William Blake Class – 1 (Preliminaries)

William Blake (1757-1827) – Portrait by Thomas Philips, 1807, oil on canvas 36 1/4″ x 26 3/8″, courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London

Here begins transcription of an early William Blake seminar that Allen conducted (in April 1978) at Naropa. He taught Blake there to his students on many other occasions, and we hope to provide transcriptions of those classes too, but first, this one, the earliest one (the earliest one we can find).

We should also, at the outset, note Allen’s edited transcription of this, in his 1988 Hanuman Press book, Your Reason & Blake’s System (transcription and editing by Terry Pollock – with additional revisions by Allen himself, at the time of publication). It also appeared, in this edited format, in the collection Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995 (2000).

Thanks once again also (and always) to Randy Roark for his heroic transcription work here.

Regrettably no audio documentation of this class is available on-line, at the moment.

The tape begins in media res, Allen begins by remarking on a class hand-out, before discussing (briefly) the necessary basic texts and proposals for the procedure of the class – a visit to the local (CU) Special Collections library, and a concentration (in-depth reading) on (in) one of Blake’s great prophetic books, The (First) Book of Urizen.

AG: …edition, is a guide to reading the Erdman edition, chronologically. I made it up when I was reading Erdman. I correlated it with the Keynes’ Oxford book, which has everything chronological. There probably are some errors in here, like little scattered poems are of (from) different times, so I’ve just tried to get it together, so if you have the Erdman book, you can then…

There are papers here… There are some papers here to pick up…Okay, everybody got these papers? If you continue reading, you can use these somewhat as a guide, chronologically, or there’s a new book I noticed in the bookstore, using the Erdman text, but apparently arranged chronologically. I haven’t examined it. It’s that big, thick $7.95 Complete Blake (that) I saw the (other day). Who was the editor, do you know? Does anybody know that?

Student: It was a woman..

AG: Yeah

Student: I don’t know her name.. [Alicia Ostriker]

AG: Well there is, apparently, another edition, which has most of Erdman’s texts, but it costs $7.95 [it did then!] and it doesn’t have all the notes. So I would recommend getting the Erdman (tho’ the local bookstores are both out of Erdman’s books The Illuminated (Blake) and the main text). You can still get those in town at the college bookshop. Where is that? What’s that called?

Student: The University Bookstore…

AG: That’s right. Up at..where?

Student: (I think they have) both Erdmans.

AG: But where is that?

Student; Thirteenth and College.

AG: Thirteenth and College? Is that…

Student: No, no, no, no. It’s in the University Center..

AG: Yeah.

Student …on campus.

AG: Ah.

Student: (I think they have copies at) UCB (University of Colorado, Boulder).

AG: Oh well, let’s raid them for the books.

Student: Yeah.

AG: They probably have them assigned for different classes. You all know where that is? That’s right in the middle of the University itself , and you can still get those books, Erdman’s the Illuminated and the Erdman text..and also Erdman’s Blake Against.. what is it?

Student: Prophet Against Empire

AG: Prophet Against Empire. I’ve been using that for reference, the Prophet Against Empire, because it’s really good for (the) political and social interrelationships at the time. A lot of these works [the “Prophetic Books’] are related to the revolutions and his disillusionment with the revolutions, which is maybe somewhat related with, say, the revolutionary fervor of the ‘Sixties in America, and the subsequent so-called disillusionments. So that Blake is actually up-to-date in the psychology of wrath versus pity, compassion versus anger, that runs through all of his work. It’s visible for our own case, as well as for his.

There’s some papers up here you can pick up. So the papers are – there are three pages of chronology, and one page I’ve taken out of (S.Foster) Damon’s explanation of Jerusalem in the (Blake) Dictionary, which gives you the cast of characters and their assigned qualities, values, directions, specters, emanations, ghosts, out-of-phase orders, in-phase orders, callings, meanings, arts, desires, places, directions… and so forth. Just a reference thing. If you’re reading along and get lost with a name, just check it out here and it will give you some reminder about what the symbol is about.

Now I assigned a whole bunch of reading of short poems, which I assume you’ve checked out a little bit, and, rather than go over them, I’m going to do something completely out of order, and plunge, without any preparation on my part or yours, into The Book of Urizen. Instead of being a coward and slowly leading up to the prophetic books, I’d like to get into them, no matter how difficult it is, or how, maybe, impossible. I’ve read Urizen through, (though) I didn’t have a chance to read it for this class. It might be interesting trying to read it together. Does anyone here have a dictionary?. There’s one Blake dictionary, dictionary, yeah, where d’you get that?

Student: Simone [Ellis] had it

AG: Simone had it?

Student: Yes

AG: Ok..so maybe you can be using that. And some people have the illustrations. Somebody? Who has the (Erdman) Illustrated Books? Yeah, ok, so check those out too. In other words, let’s try and pool our resources and just begin reading the thing aloud.

Urizen is about 25 pages.There are various ways of reading it. You (can) just read it through, to see what you can get out of the text, without knowing what it’s about, or, you can read it through slowly and check every reference. So what I’d like to do is to begin reading it through slowly, checking every reference here in class. At least get in the poem and see how far we can get – maybe two pages or three pages or something, or further. Then there’s the possibility for next Monday’s [the next] meeting, we could, if people have time and are interested… – you see we don’t have enough classes to go through all this in sufficient detail – and I wouldn’t mind having more class-time, if anybody else finds it convenient, to maybe spend a couple of extra hours or something.. but Monday we could go to the Special Collections Room. I think twenty people could get in. Was that the (figure we were told)..I think, (Irma?) what was it? twenty people?

Student: At the Library..(in) Special Collections..

AG: So twenty people can go in. They’re open from 2 to 5 in the afternoon.

Student: (Evenings?)

AG: No, no.

Student (Where?)

AG: In the University,

Student: Oh.

AG: (In the) Special Collections Room they have all of the Illuminated Works – or half, two-thirds of them, put out by Trianon Press. We might try, if people have the time, or there are enough people that have the time, we might have a little couple (of) extra hours up there and go through some of the illuminated books, and maybe concentrate on a really pretty version of Urizen, if they’ve got it. Do you know if they have Urizen up there?..Probably they do, in color. And that might be real interesting. Because it’s really great to get back to Blake’s original hand..So how many are free Monday afternoon? Yeah – and how many are not, not free? Well, we might as well do it anyway..So..let’s say, why don’t we do that from there, from 3 to 5, would that be alright? Where is it, precisely, because I don’t know?

Student: It’s on the third floor of the Norlin Library

AG: Norman Library?

Student: Norlin N-O-R-L-I-N, the Norlin Library is the main University library

Student: Is that open on weekends?

AG: It’s open 2 to 5 and 9 to 12 in the morning and, individually, you can go up there any time you want and pore over the old, the ancient manuscripts. Pore over the colored plates. It’d be worth doing . When I read through Blake I just went every afternoon to the Johns Hopkins Library (in Baltimore) and looked at the colored plates of what I’d just read in the texts and in the black-and-white plates. So if we can all meet there. 3 o’clock is it? And then we’ll have our regular class back here. It’ll take half an hour to get back, come back for the regular class. I’d like to do that. It’ll be fun actually.

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