Ginsberg on…Ben Jonson (1980 class transcription – 3)

Pottery detail depiction of Ancient Greek Chorus

The Ginsberg Ben Jonson class continues – and concludes

So what shall we do now? “Slow Slow..”? – “Slow slow fresh fount keep time with my salt tears”. What do you make of that? Page 266. A couple of really pretty pieces of cadence now. I’ve never examined this song particularly carefully. A couple of times it has struck me as being real.. just.. totally lovely music [Allen reads “Slow slow fresh fount keep time..“]. So it’s all about music. The division here is a musical term – division. Does anybody know enough about Elizabethan music to know what the term division means there? You got any idea, Jim.

Student: Yeah. Counterpoint

AG: Counterpoint.. I think it’s a part in a song. The footnote says part in a song, but the counterpart point. So.. part and counterpoint. Counterpoint is..what? to be.. people singing simultaneously or one against each other?

Student: Basically, one against another

AG: Harmony then?

Student: Which Campion developed, taking the voices and breaking them into bass, tenor, treble and alto. The way he conceived it, not enough voices to make.. the early stages counter-melody, more or less melody, syncopated harmony

AG: So it will actually be then – “Slow slow fresh fount keep time with my salt tears” [Allen reads the poem now with a different measure]

Student: Two voices tho’ – so..

AG: Yeah. It’d be funny if you did do that, like one voice singing “slow slow”, another voice “fresh fount”, and then all four voices “keep time with my salt tears” – Yet.. [Allen sings and proposes a melody for the rest of Jonson’s song] – (afterwards) something like that, I imagine – but like that “drop, drop drop drop” – You could just imagine what a musician could make of that! You know drop drop drop – up on the scale – or probably drop drop [Allen descends on the scale]
You could do anything, you know. You could have big drop, little drop, enormous jump, but probably even.. “drop drop drop drop” [Allen improvises] or go through the whole scale with that (bum-bum-bum-bum [sounds it out again] – I like that “Droop, herbs and flowers;/ Fall grief in showers”. It’s really interesting that you have to have an emphasis on “droop” and “fall”, you can’t say “Droop herbs and flowers” [Allen reads it unemphasized] – because it’s basically da-da da da-da. Da-da da da-da. But what meters are those? – Noom doom da da-da.”Fall grief in showers”. Actually, I know the name of that meter. It’s a special Greek meter, I looked it up last week. It’s called the.. It’s a special meter used very gently here but very often used for the most flamboyant of oratories at the end of Greek plays, at the moment of tragedy and recognition of tragedy there’s a special meter that comes in, usually it’s a… I wrote a note on it. I spoke with a Greek scholar about it, in Durham, North Carolina, because I was interested in a line by Hart Crane, what was it?. I’ll put these lines on here [goes to blackboard – writes on board – Norton Anthology]

Where is that? “The Hurricane”? Is that in our book? [Allen is skimming through his book] by Hart Crane? by any stray chance is he in here? say here – say lord rightest – C-R-A-N-E – what number? (it might not be, but it’s a great poem, I’ll bring it in on another occasion if it’s not here). Nah? ok, well, be that as it may.. So Crane has a poem “Lo, Lord, Thou ridest!/Lord, Lord thy swifting heart” [Allen recites Crane’s lines] – So that had the Greek tragedy meter, at the very moment, quite often at the climactic moment of the tragedy when the Chorus.. or perhaps Oedipus tears out his eyes (sic), the Chorus had to say something climactic. You know, where the Chorus is dancing in front of the stage – BAM-BAM BA DA-DA! – it’s like a real Chorus and a lot of noise. It’s not a line, it’s not a meter, that’s used very often, that is, many times within one line. It’s a meter that is a verse itself, a five-syllable meter, two kinds.. the.. have I got it right?. One is the dochmiac (from dochme is.. D-O-C-H-M-I-A-C) [Allen improvises a dochmiac – “I tore out my eyes!”] – However, when you reverse it… you get the hypodochmiac – dochme or dochmiac (which you’ll come into again so you may as well find out what this is and know it forever – and use it!). If you come to this again with Hart Crane, and it’s a heroic meter, really important. See, people don’t know about these things, so it’s like an FM – or after the lies beyond the usual reception grammar-school-AM poetic radio, but this is where you get into the meters that I use very often, like in “Moloch” [Allen sounds it again] – “Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows” – I’m using meters called ionic-dochmiac, a thing called the epitritus, epitritus, meters, those are four-beat meters – but this is rare, this is a five-beat meter. You don’t ever see them, even in the books of meter in English – rare, a five-syllable meter (and a repeated meter with five syllables).
Those are for real, they’re actual meters. The Greeks knew them, used them, and used them for exquisite moments for the crises, for the highest poetry, for the highest moments of poetry, they reserved these, for the moment of revelation. That’s what these meters were for. So if you want to write revelatory poetry, inspired poetry, these are means for inspired poetry, the high aspiration. So hypodochmiac – H-Y-P-O-D-O-C-H-M-I-A-C. What does “hypo”..?

Student: Do they call them declarative phrases?

AG: No, it’s not declarative (it’s) narrative.

Student: (indecipherable)

AG: That’s a good.. This is like imperative inspiration.

Student: I suppose it would work for other types of phrases or stanzas or meters, or… but in this instance they’re.. Is there any other.

AG: The dochmiac meter is the meter when you have a great peroration beginning, “Fuck you!” – that’s the dochmiac or hypodochmiac – that’s imperative!

Student: Is it only used in imperative types of phrase?

AG: Well, I think you can make it in other arrangements.
No, you could say, actually you could want it – “herbs grew and flowers..”, you can make it that way, if you want. It’s useful for imperative.
I’m trying to translate it into vernacular, to show you how it’s (a) totally natural, totally basic body-rhythm (except our poetry never rises to or arises those basic inspired body-rhythms, (always) some kind of obstruction, (in other words), we never get to the unobstructed rhythm – nor rarely is there an unobstructed body, unobstructed inspired body rhythm. So it’s called hypodochmicos – H-Y-P-O-D-O-C-H-M-I-C-O-S – or, if you want an even prettier nomenclature for it, anaclastic dochmicos! ..
There weren’t too many people who were interested in getting high! – not that many people knew what it was called, anaclastic dochmicos, variant of the dochmiac meter, useful in imperative declaration and inspired climactic prophecy. In this case, very sweetly done. It’s an imperative, but an imperative with a dying, fall so to speak. “Our beauties are not ours” (that’s really a great Buddhist line. We don’t own anything. We can’t keep anything). “Our beauties are not ours” is just the same as “Brightnesse falls from the ayre” (because brightness falls from the air, it doesn’t stay up there – because, you know, youthful blonde doesn’t stay standing erect, but knees collapse!). So that’s pretty nice then [Allen then reads] – “Our beauties are not ours” [sounds that out, scans it, puts it on the blackboard]
You could.. “Our beauties are.. ” Any way you want to put it, you know, like a great pianist, determining what extra accent you want to put on – “Our beauties are not ours” – so if you get “droop ferns and flowers”.. Any way you want to do it, depending on your interpretation. When you’re up there, on top of your girlfriend, trying to steal her petals!

Next poem – “Queen, and huntress..” – is a total silver horns..really, a meter that’s.. this is, I guess, just.. this is the same rhythm as Blake’s “Tyger, tyger” basically, this is the trochaic meter here.

“Queen, and huntress, chaste and fair” – bahm-bum bahm-bum – got that? – called trochaic, and its, like, great music (because you can just see the conductor going [Allen imagines the pace] “Queen and huntress, chaste and fair”. There’s a rest in there – “Queen and huntress (pause) chaste and fair”- boom boom ba-da, boom boom ba-da – So that’s a very majestic, stately, even, measure, that is exactly equivalent to the mental imagery projected of the goddess, of Diana, the goddess of the moon and the hunt. And a song this is.. sung by Hesperus, the morning star, that is, the first star of morning, I think, Hesperus? so that would be the morning star singing to the moon. Well, if the morning star is gonna sing to the moon, you’ve got to have something really stately for that, that one. So.. [Allen begins reading, from Cynthia’s Revels] – “…Earth, let not thy envious shade/ Dare itself to interpose” – now that’s a nice long rhyme [Allen sounds it out again] with no breath in-between (the others all had commas, every other..). The first line of the first stanza (“Queen and huntress” – comma – “chaste and fair”, I think has always had that caesura [Allen sounds it out again] – every line through, and then, to get the vaiation – “Earth, let not thy envious shade/ Dare itself to interpose” – so it’s like a really nice long pretty cadenza, or whatever you call it – “Cynthia’s shining orb was made/ Heaven to clear..” – and that’s one-and-a-half lines for that one, even longer – “when day did close” – so the last two lines are even – so dig the variance [Allen reads from “Earth let not thy envious shade” to “And thy crystal shining quiver“] – that’s really nice syncopation – “And thy crystal shining quiver”- (a) little quivering syncopation in that. “Give unto the flying hart/Space to breathe” (reciter of this poem) – “how short soever” (the pun here, a fine pun on the subject-matter – that would be logopoeia and the melopoeia) – (The lines) are so perfectly matched. The ‘hart” is a rabbit, no, deer, so the hunt (she’s a huntress) – “Give unto the flying hart/Space to breathe” (actually, mankind) – “how short soever” (so you get that little short phrase to manifest that short space to breathe – “how short soever:/ “Thou that mak’st a day of night,/ Goddess excellently bright.” There must have been music to that. I would have loved to have heard that music because it has such stately..stately possibilities – boom boom [Allen again sings it] – that funny little syncopation of that last.. [Allen continues singing it, acapella, the final couplet] – “Thou that mak’st a day of night,/ Goddess excellently bright.” fits, syncopates and fits together. So the delicacy of the rhythmic construction, which isn’t really a matter of measuring it out rationally , you know, they didn’t have it figured out like one plus one syllable is two syllables, and I’ll use the Greek, I’ll use a variant of the trochaic, you know, I’ve got a heavy beat at the beginning and a heavy beat at the end, it’s just that he had (an extraordinary) ear, so it’s flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, or rule-of-thumb, or close-to-the-nose (or close to the skin!) – It’s strictly the matter of having such a pleasant ambition as a writer as to enjoy yourself with the most exquisite melody you can conceive, because there’s no need forth melodies to be.. just like love, you can fuck like a rabbit, you know, punch in three or four times, or you can lead up to it very delicately, with gentle touches, you can go on and on for hours…the delicacy, the meekness, or even-ness, of the first touch and the exploration further of the possibility, consciously (consciously, meaning, you know you’re doing something pretty, not that you can measure it out with an inch-rule or with a metronome or with a quark or anything, but everyone’s got that kind of delicacy in them, if they can hear it, i.e, there’s nobody that can’t hear the delicacy, right? So the point of going through these poems like this so (to) go through the delicate meters is to ingrain in our own nervous systems appreciation and habituation to that kind of delicacy, so that you’ll never be able to write without some awareness of the balances of accent and tone, pitch – “da-da-da-da-da-da-da” – “Goddess excellently bright” – pitch – drop, drop – There’s tone and pitch and then there’s the long and short vowel, and then there’s the light and heavy accent. There’s.. Actually, Greek meters did consist of something in there, something interesting. (And) these guys, particularly Jonson, knew Greek, Greek meters consisted – as modern classifier classicists, Greek professors, classify them – as.. stress, accent and quantity (and that’s a little confusing, what is stress and what is accent?) but usually.. the terminology used nowadays is useful for Greek.. (but) the terminology used in analyzing Greek poetics would be useful to use, even in English, to bring out awareness of all three parts. The stress is what I’ve been talking about, the amount of air expelled from the stomach or abdomen in order to emphasize and put stress.. or..(I don’t want to use the word “accent”) weight on the pronunciation of a syllable. And very often, you’ve got to remember, when there’s weight on syllables, there’s a slightly higher pitch. So now, pitch – the Greek professors use the word “accent” to refer to pitch, in other words, they say stress and accent and quality, they just happen to use that word these days (“accent”, from a Greek professor’s mouth, means the tone or pitch). Do you have any Greek? Anybody here get any Greek?

(Like) Shakespeare! – less Latin, less Greek – Shakespeare had a little Latin and less Greek. Jonson had lots of both. Accent then refers to pitch and tone, high or low vowel, Pound has that little phrase – “follow the tone-leading of the vowels” – so, if you’re a poet and you really want to write well, “follow the tone-leading of the vowels”. That is to say, from line to line, make some sort of parallel musical tones going up and down (from line to line you can do it, tones going up and down), or, if you’re hearing those tones, then you can arrange your lines so there’s some little element shadow of the tone pitch in it too – musical possibilities.
Then the third was length, or quantity (which we’ve gone over at great length before, the length of time it takes to pronounce the vowel, long or short, indicated, generally, by, in Greek prosody, or, if we were doing it in English…[Allen goes to the blackboard] – this is a long line, this is for stress, this is for length – and there’s also for (if you want to know, know that later) for the tone, there are markings for tones (marking for tones are the accents – the acute and the grave)
aritei – “Sing goddess..” – the first line of the Iliad [Allen goes to the blackboard again to show tones] – That’s what Greek professors use also for marking, rule-of-thumb, Greek, as they figure it might have been pronounced. So, in Greek prosody, there may have been four distinctive tones. Three are known, but,.. ’cause we don’t know what they were.., so now modern Alexandrine grammarians, and beyond that classic grammarians who try to analyze it after the fact, you know, and scholars, made all sorts of rules (tho’ nobody knows how Greek was originally pronounced, but so), nowadays they use marks – acute, grave and circumflex..

Student: Are there any English..

AG: Yeah. You just have to have an English-sensitive ear and think about it for a while, and all of a sudden you realize..realize..that you’re talking in exactly the same way! – really! – for certain really delicate things you realize, and when you realize it, wow! – like wow! – it’s exactly it. It’s amazing. I was having this long conversation with this Greek professor, and started trying to imitate in English these effects that he was doing, and I thought, “gee, I never thought of that” (and) “obviously” (Becase he thought (that) it was something from some remote foreign language that didn’t apply to actual (contemporary) speech but they had some kind of poetical speech that didn’t seem to fit English habits, or English-tongue habits, or Americanese. But I’m not a linguist, but, can hear speech tones in the.. When he gave me that outline, I said, “oh,sure”, then we started making it like a little game of making up saying words in such a way as it would fit those marks, and then if you do that, then you begin to develop some sensitivity.. to the possibilities. Now whether this is good in writing poetry, helpful in writing poetry, I don’t know. It certainly is helpful in reading it aloud if you’re reading your own poetry and developing a variable spectrum. I think it’s helpful in writing, once you get sensitive.

Student: (regarding (Kerouac’s) “bop prosody”) – Have you ever analyzed it technically, with the metric short lines, long lines..?

AG: Well, I’ll tell you. No, we never did it.. theoretically, like this, like I’m doing now, ‘.. sort of.. I’m coming late in life in being interested in doing this – but, if you did a little bit of work with Tito Sampa [Congolese-Californian teaching at NAROPA) and Jerry Granelli in analyzing, not analyzing, just learning the basic Afric rhythms that they use…They are teaching basic African rhythms, which are not very different from this kind of five-beat rhythms. In fact, what they are are.. I was talking to them just the other day about just that point and I was amazed how close it was to Greek rhythms, of being 2,3,4 and 5 beat sequences [Allen sounds it again] – known as “mom-and-daddy, mom-and-daddy, mom-and-daddy, mom-and-daddy“. Then there’s shave-haircut-six bits, shave hair-cut six bits – two, three – and that’s a Cuban rhythm, Afro-Cuban rhythm, it’s a five-beat rhythm ( [Allen tries to convey it] – Then there’s the.. Boom! – 1,2,3,4,5, something like that..I can’t.. there’s a space in front and then there’s a three-quarter rhythm – ding-a-ding, ding-a-ding, ding-a-ding (suck-a-dick, suck-a-dick, suck-a-dick), and them there’s a paradiddle, famous paradiddle, which is a real thing [Allen hammers that out] – Mnemonic devices for these rhythms are “mom-and-daddy”, “shave-haircut-six bits” (and) “suck-a-dick suck-a-dick”. So what is the point of that? That the ancient rhythm, the ancient African rhythms, which are the oldest we know, probably did come up through Egypt, you know, through Afric.. wherever they came from, they hit Greece (and) at some point or other were also linked to speech form and phrasing. You see, speech and poetry, music, song and chant always went together, it was all a human activity to begin with. It was all a human activity to begin with [Allen sounds the basic rhythms again] – “suck-a-dick suck-a-dick” or “mom-and-daddy mom-and-daddy” – but it was always speech to begin with. It always was the human body (or some function of the human body, or one of many functions), or as Pound.. as (Basil) Bunting pointed out, certain exquisite Persian rhythms he only understood when he heard women walking up this mountain path, breasts flapping (their tits flapping against their breast) putting a sub-rhythm in the walk that they’re going.. – he mentioned that, he said he finally understood a certain Persian work rhythm as a function of bodily activity. So that all rhythms are variable functions of bodily activity, and very often vocalized as speech, so in answer to your question, more specifically, the be-bop rhythms that Kerouac heard were derived originally by Charlie Parker from speech -rhythms that he heard on the street corner (like the “Signifying Monkey” poem or the “Dirty Dozens“), then a saxophone riff going along the same metric. So the Western classic way of measuring all comes from the Greek.

Student: So when you’re getting technical about it..did (William) Burroughs ever analyze poetry like this?

AG: If you’re writing imperative heroic prose (Jack) Kerouac did – and so did Thomas Wolfe – and so did some people like..(Herman) Melville), you could analyze it and find correlations and correspondences between Greek classical poetic meters, like the Greek meters in this… you don’t need to, ’cause it’s done by the ear anyway. The only reason to know is to know that you’re doing something. It’s like meditation practice, you’re breathing all the time anyway. It’s just, if you become mindful of the breathing, somehow, you know, it clarifies things around (you) and you can.. or I’ve used it as (a) kind of metrical paradigm (p-a-r-a-d-i-g-m) outline, even in writing Howl or writing Kaddish, when I’ve come to some sort of spot where things stumble, where the dance rhythm stumbles, where I haven’t quite got it, I don’t know what it is. Last time I did it, I had to analyze “over your dreadful vibrations measured harmony floats audible” [Allen then sounds out that line in beats] (from) “Plutonian Ode” – There was something wrong with the line and I couldn’t get it, and finally analyzed it and wrote it down, and realized that it was primarily dactylic – “over your dreadful vibrations measured harmony floats audible” – The jubilant tones are honey and wine and milk… In order to arrive at that, I did have to become conscious of the direction of the meter. I broke the dactylic form. [tape ends here]

The complete audio (vital, given the subject-matter) to the discourse above can be heard here

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