Spontaneous Poetics – (James Shirley)

James Shirley (1596-1666)

AG: My own favorite poem of this genre [song] is one by James Shirley, dated 1659, which I used in travelling with (Bob) Dylan as a key lyric, to set aside his own lyrics, and everybody else’s lyrics, like Joan Baez and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, or the more amateur musicians who were flying around on the Rolling Thunder Revue (in 1975). I published this in our phantom newsletter, (which was like a mimeographed newsletter, sent out to everybody, (but) for Dylan’s eyes), comparing this to his lyrics to see who beats who. James Shirley is the author. [Allen proceeds to read the poem in its entirety“The glories of our blood and state/ Are shadows not substantial things;/ There is no armour against fate/ Death lays his icy hand on Kings;/ Sceptre and Crown/ Must tumble down,/ And in the dust be equal made/ With the poor crooked scythe and spade./  Some men with swords may reap the field,/ And plant fresh laurels where they kill:/ But their strong nerves at last must yield;/ They tame but one another still:/ Early or late/ They stoop to fate,/ And must gibe up their murmuring breath/ When they, pale captives, creep to death./  The garlands wither on your brow;/ Then boast no more your mighty deeds/ Upon Death’s purple altar now/ See where the victor-victim bleeds;/ Your heads must come. To the cold tomb;/ Only the actions of the just/ Smell sweet and blossom in the dust.” – I got interested in that poem when I was twenty or so, and wrote a prophetic version, or paraphrase, of it, or, prophetic, in the sense that a couple of the lines seem to have come true. This is dated 1949. And what I was paraphrasing (was) – “Some men with swords may reap the field” – Some men – duh datta –  might do this, but that, that (and then) that will happen. And also, “And plant fresh laurels where they kill:/ But their strong nerves at last must yield;/ They tame but one another still”.

Student: Is there a title to that poem?

AG: “The Glories of Our Blood And State” – James Shirley – 1659, apposite to (my own)  “Stanzas: Written At Night in Radio City”,  1949. [Allen reads in its entirety, all 8 stanzas of his poem – “If money made the mind more sane./ Or money mellowed in the bowel/ The hunger beyond the hunger’s pain,/ Or money choked the mortal growl/ And made the groaner grin again,/ Or did the laughing lamb embolden/ To loll where has the lion lain,/ I’d go make money and be golden”…”If fame were not a fickle charm/ There were far more famous men;/ May boys amaze the world to arm/ Yet their charms are changed again,/ And fearful hero’s turn to harm..”…”O hollow fame that makes me groan;/ We are a king without a name/ Regain thine angel’s lost renown/ As in the mind’s forgotten meadow,/ Where brightest shades sleep under stone,/ Man runs after his own shadow” ] – Well what I was doing there was, talking about heroes there, “some  men with swords”.. (battle, Pentagon), “may reap the field/ And plant fresh laurels (the laurel brow for poetics, music), “where they kill/ But their strong nerves at last must yield;/  They tame but one another still.” ..”Yet their  charms are changed again,/ And fearful heroes turn to harm;/ But the shambles is a sham/ A few angels on a farm/” (a communal farm), ”Fare more fancy with their lamb.”

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