Spontaneous Poetics – (Reading List 8) – (Robert Duncan, Andrew Marvell)

AG:  (Regarding Robert Duncan) – “A Poem Beginning with A Line by Pindar” (in) and (indeed, the whole book) “The Opening of the Field” is quite beautiful. His comments on Walt Whitman in that are very tearful [“It is across great scars of wrong/ I reach towards the song of kindred men/ and strike again the naked string/ old Whitman sang from..”]
There’s also a very beautiful passage about Whitman in Hart Crane’s “The Bridge” too [“Yes Walt,/ Afoot again, and onward without halt-/ Not soon, not suddenly -, no never to let go/ My hand/ in yours,/ Walt Whitman -/ so -“]  – a great passage about Poe [“Whose head is swinging from the swollen strap?/ Whose body smokes along the bitten rails..”] and about Whitman – that might be nice to look at)  – What?

Student: There’s a poem of his in the (Don) Allen anthology called “This Place Rumord To Have Been Sodom”

AG: Yeah, well, the “..Pindar” poem is in the Don Allen anthology, also

AG: Andrew Marvell –  [Allen examining his “Survey results] – Twenty-four. That’s less than half have read Marvell. How many here have read Marvell’s “(The) Garden”?  and “To His Coy Mistress? How many here have read “To His Coy Mistress”? – [responding to a show of hands] More. Maybe I’ll go through, well, “To His Coy Mistress” and “The Garden” and.. Marvell was, I believe, (John) Milton’s secretary at one point.

Student: Right

AG: As Milton was (Oliver) Cromwell’s secretary, right?

Student: I think Milton might be more substantial than Marvell

AG: There’s a great deal of Marvell worth reading – “The Garden”, ” To His Coy Mistress”, “(The) Definition of Love” – (and)  some really weird “pretty things” in a poem called “(The) Bermudas”. You know that English thing of the “pretty things”? – there’s a rock group that was called The Pretty Things – you know, that little English delicacy that can produce that kind of title for a rock group?, well, Marvell has that in his poetry. I’ll read you a “pretty thing” – “The Bermudas” – This is (a) sort of mythological view of the English sailors, or foreign sailors, discovering the New World. This was written in 1681. [Allen reads from Marvell’s “The Bermudas” – “Where the remote Bermudas rise/ in th’ocean’s bosom unespied,/ From a small boat that rowed along,/ The listening winds received this song…”] [concluding with] “Thus sung they in the English boat,/ An holy and a cheerful note,/ And all the way to guide their chime,/ With falling oars they kept the time.” That’s really a pretty thing, that “He hangs in shades the orange bright/ Like golden lamps in a green night” (“He hangs in shades the orange bright/ Like golden lamps in a green night,/ And does in the pomegranates close/ Jewels more rich than Ormus shows..”) – He really likes that green shade he cast there, because he used it again in “The Garden”, which, since most people here..  you haven’t read “The Garden”, most of you, huh?. So I’ll read that.

The reason I’m stopping, say, on Marvell, is because “The Garden” is considered by a lot of people to be about the best poem anybody ever wrote in English (or used to be (so) considered by some people). It is very perfect and very pretty, and suggestive and proper in a Buddhist context, because it’s a Gnostic Western poem, but (and) it also has some very great lines (like “To His Coy Mistress” has the famous lines, “But at my back I always hear/ Time’s winged Chariot  hurrying near/ And yonder all before us lie/ Deserts of vast Eternity”, which is, for (a) sort of classic period-piece poetic quotation, about as famous as almost anything in English, except in Shakespeare, perhaps). But “The Garden” is..  He’s a politician, who’s retired from the world, so, into his garden, to cultivate his garden. Palm, oak, and bays. Whatever little footnote you need is.. palm, oak (and) bays – Palm is for.. let’s see.. the athlete wins the palm, the palm crown – (then there’s) the oak for politics (the dictator gets the oak crown), and the bay (laurel or bays) are the crown garland for the poet or singer. Okay. [Allen begins reading] – “How vainly men themselves amaze/ To win the Palm, the Oke, or Bayes…” [reads the entire poem] – “How could such sweet and wholesome Hours/Be reckon’d but with hebs and flow’rs!” –  So that’s very precious and luxurious and funny – obviously “Stumbling on Melons as I pass/ I snar’d with Flow’rs, I fall on Grass”..”The Luscious Clusters of the Vine/ Upon my Mouth do crush their Wine,/ The Nectaren, and curious Peach,/ Into my hands themselves do reach” – With all that comedy, a very rich comedy, then to get that sort of Gnostic “The Mind, that Ocean where each kind/Does streight its own resemblance find”, is a sudden serious shot. “Yet it creates, transcending these,/ Far other Worlds, and other Seas” (which anybody who’s been on LSD knows all about!). “Annihilating all that’s made/ To a green thought in a green Shade”  (and (it) gets to a point where nobody knows what that means, actually – or, at least, I don’t know (what) a “green thought in a green shade” is, except it’s like that funny thing in “The Bermudas”, where he’s got “He hangs in shades the orange bright,/ Like golden lamps in a green night.” That’s amazing. There’s some kind of archetypal dream he’s got going (there).)

Student: Allen?

AG: Uh-huh.

Student: Is Marvell the beginning of that sort of thing where a city person (is) looking for a country (life) he’s lost, like Wordsworth or something?

AG: Actually, no, because Ralegh had that too. But it’s a traditional Roman thing, the Roman poets also did that – got sick of the police state, or the military state, and withdrew back into the country. Catullus did that, and Virgil’s Eclogues are about getting out of the city. So it’s an old trick.

This list doesn’t really cover all the “pretty things” in English poetry, because there’s lots of (Robert) Herrick, lots of (Henry) Vaughan, lots of (Sir John) Suckling, songs all over.

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