Mind, Mouth and Page – (more Williams – “The Jungle”)

Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), Tropical Forest with Monkeys, 1910, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, John Hay Whitney Collection

Allen Ginsberg on William Carlos Williams continues

AG: Here’s (another) funny little photograph-poem (from William Carlos Williams) called “Poem” (So, obviously, it’s something he noticed and wrote down, just to notice and write down, and realized later that it was a poem, so called it a poem) – “As the cat/climbed over/the top of /the jamcloset/first the right/forefoot/ carefully/ then the hind/ stepped down carefully/ then the hind/ stepped down/ into the pit of/ the empty/flowerpot” – Such perfect observation, and it’s in little triplet lines – “As the cat/climbed over/the top of”, then, new stanza, “the jamcloset/first the right/forefoot/”, then, “carefully/ then the hind/” stepped down’, new stanza”, “into the pit of/ the empty/flowerpot”.

Student: Is that the “variable foot”?>

AG: No, I think “”As the cat/climbed over/the top of /the jamcloset” is four, “first the right/forefoot”, well, yeah, “carefully/ then the hind/ stepped down carefully/ then the hind/ stepped down/ into the pit of/ the empty/flowerpot”. It’s mostly a line of three syllables each, and one stanza (the first line is “the jamcloset”) which is four. (It) begins “the jamcloset”, which is four, but then the last line of that stanza says “forefoot”, which is only two. So he’s balanced it out. Are you following me?

Student: Are you saying it is or isn’t?

AG: Pardon me?

Student: Are you saying it isn’t?

AG: The base of it, No, it’s not particularly. He hasn’t arrived at that concept yet. But I was noticing he’s balanced it. It’s basically lines of three syllables – “”As the cat/climbed over/the top of “, “the jamcloset/first the right/forefoot”. So there’s four-three-two , which, divided, makes three-three-three, in a way – “carefully/ then the hind/ stepped down”, “into the pit of/ the empty/flowerpot”. Basically, three. Basically, he’s measuring it by syllables, and if you’re using any kind of short-line poetry like that it’s a good way to base your lines – that one way to base your lines is by counting syllables. It gives you a funny little duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh, a funny little regularity, (a) funny little measure which is almost unconscious (you wouldn’t notice it unless you were interested in trying to figure out what was going on, but it does give a kind of backbone). Not yet “the variable foot”, I would say.

Is everybody following what I’m saying about counting syllables (you don’t have the thing here to look at). Marianne Moore was the great lady of syllable count.

So two more brief little poems of his (that) I want to go through, or two or three more, and I’ll take another side-trip (but prepare for the side-trip by Williams’ style). “The Jungle” (page three four two), which was my father’s favorite Williams poem [Allen reads Williams’ “The Jungle” in its entirety] – “It is not the still weight/ of the trees, the/ breathless interior of the wood,/ tangled with wrist-thick/ vines, the flies, reptiles,/ the forever fearful monkeys/ screaming and running – / but/ a girl waiting/ shy, brown, soft-eyed -/ to guide you/ Upstairs, sir/” – called “The Jungle” – if you didn’t get it, I’ll read it again [Allen re-reads the poem]

And then, like a Chinese poem – “Between Walls” (except the Chinese poet could compare the fallen lotus blossoms floating down the river to the fading or floating away of charm of (the) cheek of his lady, whereas Williams, going between (wards), from ward to ward, of the hospital, had other flowers or blossoms to observe) – [Allen reads “Between Walls” in its entirety] – “Between Walls/ the back wings/ of the/ hospital where/nothing/ will grow lie cinders/ in which shine/ the broken/ pieces of a green/ bottle” – So, in a sense, comparing that green bottle to a living flower (or it’s the living flower of his Imagination, of his perceptions).
Yes, [turns to student] You had something relevant?

Student: Something relevant?

AG: To this, yes?

Student: Well, I was thinking of the other poem (“The Jungle”).. I wondered how.. what(Ezra) Pound said about, you know, every word being absolutely necessary and weighted and considered..Like, he (Williams) goes off on this discursive thing. It’s not the still weight..

AG: It’s not a real jungle he’s talking about. It’s this guy talking about an imaginary jungle. So he’s got “forever fearful monkeys/ screaming” (that’s obviously an exaggeration). So when he gets to what he actually sees – “but/ a girl waiting/ shy, brown, soft-eyed -/ to guide you/ Upstairs, sir/”, that’s where he gets more precise. The actual description of the jungle is like a bullshit jungle.

Student: Yeah, right, right.

AG: But he’s also saying the real jungle of emotion, the real jungle of where you’re trapped. You’re trapped by the wild beast (by the “wild beastie”!) in the actual everyday situation, not the imaginary jungle from the Amazon that you read about in W.H.Hudson or can imagine from the movies. So he’s got a movie jungle there with naturally imprecise sloppy language a little bit, because he’s never been in it.

Student: No, I kind of like it myself, I’m just..

AG: It’s alright

Student: ..saying that that kind of thing spreads light on what Pound…(says about) specifics.

AG: Yeah, but I’m just pointing out.. that he’s talking about an imaginary jungle..

Student: Uh huh

AG: ..that it’s not an observed jungle..

Student: Uh huh

AG: And that everybody’s scared of imaginary jungles, but the real jungle they see in front of them..

Student: Um-hmm

AG: ..is the considerable one. No, obviously that’s not like a (practiced) description – the description of the jungle (except “wrist-thin vines” is kind of good).

Student: I liked that. Yeah.

AG: “(F)lies, reptiles” is very vague. “Flies, reptiles”? – It’s pretty much a Rutherford guy’s jungle! It isn’t the jungle of someone that’s really been around a jungle.

One more. It’s a little portrait of when he was on vacation in Nantucket..So it’s a little portrait, not of a person (this time), but (of) a room, with all the perfect nostalgia of a specific room [Allen reads “Nantucket” in its entirety] – “Flowers through the window/ lavender and yellow/ changed by white curtains -/ Smell of cleanliness – Sunshine of late afternoon -/ On the glass tray/ a glass pitcher, the tumbler/ turned down, by which/ a key is lying – And the/ immaculate white bed” – That’s real New England island perfect boarding house.

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