Allen Ginsberg on D.H.Lawrence continuing from here
AG: A couple more? You wanna hear some more (D.H.) Lawrence?
Student: Allen, you and Lawrence..I was wondering..like.. in your details.. like.. in Planet Waves (sic), or Planet News, or whatever… how much… did you find.. did you have… the sort of tendency to want to… was that all made-up?
AG: No, there’s very little made-up there (except the humor I purposefully made up, sometimes). But most of my writing is just direct transcription – or the ideal – the compass direction – is direct transcription – direct detail, drawn from life, and, actually, more and more particularly, while I’ve been teaching this course, I’ve been getting an acid-test of my own poetry, and saying, “Jeez,what a load of bullshit I’ve written! – I really should get back to doing the kinds of things I’m ordering you people to do – go out and observe a little poem”
This morning I saw a small bird on the lawn lift up a green caterpillar and wing it up to the top of the one-floor house, to the roof-edge and stand there slowly dipping its head up and down, slowly swallowing this little green caterpillar which was this curve in its mouth, and I had some cotton-plugs in my ears and I kept hearing little crashing sounds, thinking it was maybe the noise of the sparrow, and I finally turned around and saw a squirrel watching me as I was watching, a squirrel coming around the big trunk of a big tree watching me as I was standing there, unwontedly standing there, looking up and doing nothing but watching the sparrow, and I realized the squirrel knew about the sparrow – the squirrel was conscious of what the sparrow was doing, as well as conscious of what I was doing, as I was conscious of the sparrow and I was conscious of the squirrel. And the sparrow observed me observing him, too. So there was the three of us together, and this big tree over it all.
Student: Did you write that (down) (what you just described)?
AG: No. I didn’t. I thought I’d save it for you here. It’s down now, see? It’s already there (down). I just “wrote” it.
Student: Can you read (for us) [Lawrence’s poem] “Figs”?
AG: Pardon me?
Student: Would you mind reading “Figs”?
AG: I would, if I knew where it was, but I (had) sort of prepared certain…
Student: It’s in the back, I think. It’s the title…
AG: Well, is it a poem that sticks to strictly (our present concerns)?
Student: I think so. I don’t know..
AG: Are you sure? Wait, Is that the only one you know? – or is it one that really sticks to the point?
Student: I think it sticks to the point.
AG: Well, okay, we’ll have to trust you for a minute, and I’ll look it up and see. But, if it doesn’t stick to the point, we’re going to be way out in the middle of nowhere. “Fig- trees”?, “weird fig trees”?.. or what?… I have (the) index of first lines.. and.. wait a minute, here we are – “Figs”, yeah, (page) 282. Okay, let’s try it out. Might as well try something random. Now let’s see.. [Allen glimpses at the poem]. It’s not too bad. Okay. Keep on the (subject) . I mean it’s not too..
[Allen begins reading the poem] – “The proper way to eat a fig in society..” [then stops] – [to the student] or how about you reading it? Do you know it well?
Student: No, not that well
AG: Oh well, I’ve never read it before
Student; Alan Bates could read it [the allusion here is to Alan Bates in Ken Russell’s film version of Lawrence’s Women in Love]
AG: Yeah. Let’s see you read “Figs”
[Student begins reading the poem] – “The proper way to eat a fig in society/ Is to split it in four holding it by the stump,/ And open it so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honeied, heavy-petalled/ four-petalled flower./ Then you throw away the skin/ Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,/ After you have taken off the blossom with your lips/ But the vulgar way/ is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in/ one bite./ Every fruit has its secret./ The fig is a very secretive fruit. As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic,/ And it seems male./ But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is/ female/ The Italians vulgarly say it stands for the female part, the fig fruit:/ The fissure, the yoni,/ The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre/ Involved/Inturned/The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled;/ And but one orifice..”
Student: Is that it?
AG: Oh “womb-fibrilled” – F-I-B-R-I-L-L-E-D – “womb-fibrilled” – “fibrilled”
Student: “The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom./ Symbols./ There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward/ Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb./ It was always a secret./ That’s how it should be, the female should always be secret./ There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough/ Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals;/ Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,/ Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems/ Openly pledging heaven:/ Here’s to the thorn in the flower! Here’s to the Utterance!/ The brave adventurous rosaceae..”
AG: What words!
Student: “Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,/ And milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,/ Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won’t taste it;/ Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman/ Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen/ One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light;/ Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward/ Mediterranean fruit with your covert nakedness,/ Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization/ and fruiting/ In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see..”
AG: That’s E-Y-E – “that eye will never see”
Student: “Till it’s finished, and you’re over-ripe, and you burst to give up your/ ghost./ Till the drop of ripeness exudes,/ And the year is over./ And then the fig has kept her secret long enough/. So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet./ And the fig is finished, the year is over./ That’s how the fig dies, showing her crimson through the purple slit/ Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day./ Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret./ That’s how women die too./ The year is fallen over-ripe,/ The year of our women./ The year of our women is fallen over-ripe./ The secret is laid bare./ And rottenness soon sets in./ The year of our women is fallen over-ripe./ When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked/ She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man./ She’s been naked all her days before,/ But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn’t had the fact on/ her mind./ She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves./ And women have been sewing ever since./ But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it./ They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,/ And they won’t let us forget it./ Now, the secret..” – This is getting off the subject.
AG: It sure is, yes.
Student: Sorry. I just liked the beginning of it.
AG: Ah, yeah, ok.
Student: I won’t finish it.
AG: Go on finish it.
Student: I just meant the…
AG: Finish it, finish it. You’ve only got another half..
Student: Okay. Really, it’s getting awfully sexist.
AG: Well, ok, it’s your fig now. Go on.
Student: I just wanted to…
AG: Finish. Finish.
Student: I just wanted to finish it in one bite.
Student: [ finishes the poem] “Now the secret./ Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips/ That laugh at the Lord’s indignation/ What then, good Lord! cry the women,/ We have kept our secret long enough./ We are a ripe fig./ Let us burst into affirmation./ They forget, ripe figs won’t keep./ Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside of the /south./ Ripe figs won’t keep, won’t keep in any clime./ What then, when women the world over have all bursten into self-assertion?/ And bursten figs won’t keep? I just liked…
AG: Yeah, yeah<
Student: ..the first two paragraphs. I’m sorry about the rest of it.
AG: Yeah. Interesting thing about..
Student: The description..
AG: Understood. Okay. The beginning is actually good description. When I was preparing what to read tonight, I was running through a lot of Lawrence, trying to find a couple of poems which were really right-on and stayed with it, and that series of poems on animals, one after another, seemed to be anecdotal and perfect in that way – but, actually, it’s good teaching, it’s a good lesson, hearing the thing on the figs, because you see how the mind can wander. There’s a funny line between bullshit and real sensible taking-down of your subjective thoughts about things. Sometimes his thoughts about things are great, and sometimes it gets too heavy. So probably, (particularly for the reader), that was a good poem to read, to see how far off it went.
Student:There was a part that wasn’t (so sexist) that I liked…
AG: Yeah, the beginning description of the fig is great.
So, actually, what I’d like to do (now) is move on from Lawrence, whom you’ve had a taste of there, to an elegy for D.H.Lawrence by Williams (which is interesting because it’s Williams’ take on Lawrence, Williams’ appreciation of what Lawrence did in a certain kind of subjective heroism that Lawrence represented for Williams – The two of them working in such different ways – Lawrence, all over the map, physically, all over the world, searching for his subjects and sketching; Williams, in “Paterson”, sort of admiring and envying Lawrence, loving him a great deal, (and), at the same time, seeing certain limitations – but seeing his heroism, the limitations of his verse-form, in a way – and the greatness too.
[Allen reads William Carlos Williams’ “An Elegy for D.H.Lawrence” in its entirety]. So there’s Williams commenting on his own practice, continuing. Even trying to out-do Lawrence a little bit in his description of the “glassy.. folds” going in, the snake’s “glassy.. folds” [“the forked tongue alert/ Then fold after fold,/ glassy strength, passing/ a given point..”] – Was it “glassy.. folds” (initially) in the Lawrence, I wonder? I don’t think he used that image. He was even trying to refine (Lawrence). He admired Lawrence’s view, Lawrence’s perception, there. He admired Lawrence’s photograph there, and he was refining on Lawrence’s photograph. So subtle had his appreciation become, and so subtle ours can be (like watching the transmission between the two of them, or the succession of recognitions – the recognition that Williams felt for Lawrence and the solid image that Lawrence presented that Williams appreciated) that we can watch Williams improving upon slightly, practicing a little bit, and then all of the observations. There were a lot of poems about flowers ((there’s a volume) called Pansies) in Lawrence….
Student: “Bavarian Gentians”.
Student: “Bavarian Gentians”.
AG: Yeah. So there’s all sorts of paraphrases or takes by Williams on Lawrence’s description of flowers. So they’re both (of them) good studies for actual human perception.