Allen concludes this particular July 1976 class at Naropa [see our earlier serialization] on the ballad form
The other (piece) that I had in mind (alongside “As You Came From The Holy Land of Walsingham”..) was “Jerusalem, My Happy Home”, which is the same basic pattern. [Allen reads “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” – “Jerusalem, my happy home,/ When shall I come to thee?/When shall my sorrows have an end./Thy joys when shall I see..” – That’s a very powerful piece of idealism.
AG: (The singer, he) sure wants to go!
Student: It sounds so much like (William) Blake. Was he influenced by that?
AG: Yeah, likely. Blake would have picked up his notion of “Jerusalem”
Student: The sound is there too.
AG: I think this is probably still sung in Anglican churches
That was ballad, but going on with song, while we’re on song, the one thing in all these is, rhythmically, what I was pointing out, basically in “Walsingham” was..just that there’s a slowness that comes sometimes when you divide the line. I think it comes from being aware of the lines as something that are sung, so that though there’s a built-in sing-song power, there’s also an awareness of slowing down, taking breaths and stretching out the vowels.
Here’s a song, not a ballad but a song, which, when you pay attention to the commas, it slows down the song and gives it a real subtle rhythm, (John Dowland‘s “Weep You No More, Sad Fountains” [Allen proceeds to read “Weep You No More, Sad Fountains” – “Weep you no more, sad fountains,/ What need you flow so fast?/ Look how the snowy mountains/Heaven’s sun doth gently waste./ But my sun’s heavenly eyes/ View not your weeping,/ That now lie sleeping/ Softly, now softly lies/ Sleeping. Sleep is reconciling/A rest that peace begets/Doth not the sun rise smiling/When fair at even he sets?/ Rest you then, rest, sad eyes” – “Rest you then, rest, sad eyes”. Not “Rest you then rest sad eyes”, but “Rest you then…rest…sad eyes” – [Allen continues] – “Melt not in weeping/ While she lies sleeping/Softly, now softly lies/ Sleeping.” – What’s funny is there’s a combination of run-on lines, so that two lines or more may be spoken in one breath, or as one tune, and then the middle of the line will be interrupted with a rest.
Student: A caesura?
AG: Yeah. Caesura, it’s called, but it’s a comma here. So, one thing to be aware of is that, generally, with fine poets, the punctuation is actually an indication of the breathing and the spacing and the sound. In (William) Blake particularly, with his manuscripts, because those are (in) his original hand, so you can rely on the punctuation because he put it there himself. Often in the old song-books. I think in the Norton Anthology, the punctuation is reliable – that is, studied classical punctuation, copied from some original text. There is a problem if you’ve got somebody who was a goofy editor, who punctuates unnecessarily, not for the original music but punctuates because he thinks syntacticly it’s supposed to be, but punctuation from the original music will give you a sense of how you breathe, if you’re singing the song, or how you speak it, if you want to speak it. We don’t have it here visually, but “Sleep is a reconciling” is one line, with a comma – “Sleep is reconciling/A rest that peace begets”. Period. Second line – “A rest that peace begets”- “Doth not the sun rise smiling/When fair at even he sets?/ Rest you then, rest, sad eyes”. Those are two lines but it’s spoken as one – “Doth not the sun rise smiling/When fair at even he sets?” – because there’s no punctuation. “Rest you then – (comma) rest comma) sad eyes” – All ones. “Rest you then.. rest.. sad eyes – (comma)/ Melt not in weeping/While she lies sleeping/Softly (pause) now softly lies/ (pause) Sleeping” – I’m not being clear, because I’m trying to explain verbally what’s visual – The last four lines are “Melt not in weeping/While she lies sleeping/Softly, now softly lies/ Sleeping”. If you follow it and speak it according to the punctuation – “Melt not in weeping while she lies sleeping softly, now softly lies sleeping”, you have a funny kind of punctuation against the arrangement of the lines, run-on lines and then lines cut, third line cut in the middle, so you get a very delicate series, a delicate syncopation, or, if you’re singing it, a delicate suggestion (as to) how to extend the melody, where to break the time. This I’m saying on account of this (which) can be done sing-song. [Allen then repeats the stanza “sing-song” to illustrate the point] – So you can do it that way, or you can get the interior, or inner echo that way, but if you actually spoke it as suggested, you actually get something much more delicate… (If) you want to know how to make a tune out of (the) words) you really have to follow (the) marks to guide your own breathing.
Well, that’s about all I feel like going through now. Does somebody have any questions?
Student: Allen, with your early influences of (William Carlos) Williams, and (then) all this work you’ve done with measured verse rather than metered verse…
AG: Yeah. That’s a nice distinction. Did everybody hear that?
AG: (A) distinction between measured verse and metered verse. So, just for everybody’s ear..
Student: I’m curious why you found a need to go back to all the metered.. Is it curiosity, or is it…
AG: (Well), several reasons. Several reasons, yeah. First of all, I grew up with metered verse in my ear and just got it by osmosis, and did some study on it but never any real scholarly analysis, or no real scholarly study. I can do it automatically, more or less, but I never had to figure it out. So it’s just out of curiosity this (past) year. A reason for the curiosity is that, in taking (recently) core samples of people’s readings in the class, I find that very few people have read what I take for granted (which is to say, last year, nobody had read Shelley’s “Ode to The West Wind” – well, anyway, under half the class). Only seven people here (in this class) have read (Sir Thomas) Wyatt. So, for teaching, I’ve been interested in going back and filling in gaps in (students’) reading – and, partly from a case of guilt, because last year I came in and took a pecker-check [sic!] of who had read what, and found that under half the class had read (John) Keats and (Percy Bysshe) Shelley and (but) the majority had read my own poetry and (Jack) Kerouac in the schools. I felt that there was something basically wrong with that and that, if I was teaching, I’d better go back and teach the early stuff. Partly out of (a) sense of self-interest (because I don’t think people will appreciate how good my poetry is unless they know how the measured verse contrasts with the metered – People won’t really appreciate measured verse unless they have some ear for the original metered verse). Because a lot of the charm of what Kerouac is doing, or what I’m doing, or what Gregory Corso is doing, is that it is built on an extension of, and a revolt against, and an opposition to, and a reflection of, and a comment on, earlier centuries of meter. And the beauty of William Carlos Williams‘ discoveries of measure are not as easily appreciated, the intellectual beauty of it, and the cultural canniness of Williams’ practical measurement of speech, measurement of actual speech, as a principle of arranging the line, that Williams arranged for American verse, you won’t appreciate how really funny it is, until you know what it’s coming out of and how they used to measure before. Or you won’t be able to appreciate (Ezra) Pound‘s use of measuring vowels as a standard of measuring the line until you dig how people before that were just measuring syllables and accents and they got their idea of measuring syllables and accents from an older English practice which adopted the foot and the accent marks and the system of count from Greek and Roman classic meters, which were originally meters of vowel-length (which is what Pound brought back to the 20th Century). In other words, in Greek and Latin times, they measured vowel-length. Then, when they had to figure out things in English, a little before Shakespeare’s time, they said. “Well, let’s see, they used to measure it in long and short vowels, so we’ll have heavy and light accents, and we’ll adopt their whole system of classification, but, instead of applying it to vowels, we’ll apply it to stress or accent”. And then Pound in the 20th Century went back to measuring vowel-length. So, unless people understand all that funny history, the whole progress (because there is a kind of progress, or development, of 20th Century poetry), it doesn’t make too much sense, and then people are lost. I’m trying to teach and make sense of the basics. So I’m just trying to make sense of the basics. The fact that there is a measure possible for 20th Century speech, is something that is not even known, anyway, to most of the students in this class, I’ll bet. How many here have heard of William Carlos Williams’ “variable foot”? How many have not? How many have heard of Pound’s suggestion, or how many know what “quantitative measure” is? Quantitative measure? How many don’t? Raise your hands. Okay, how many know what “stress meter” is, (that is, accentual count)? How many are familiar with the count of measure? How many are not? And how many are really not? Come on! How many people are not familiar with how to count an iambic line? Well, people know just that much, but not too much. So it’s interesting to spread it all out. And to spread it all out, you’ve got to begin with the best-known, which is metered – it’s metered matter. And then (we’ll) go on to other matters. Does that answer (your question)?
Student: Will you be publishing sonnets?
AG: Oh, oh, a third reason – I used to write sonnets…
Student: Yeah, I know.
AG: The third reason is that at the moment , I’m involved in writing songs. I’m running around with Bob Dylan and writing songs and recording songs (which I did a wek before I came here) and so I’m just getting curious about old songs (just as I was saying, if you want to know where Dylan got “Where are you going, my blue-eyed boy? [sic], go back to “Lord Randal, my son”. So I was getting interested in the old songs because I’m writing new songs (actually, just to see if there’s anything there I can use). Today, what I was reading out loud, when we got to that really beautiful..that funny line – duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah – “As it was, so will be” – I’ll use that. Yeah..”In Times Square, Union Square” – “In Times Square..” – “I’ve been walking on the street/In Times Square, Union Square”. So you can use those. I mean, I heard that, and I suddenly said – “Ah, I’ve been looking for my love/In Times Square, Union Square” – Why not? – Because it’s such a powerful sound. The point is to get the sound in your belly and then you’ll speak your own words with it. But the obvious thing is to consciously speak your own words with those sounds. “I got up in my business-suit..” What was funny about the ballad that I tried to make was that it started out, “I came out in my business-suit, my vest and my briefcase..” It’s just the same old ballad meter, but using contents of a modern mind.. If you get the rhythm in well enough, then, maybe, you have freedom to use modern mind in the rhythm. The problem would be to get the sing-song meter and.. repeat the words, which most people do..