History of Poetry – 10 (Allen and Gregory – Bickering Over Shakespeare)

Owl glyph at Luxor Temple – “SonomaPicMan” via Flickr

( (A) History of Poetry continues today, with more Shakespeare (and gadfly Gregory Corso bickering with Allen, and almost taking over the classroom).)

AG: There are a few songs of Shakespeare that you might not know that have a funny kind of literality. What they’re good for is to see that crazy Shakespeare, or funny Shakespeare, was funny precisely because of his totally accurate observation. Almost William Carlos Williams-like kitchen-sink mindfulness. Specifically, in a little song from Love’s Labour’s Lost – “When Isicles hang by the wall ,/ And Dicke the Shepheard blows his nail” – because it’s cold! For years, when I was in grammar school, I thought “blowes his nail” was some kind of a horn or something. Like the old thing, coming in and blowing on his (finger)nails, which is a real observation of winter. So all these images of winter. (Allen reads “Song” (from Love’s Labour’s Lost) ”“When Isicles hang by the wall ,/ And Dicke the Shepheard blows his nail”)
“Tu-whit, to-woo” is obviously a pun, like nothing to do but make love in the middle of the night
Gregory Corso: It’s an owl, Allen. “Tu-whit, to-woo” is an owl.
AG: Yes, of course, but what is the owl saying? – “Make love” – “Tu-whit to woo?”
GC: Coleridge – You’re reading Shakespeare?
AG: Right there, yes
GC: So Coleridge uses “tu whit to-woo” also
AG: Imitating Shakespeare, probably – “Nightly sings the staring (owl)..” – every night – when everybody has finally come in, and the pots have ben keeled.. (what does a keeled pot mean? anybody know?) – “Greasie Joan doth keele the pot” – what does “Greasie Joan… what does “keele the pot” mean?)
Student: Stir?
GC: It means clean the fucking pot!
AG: Clean it, or stir it.
Student: Scrape it
AG: Scrape it?
Student : It’s cooking on a fireplace
AG: Is there a note back here. No, no. So we’ll have to accept “stir” – Stir
GC: We’ll have them (notes) back in my class
AG: ““Tu-whit, to-woo” – I always interpreted that as meaning “to whit”, that is to say, “what is the owl saying?” – ““Tu-whit, to-woo”
GC: It’s onomatopoeic, Al
AG: Of course it’s onomatopoeic, but, what’s better than that it’s onomatopoeic is that it also makes a funny little pun-sense
GC: It’s how ancient Egyptian got it, man. They did it all onomatopoeic. It was all phonetic. You don’t know what it means. So when they drew the picture of the arrow it doesn’t go ““Tu-whit, to-woo” – it’s what it sounds like, it’s not the picture of…
AG: The picture of the sound. What’s the picture of the sound of owl in Egytptian?
GC: Alright. “Owl” means…now here you go, top-shot.. “Owl” means power stick
AG: Owl?
GC: Owl
AG: Awl?
GC: Power stick. Do you know what it looks like?
AG: Uh-uh
GC: Want me to draw it on the board?
AG: Yeah
GC: Why was the owl in Ancient Greece used as wisdom?
AG: Dunno
GC: Alright
AG: Minerva’s bird, Minerva’s bird
GC: They used it on the drachma, Here’s the owl.
AG: Minerva’s bird . Get rid of “Saraswati” and “Nietzsche” (Corso is erasing the chalk-board)
GC: Alright, Nietzche, you gave them Nietsche, Al
AG: No, that was somebody else’s Nietzsche.
GC: (drawing on the board) That’s the owl
AG: Is that the Egyptian hieroglyph?
GC: That’s the Egyptian glyph for owl
AG: Perfect
GC: Alright. Now the power stick looks like this (continues drawing). That’s always with the arm, for their furniture. They do the.. lets say a chair, they do the power stick and the arm together..And it makes a nice design for furniture. Now the owl gets sometimes this..
AG: What’s that?
GC: That’s a pair of feet walking. See?. Let’s say you get a cock. They draw a cock. They draw the cock walking..
AG: Tu-whit to-woo
GC: You got it, hallelujah
AG: “When all aloud the winde doth blow/ And coffing drownes the Parson’s saw” (The parson, babbling in church, talking like (in a drone), “Don’t get drunk, and don’t listen to any mad poets) – “And coffing drownes the Parson’s saw/ And birds sit brooding in the snow…” (That was (Jack) Kerouac’s favorite line.
GC: “Birds sit brooding” – No, Kerouac’s best with Shakespeare was this – “Fat as butter, cheap as an egg”.
AG: Oh yeah, where was that from?
GC: Shakespeare
AG: I mean, where?
GC: Falstaff
AG: Ah, fat as butter, cheap as an egg” Yeah. What year was that?
GC: What year? I don’t know, 1770! – leave me alone!
AG: I got my Shakespeare originally from (William) Burroughs. The first Shakespeare I ever understood was out of Burroughs’ mouth. 1944, Christmas, I went down from Columbia University to Green-wich Village for the first time in my life, taken by a degenerate fellow-student, whom I was in love with, and who was from St Louis, and who knew Burroughs, and they were describing a drunken and bloody night taken.. last Saturday in a dyke bar, where this kid had gotten into a totally alcoholic fight and bitten-off some bull-dyke’s ear-lobe (it was such a disgusting story. Well, not disgusting.. I mean, I came from Paterson, New Jersey, and I never knew about people like that, much less getting drunk and fighting on the floor of a bar and biting somebody’s ear until it was bleeding!). And Burroughs said – “”Tis too starved an argument for my sword” (or he said, “As the immortal Bard said, “’Tis too starved an argument for my sword”). And that led to another line I heard him once quote, which was similar. It’s actually, again, a very deep line of detachment, a very Buddhist line – “’Tis too starved an argument for my sword” – a “starved argument” – it’s a very funny idea again). There’s another line in “The Tempest”, when the fools are scared by the music. (I think it’s “The Tempest”) and maybe Caliban or Ariel says, “Put up your sword..”. No, maybe it’s “Romeo and Juliet“Put up your swords lest the bright dew rust them”
GC: Al, we met in a dyke bar
AG: A different dyke bar
GC: 1950, remember?
AG: It’s a different dyke bar
GC: I lived on 9th Street and 6th Avenue (New York) and I watched this chick taking a shit all the time and pissing in the bath and fucking
AG: I’m trying to keep it on Shakespeare. I’m trying to do Shakespeare. You’ve got to relate it to Shakespeare
GC: I met you at the Pony Stable, and you dug my poesy, right?
AG: It was Shakespearean. That’s why..
GC: You dug my poesy, right, and I told you, wow, I’d like you to take me to introduce me to this girl, who I don’t know, who fucks these people (for the rent(?)), and I jerk off to (her) – I’m 20-years-old right?.. Well he said, “Gregory, I’m the man who fucks her!”.
Well, you know the address, right? Seventy-five..? What was her name?..
AG: Dusty. Dusty Moreland from Lusk Wyoming.
GC: And you watched me fuck her.
AG: Yeah. We were all in bed together. We wound up all in bed together, which is a basic poetic situation (but then you have that consequence of it, later on, twenty years later, so you’ve got to put up with each other. That’s the actual karma of that kind of total devotion. And it’s an old poetic problem. What do you do with Christopher Marlowe who insists on going into a bar and getting his eye pricked out and getting killed in a drunken brawl? What do you do with… Shakespeare created Falstaff who inspired Kerouac who’ll drink a hole in his stomach. What do you do with Chogyam Trungpa and his saki ? What do you do with Gregory and his rounded 24,000 years?
GC: Alright then. Don’t give me Kit Marlowe, man. He’s a spy, right?
AG: Well, I gave you Kit Marlowe, Jack Kerouac and (Chogyam) Trungpa. Why don’t you take your choice ?
GC: I don’t think Trungpa fucked up yet because he’s alive, but Kerouac fucked up, and Marlowe did -they’re dead
AG: The dead are all fucked up, right?
“When all aloud the winde doth blow/ And coffing drownes the Parson’s saw:/ And birds sit brooding in the snow,/ And Marrian’s nose lookes red and raw:/ When roasted Crabs hisse in the bowle,/ Then nightly sings the staring owle,/ Tu-whit, tu-woo/ A merrie note/ While greasie Joan doth keel the pot..” Kerouac kept asking “Who’s “greasie Joan”? I wanna meet “greasie Joan”. I wanna fuck “greasie Joan”. It’s just those two words conjured up this person. In two words, a complete structure in the air with her job, k(n)eeling at the pot, greasy. No wonder greasy, because she’s got to clean out the pots, so she’s got all this grease up to her elbow(s). But everything, absolutely, like William Carlos Williams’ imagism – icicles are hanging by the wall, the shepherd blowing his nails, somebody’s bringing logs into the hall, named Tom, milk is frozen in the pail, blood’s nipped – well that’s sort of far-out, that’s poetic.
GC: It’s his most top-class poem really.
AG: “Tu-whit to woo”, the actual sound of the owl, “greasie Joan” working there, wind blowing, coughing, while the Parson’s saying, “Well, everything’s alright, folks. Keep it low”. Birds sitting “brooding” in the snow , Marrian’s nose red and raw, crabs hiss in the bowl, “tu-whit to woo”, the owl again, Joan back there still at the pot. What’s so great about that is the accuracy, the focus, the concentration of attention (like a Zen haiku – every line worthy of haiku, every line a fact, every line a sensory detail).
Student: Which poem is that?
AG: It’s a song from “Love’s Labours Lost”. The whole play is as good as that. This is sort of concentrated into one song.

You know the little song from “The Tempest”, “Full fadom five... How many here do not know “Full fadom five thy Father lies…” ? Amazingly great. This was considered twenty years ago by a lot of people to be the most beautiful little piece of poem in the whole English language. Now the situation in the Tempest is, I think, Prospero, the magician of the tempest, has entrapped all his karmic enemies and brought them to his magic isle and separated them so they were confused, and Ferdinand, a young, sweet-looking prince, who was going to marry Prospero’s daughter at the end of the play, Miranda, is separated from his father, who’s name I’ve forgotten, and thinks his father is dead, and I think Ariel sings him a song. This is probably sung by Ariel – imagination. Do you know? (Allen then recites in full “Full fadom five thy Father lies..” I don’t know (if) she would.. I think it would be a song so I don’t know how they would say “ding-dong bell” at the end (there). I never figured that part out.
GC: Shelley had that on his grave, Al
AG: “Sea-Nymphs hourly..” No, “th(e)se are pearles that were his eyes”, or what?
GC: Something about those changes

AG: “Nothing of him that doth fade,/ But suffer a Sea-change/ Into something rich, and strange.”
GC: Shelley has it on his tomb
AG: I’ll read it once again for those who’ve never heard it before, in fact, three times. Three times, that ‘s the official number for a mantra. “Full fadom..” F-A-D-O-M, or fathom. Full five fathoms down into the ocean, because the kid thought his father was drowned in the ocean with the tempest.The audio recording of History of Poetry – 10 (Allen and Gregory – Bickering Over Shakespeare) is available at http://www.archive.org/details/Allen_Ginsberg_class_the_history_of_poetry_part_10_June_1975_75P009

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