William Blake’s Birthday

William Blake was born in London on November 28 1757. For all things Blake, we refer you to the phenomenal William Blake Archives, an extraordinary resource, overseen by the University of North Carolina’s Joseph Viscomi, the University of Rochester’s Morris Eaves, and the University of California’s Robert Essick. A complete hypertext version of The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, edited by David V Erdman is available there. Even more impressive, perhaps, the high-resolution scans, electronic versions, of numerous editions of Blake’s illuminated books (not to mention drawings, paintings, engravings, and more), faithfully reproducing his extraordinary, integral, visionary art work, indeed bringing it through into a new technological era.

Allen, of course, had his seminal, break-through Blakean vision (recounted, for example, here

and remembered by his friend, William Burroughs here).

The most tangible result was this – his famous settings of/tunings for the “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience” (he believed the melodies he heard in his head were Blake’s own melodies). John Simon’s sympathetic review of that project in The Harvard Crimson is here. A brief clip of him performing them (at the St Marks Poetry Project), many years later, is available here.

This July 1975 class from NAROPA is well worth listening to (“So what I’ve done is set about 35 of the 45 songs, so, I’ll run through, if we have time (left), is that alright?”) . Allen begins with “Night” (from “Songs of Innocence”), following it with “Spring” (with its oceanic refrain, “Merrily, merrily to welcome in the year”), following that with “The Nurse’s Song” (he plays the recorded version first, speaks (briefly) of his Blake vision, and then sings – “And all the hills echo-ed, And all the hills echo-ed”). Next comes “Infant Joy” (delightfully sweet, with Allen affecting, at one point, a London (Cockney?) accent!). “A Dream” (with its refrain, spiraling off the last word, “Home home home”) concludes the first (approximately) half-hour (then follows a few minutes of unrelated contemporaneous NAROPA comment). The performances start up again (about 33 minutes in) with “On Another’s Sorrow”, the “Introduction” (to “Songs of Experience”), “Holy Thursday” and “The Little Girl Lost”. Allen discourses briefly on Blake, before getting distracted, finishing the class on other matters.

Topher Thomas has an entire thesis on line – “William Blake and Allen Ginsberg: Poets of A Fallen World, Prophets of the New World”.

We’ll ¬†conclude with this – one more version of “The Nurses Song”¬†(with Peter Orlovsky, at the NOVA Convention in 1978) ¬†– “And all the hills echo-ed”.

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