Ginsberg on.. Ben Jonson (1980 class transcription – 2) (Jonson-Pound)

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

The Naropa class we transcribed  a couple of days ago was only the first part of a class on Pound, Ben Jonson, and the rudiments of Greek prosody (audio available via the wonderful Internet Archive here). Pound and essences of Pound form the first part, but the second part of the class also includes, significantly takes notice of, E.P. Allen reads from his famous Canto LXXI, breaking off occasionally to clarify or annotate (that reading is approximately 40 minutes in).

For convenience, we have broken this transcript into two sections – the first on Jonson and prosody (with the Pound remarks included), the second more generalized comments on Greek meter, indeed on more than Greek meter, on global rhythms. The whole thing (yesterday’s transcript included) however form one class – his April 3 1980 class on, as he described it, “Basic Poetics”.

So, since we’ve already transcribed the first part, here’s the rest:

AG: “Well, ok, my reason for bringing up Pound will come out in a while… So..(on) to (Ben) Jonson – what I wanted to get onto was page 260, The Triumph of Charis (but) before that we did those two little epitaphs on page 256, 256-257, and on the way out, (Ted) Berrigan reminded me of a poem he likes particularly, “On Guts” – “Gut eats all day and letchers all the night..” (he’s patting his belly and teaching “On Guts”!) [Allen reads the poem in its entirety] – “”Gut eats all day and letchers all the night…Lust it comes out that gluttony it went in” – that’s pretty down, he’s witty, you know, he’s masculine, but..

Page 259, the famous.. relating to what Pound was saying, to write a song to a melody you know. [Allen sings the first line] “Drink to me only with thine eyes and I will pledge with mine”. You know that song? Anyone not know that song? never heard of it? No? Amazing! – Well, in the old days that was considered “grandma’s chicken-soup”. Drink to me only” How many know it? Let’s sing it. [they sing in unison]

AG: I didn’t have the tune right, I don’t think. Did anyone have it better?

Student: ..It’s an old Church theme.. It’s an old Baptist tune.

AG: Do you know the words that go with that, with (for) the Baptists?

Student: They have there that same tune for a lot of them.

AG: Can you remember any? Do you know any words that go with it? [Allen then improvises, making up words on the spot to that same melody]. “O dear God, I’m on my knees/ Incline thy heart to me/Send me a dove or bring me to Heaven/ And I will pray to thee/ But if you send me down to Hell/I’ll never give you my arm/But if you bring me up to your knees/ I will wave thine ashen palm…” something like that

Student: It seems to me. I’ve heard that all the lyrics were the same..

AG: Was this.. I wonder, do you know if this music was contemporary with Jonson, Stanley? (to Stanley, unidentified here)

Stanley: No

AG: No, it sounds a little more.. later.. Actually, it doesn’t really fit the words. You have to stretch the words around. “Drink to me only wi-ith.. (“wi-ith”, you have to make “with” into two syllables). “Drink to me oh-nly..” You might have to.. “Drink to me only with thine eyes and I will pledge with mine”. You’d have to syncopate it to get it syllable by syllable.

Student: The way we sang it..there’s a Band song called Daniel and the Sacred Harp, at the beginning of that, there’s an old pump-organ..

AG: Uh-huh. Well, I want to get on to “The Triumph of Charis” – Charis? Charis? Do you know what that is? It’s a play, originally, I imagine, from a play, or a longer poem (but I think a play? Do you know anything about that, the origin of that, Stanley?

Stanley: No

AG: Ok, the measure or the rhythm in this poem is really exquisite and powerful and really interesting, maybe to get on the board even? [Allen moves to write onto the classroom chalk board – sound of his writing will be heard fitfully on the tape]. However, we’ll get to that. The beginning is not so interesting but let’s take the second stanza, (the) second part of it, on page 260, “Charis”, presumably some exquisite feminine principle, some feminine divinity. So..[Allen reads – “Do but look on her eyes, they do light/All that Love’s world compriseth..” down to “Oh so white! Oh so soft! Oh how sweet is she!“] – Now isn’t that something!

Student: What’s a “nard”? (“Or the nard in the fire”)

AG: Spikenard – an aromatic plant, I guess. Well, “have you..smelt..the (aromatic plant) in the fire?”. You know, when you throw..evergreen..what do you throw in the fire nowadays..?

Student: Juniper

AG: Have you smelt all the juniper in the fire, the nard, the nard in the fire, the nasal nard, the spikenard (of)… That’s just so pretty, tho’. So what makes that.. “Have you seen but a bright lily grow – da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da – [Allen sounds out, as he will many times in this class, the metrical beat of the line]..what, well, basically.. I would like to get a little of this visually up there in front of you [referring here to the blackboard]. We don’t do enough with that analysis. And, before we’re done with these three terms (this is the middle of the second), we should be able to, despite our lack of education, to actually understand how to analyze, figure out, have some reconstruction paradigm understanding of how these things go.

I’m seeing it as basically anapests, tho’ tremendously varied – and I don’t even know if his measurement was by accent, but I’ll analyze by accent, for the moment, using this for short and this for long – ok? – or short and strong accent(s) [marks on board]. So, “Have you seen…”, well, it depends on how you want to say it, but reducing it to what would probably be simplest – “All the gain, all the good, of the elements’ strife” – “all the gain/ all the good/ of the elements’ strife” [Allen repeats the phrase and then tries other metrical variants] – “all the gain, all the good, of the elements’ strife” – Probably. However, there is.. so you could get a little bit of.. I’m just giving that as my own home-made (half-stress). If you were to use it.. “all the gain, all the good..””Have you seen but a bright lily grow” [Allen scans this line] – You can’t do anything with that lily, except make it.. theoretically.. You see, here’s a case where probably the real, the basic, the skeletal meter is [Allen sounds it out] “Have you seen but a bright lily grow”, but, actually, in actual pronunciation, really [reads it flat] – “Have you seen but a bright lily grow?” – “Have you”, “lily grow” – the “lil-y”, ok?.. So what that would be is a mixed meter, or it’s a variant on the pace of a mixed meter – “Have you seen but a bright lily grow,/ Before rude hands have touch’d it” (that’s interesting) – “Have you seen but a bright lily grow before rude hands have touch’d it?” – da-da, be-fore – You could actually say..[Allen experiments with various stress patterns with that line]…Basically, an iambic line, I would guess, but it isn’t really – “Before rude hands have touch’d it” – So it’s like..[back to the chalk board] the anapest is like this and the iamb is like that. So they’re basically the same structure – dee-dee-dun-da, dee-dum-da – this builds up – everyone following this? – a note goes upward, (a) little stress goes up (“stress”, being how much breath you exhale through your stomach to make the emphasis, the amount of breath – actually, literally, speaking physiologically – stress means the amount of breath – it takes more breath to make a stress than to make a line, actually!). And so, physiologically, considering you’re putting more spiritus, more breath, more spirit-breath into the heavy accent than the light accent, you want to know the density of the breath.. (the golden rule..) it all comes down to density of breath. So, in the heavier.. the more explosive, the more explosion of the breath.. Again, of the foot [Allen rhythmically stomps with his foot]. that’s the foot. So there’s more stress there. So what we’ve got here, it’s the same thing, except shortened, only one line. If you want to take that, “before..”..”before rude hands have touch’d it” So these are the same, more or less [Allen experiments, further sounding the line] – I’ll leave that as that..iambs mostly..and anapests [sound of Allen’s chalk can be heard on the board] – ok? – those who don’t know what those are? ok? that all clear? Is there anyone who’s left behind in kindergarten? [Allen continues] – “Ha’ you mark’d but the fall o’ the snow” – and he’s really got there, he’s gotten into regularity now – “Have you mark’d; but the fall/ of the snow” – “Before the soil hath smutch’d it” – that gets into irregular, these two are roughly…iambic.. “Before the soil..” is that right?

Student: “Before the soil hath smutch’d it”

AG: “Boom-ba, boom-ba, boom ba-ba” [Allen continues to sound it out] – But it’s that thing there, that thing there, the extra heavy syllable, that gives the thing it’s delicacy and variation (otherwise it’d be automatic). But what’s also weird (and beautiful) about this (is) it’s varying a longish line as anapest, followed by a simple structure – one, two, followed by a similar structure, iambic. You understand why similar? Anybody not? Does anybody… is this.. ok?

Student: What do you mean by similar structure?

AG: By similar, I mean (that) this is two short and a long, this is only one short and a long, but the foot ends in a stress, (rather than “ty-ger” – it isn’t like that – boom-boom – “Tyger, tyger, burning bright” – it’s the opposite, it’s “ger-ty”! In other words, this is a longer foot, a three-syllable foot and this is a two-syllable foot (the iambic is two syllables, the anapest is three syllable) but they all come down hard and end on the third syllable, or the latter half, latter part, of it. Ok? In that sense, they’re similar. However, they’re different because one is three and one is (a) two syllable meter(s). And it’s not very often that they mix them. It’s not so often that you’ll find someone good enough and in (at) ease enough with the language to be mixing the anapest and iamb, or reversing it. The dactylic could mix with..[Allen again tries sounding rhythms out] Does anyone know a line that would go like that? [pauses, thinks, spontaneous improvisation] “Given the money I gave you newly” [ Allen sounds it] – “given the money I gave you newly..”

Student; “Mother and maiden and…”

AG: “Mother and maiden… “Given the money I gave you newly [Allen continues with his creation] “Given the money I gave you newly/ Come tell me honey, love me truly”.. unusual.. that would just run on and on..

“Ha’ you felt the wool o’ the beaver?” – so he mixes it now – “”Ha’ you felt the wool o’ the beaver?”- so he’s got the two forms mixed now – see? – everybody follow that? One iambic foot, one anapest foot (in this little tail) [Allen is at the chalkboard again]. So, it’s like a Bach fugue or somethin’, and it’s built like a brick shit-house. Every single line is different, you notice (ba-ba-bum, ba-ba-bum, ba-ba-bum-ba-bum) [Allen continues to sound it out]. That’s what gave it that uncanny feeling when you listen to me reading it straight, listen to the meters. “All the gain, all the good, of the elements’ strife” – “Or swan’s down ever” – “Or swan’s down ever?” [Allen further examines this Jonson line] ..Actually, it was probably.. Ideologically, abstracted ideologically would be just that, but it’s actually… that’s so funny, that’s so weird that, “Or swan’s down ever”. And then he gets to the regularity again [Allen writing the words on the board as he sounds them] – “Or have smelt o’ the bud o’ the briar” – and emphasizes “of the bud of the briar” – “o”, of, so you can really get into it – “smelt o’ the bud o’ the briar” [Allen further examines this phrase] – speeding it up, “or smelt of the bud of the briar”- it’s not quite like [reads it again..slower] “smelt of the bud of the briar”, that’s vernacular, you smell “briar”, you get it right on your lip, that one, you don’t have to move your lip, you don’t have to move your tongue too much, just sticking it back-and-forth staccato-like.. So his ear is so good that he made a kind of stacatto shot out of that one, and it’s balanced like..weights you know, metaphysical weights, this verse – “smelt o’ the bud o’ the briar” “or the nard in the fire”. And, instead, he tricks you (usually those short lines are iambic, remember, generally iambic, but now he’s switched it with the next line – “or the nard in the fire” -“or the nard in the fire?” – he could have said (just) “smelt..the bud o’ the briar” – “Or have tasted the bag of the bee” (so that’s pretty) – oh yeah, so here he ends.. (every other time, most other times, he’s ended on a light syllable – “Ha’ you mark’d but the fall o’ the snow?” – “..have (you) tasted the bag of the bee?” [Allen sounds it out again] – so this one here (bee) and this one (snow) are exactly the same, ok?, i.e perfectly symmetrical and have the same meter.[Allen repeats the lines]  – Pretty! – I have my bee pollen with me! – So the “bag o’ the bee” is something real, exquisitely Shakespearean Ariel-esque! Then, to make it, to cap it all off, finish it – “Oh so white!…” – and, you’ve got to figure (out) what that is, well, “Oh so white!”, Oh so soft..” wasn’t it?. White, comma. You’ve got to stop – “Oh so white!, Oh so soft!, Oh so sweet is she!”. But, so, you think, ba-bom ba-bom ba-bom, ba-bom ba-bom, ba-bom [Allen sounds it out again]. But, not only has he made the balances like that so you have to make the stress as – [reads] “Oh so white!, Oh so soft!, Oh so sweet is she!” – (only) it isn’t like that, ’cause, as we began there, remember? ( “All the gain, all the good..”), “Oh” is an expletive. It means..with lots of air, so it couldn’t possibly be quite so simple – “Oh! so white, Oh! so soft..”. So, therefore, it’s really you’ve really got a sharp in there, you’re gonna have sharp stress on the “Oh!”s

Student: Why does..

AG: Why does “Oh!” have to be sharp with the accent, is that the question?. Because “Oh” when you pronounce it physically is heavier, is heavier. It’s what they call an expletive. In other words, “Oh!”, you’re not gonna say “oh” [Allen diminishes he accent], you wanna say “Oh!” [Allen returns to the emphasis] – So, just by its very nature, “Oh” has built-in stress (unless you insist on saying “oh so white..” – but then it’s a bookish “oh”, not a spoken “oh” – “Oh so white!, Oh so soft!, Oh so sweet..” – it’s “Oh” as spoken as “oh”, and the more it sounds.. (it) sounds better, you know, rhythmically, when you get that push backwards, also) – “Ha’ you felt the wool o’ the beaver?/ Or swan’s down ever?” – see, it’s funny, it’s “of the beaver”, it’s not the “Oh” expletive wool of the that’s a minor accent, it isn’t a heavy accent – “o’ the beaver”, wool of the beaver, it just means “of”, so it’s not a stressed accent in a line that is..two, three, four, five, six lines up (“Ha’ you felt the wool o’ the beaver?”) – there’s another “Oh”, but it’s not a heavy “oh”, it’s a light-stressed “oh” – that’s clear? Yes. So [Allen reads last four lines of the poem] – depending how much “Oh” you want to put into it, how much air you want to put ino the “Oh”, you have all different ways of interpreting, if you’re an actor (if this is a play), or if you’re a singer (of this is a song), or even if you’re a poet (if this is just talking). You have different ways of interpreting and balancing the weight of those lines and different humors announcing it and you can make all sorts of beautiful variations [Allen then tries out some] – “Or have tasted the bag of the bee?/ Oh so white! Oh so soft! Oh so sweet is she!”. However you want to act it out, however you want to announce it, he’s built a little machine there that you can play with, like..seems like a hang-glider of your own hot air, of your own up-draft, of your own inspiration and exhalation.

Now..look what Ezra Pound did with this. Just like the other one you went over with Stanley (sic) last term, drop, drop, drop, drop, drop, it’s one of the great classic ear pieces. So, in Pisan Cantos, referring to English prosody in a page that I read last term, when we were sort of prefatory going into song and quantitative meters.. on page 519, in Canto LXXXI..He’s been talking about..talking politics, and then mixes it with a bit of Greek, about his own situation, being lost in the middle of Europe, and he’s in jail – and I think there is… there’s..“To Althea”? – going to prison? – oh, we haven’t got to that yet – what is that? Suckling? Lovelace? someone like that, he mentions it – the grate of the prisons – and then, suddenly, he goes into an archaic tune, with rhyme, talking about Henry Lawes and (John) Jenkyns and (Arnold) Dolmetsch, the 20th-century reviver of harpsichord – and Lawes, who set, I forget, Jonson to music perhaps? – and others, Jenkyns, another madrigal composer, Edmund Waller, who we’ll come to soon, John Dowland, who we’ve already met and heard. And then, after all that beautiful music, for a couple of centuries in England, in (music and) poetry, hardly anything happens. So I’ll read that little thing – “..Beveridge wouldn’t talk and he wouldn’t write for the papers..” [Allen begins reading from Canto LXXXI – with occasional annotations]. “AOI!” – Anyone know Greek? – “And for 180 years almost nothing” – funny little commentary on English poetics. But that “Hast ‘ou fashioned so airy a mood” (is) pretty much the same (as) “Hast ‘ou found a cloud so light” – anapest mixed with iamb – “As seen neither mist nor shade” – da-da da-da da-da – basically tending tward anapestic, but hearing that exquisite Ben Jonson melody in the back of his head. So..

Ezra Pound

Do you know this Pound at all, I wonder? Has anybody here read Pisan Cantos at all? Nothing? Well, let me read a little bit more, it’s another page.

He’s in a prison camp cage in Italy at the end of World War II, when the Allies have overrun Italy and he’s been captured, and, in order to save him being killed by the pro-Communist partisans, since he had taken Mussolini’s part in the war and stayed in Italy and made broadcasts, the chief of American counter-intelligence, a man called James Angleton, who had a magazine called Furioso, in Carleton College, in 1939, with Reed Whittimore, contemporary poet, living in Washington. Angleton had some kind of special order sent to grab Pound fast, before he got lynched, like Mussolini, and hung by his heels, and put him in a prison camp in a cage, where he’d be safe at least, guarded by black American soldiers. And so these Cantos were written in what they call (the cage, which was an unshaded barred cage, ten by ten or something, out in the open air, in the cold, where he…

. “And for 180 years almost nothing” [Allen continues to read from Canto LXXXI, continues to notate] – “Ed “ascoltando al leggier..” – Anybody know Italian? – “there came new subtlety of eyes into my tent” – some kind of vision he had of clear light – “eidolon” – ideal vision – “What thou lovest..” – actually, it’s “What thou lov’st..” – “The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world” – great line! – “Paquin” – (Jeanne) Paquin was a 1920s,1930s courturier in Paris, like..(Yves) St Laurent – “Master thyself, then others shall thee beare” – Who is he quoting there? I guess Chaucer maybe again -“knowst’ou” K-N-O-W-S-T-apostrophe-O-U – “bag of the bee” – “But to have done instead of not doing…To have, with decency, knocked/That a Blunt should open” – When Pound first came to London, 1905 or “04, whenever, he went to see the poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt, and he wanted to see everybody he could meet, Yeats, and he went to visit, pay homage to all the poets that he knew (he has this one line – “Swinburne, my only miss” – Swinburne was still alive when he was there, I think and he was the only one he missed! – “Swinburne, my only miss” – “But to have…with decency” – Blunt was not a very good poet but to have the decency to go visit him anyway – “To have gathered from the air a live tradition” (that’s a great line!) – “To have gathered from the air a live tradition…This is not vanity,/Here error is all in the not done,/ all in the diffidence that faltered” – so don’t falter in your diffidence! – diffidence? you know diffidence? – sort of doubt, hesitancy to knock. So that’s Pound’s whole aesthetic thesis basically, “To have gathered from the air a live tradition”. So that’s the difference between Jonson and Pound – to have gathered from the air a live tradition, or from Jonson’s fine old ear a durable cadence.”

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