant Mistrisse,/ And the lowlie owle my morrowe/ The flaming Drake and the Nightcrowe make/ Mee musicke to my sorrowe./ The palsie plagues my pulses/ When I prigg your pigs or pullen” (“pullen”? – chickens – pullets) – “Your culvers take..” (do you know what “culvers” are?) – “…or matchles make/ Your Chanticleare” (I guess, “steal your”), “matchles make/ Your Chanticleare, or sullen./ When I want provant, with Humfrie./ I sup…” (I don’t know who Humfrie is. Some local dummy) – “When I want provant, with Humfrie./ I sup, and when benighted,/ I repose in Powles..” (P-O-W-L-E-S, St.Pauls) – “and when benighted,/ I repose in Powles with waking soules/ Yet nevere am affrighted./ I knowe more than Apollo,/ For oft, when hee ly’s sleeping,/ I see the starres att bloudie warres/ in the wounded welkin weeping/ The moon embrace her shepheard,/ And the quene of Love her warryor./ While the first doth borne the star of morne./ And the next the heavenly Farrier” (what that’s all about is the shepherd is Endymion, who was beloved of Diana, but Diana was married to…

Student: She wasn’t married.

AG: The moon is embracing her shepherd. Diana is embracing Endymion, and the Queen of Love, Venus, who is married to Mars, no, who is Venus married to?

Student: Hephaestus

George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) – Endymion – oil on canvas, approx 25.5 x 20 inches, (c. 1869-72)

AG: Right, ok. So Venus is making it with Mars, and so the first “..doth borne the star of morne..” “The moone embrace her shepheard” – the moon, then, would be Diana, horny, or cuckolding – who is “the star of the morne”?

Student: Venus

Lewis Mac Adams (alongside poet W.S.Merwin, also sitting in): Yeah, but then if they didn’t know at this time. I don’t think that it was the same star, so that one star was Hyperion, one star was the guy that, later, we call a devil..

AG: Hesperus

LM: Hesperus

AG: Hesperus, so..

LM: But Hesperus is the evening star. But, see, the evening star and the morning star have two different names. And what is the.. he has the same name as the devil..?

Student: Lucifer

AG: Uh huh

LM: The light-bringer is the morning star

AG: Now how can Diana be cuckolding Lucifer?

LM: Beats me

AG: I think finally probably in his astrology/astronomy

LM: In Tom’s astronomy?

AG: Yeah, in Tom’s. The rest is “..first doth borne the star of morne./ And the next the heavenly Farrier.” (which means, the Queen of Love is cuckolding Hephaestus by embracing Mars. So, therefore, he knows more than Apollo, Tom does, because he knows all the gossip of the stars fucking each other.

“The Gipsie Snap and Pedro/ Are none of Tom’s comradoes./ The punk I skorne and the cut purse sworn/ And the roaring boyes bravadoe./ The meeke, the white, the gentle,/ Me handle touch and spare not” (I wonder what that means?) – “But those that cross Tom Rynosseros/ Doe what the panther dare not” (I know what the “panther” is) – “With a host of furious fancies,/ Whereof I am commander,/ With a burning speare, and a horse of aire” (like a (Salvador) Dali painting – the burning spear and horse of air) – “By a knight of ghostes and shadowes” (that’s as good as (Bob) Dylan, actually – or Dylan’s sometimes as good as that – actually, this is very Dylan – or Dylan’s “Gates of Eden” – and some of his lyrics are influenced by this particular (poem), “Tom o’ Bedlam” – some of the “Gates of Eden”-era materials, because we went over this particular and a few other songs like this with Dylan (him), around ’64, ’65) – “With a burning speare, and a horse of aire,/ To the wildernesse I wander/ By a knight of ghostes and shadowes/ I summon’d am to tourney” (“tourney” – like a tournament) – “Ten leagues beyond the wide world’s end./ Me thinke it is noe journey.” (to think that it’s no journey – and this is his song, “be not afraid”). The “Tom o’ Bedlam Song” (by) Anonymous, sang (as “Greensleeves” – you know the “Greensleeves” song?)

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