Allen Ginsberg’s June 30 1976 Spontaneous Poetics class continues
Student: Would you say (something about) … more older forms.. ?
[the tape breaks off here, but resumes, shortly thereafter, with Allen in mid-sentence]
AG …with measure to the normal spoken speech of Shakespearean England. I haven’t had that speech in my ear, actually, for real. I just heard it in the artifact of poetry. I assume it must have arisen originally out of some native tongue, but I don’t know (because they were messing around a lot with trying to adapt classical measures to English, and there was a lot of constriction involved, probably). Shakespeare blew it open, actually (because Shakespeare’s line is so variable that it can be pronounced any way, even though it is iambic – “HOW like a winter has thine absence…”, “How like a WINTER has my absence (been) from you”, “How LIKE a WINter HAS mine ABsence BEEN”, “HOW like a winter has my absence been… – It’s actually totally, almost, unrelated). That’s a Shakespearean Sonnet – “When to the seasons of sweet silent thought” – “When to the seasons of sweet silent thought” – If you were counting it, iambic -“When TO the SESions of SWEET Silent THOUGHT”, but, it’s actually, WHEN to the sessions of SWEET, silent THOUGHT”. So he maybe hung it on the bones of iambic, it was his own tongue, and if you gave that as an example, you’d have to say, “Gee, they didn’t have any relation at all, hardly” – but, I don’t know – that’s something that’s scholarly (a scholar who really tried to find out would know – and I think in our town (here, Boulder), maybe someone here does. Yes?
Student: Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was a British poet..talked a lot about stress in poetry. There were two things he worked with, one he called “out-stress” and one he called “in-stress”. The out-stress is the natural iambs…
Student: ..but when you accent words to give them certain meanings, he calls that “In-stress”, and it gives a dynamic to the line.
AG: Where is his in-stress, actually?
AG: A special accent or…
AG: Yeah, so he developed “sprung rhythm”, or an odder..odder rhythm. Well, let’s see what we’ve got by Hopkins and see what it sounds like aloud. There was one poem I always liked, “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo”, which I don’t find in this book. It was something about “be beginning to despair” (“The Leaden Echo”) – “be beginning to despair”..”age in age’s wrinkles/ ruck and wrinked, tombs and worms and winding sheets/ and tumbling to decay”? [Allen slightly mis-remembers – “Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,/ Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms”] – (It’s sort of a funny long, long breath, actually).
Let’s read one of his set-pieces, “Pied Beauty” – [Allen begins reading Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” – “Glory be to God for dappled things..” – (including his verse, of course – “dappled”, sprung, from the body)]
Student: Is that what happened? Did he write that with the accent marks? Sometimes he included (with the poem) accent, the accent marks.
AG: Yes. There are some, there are a few. There are a few special accent marks here. I’ll count them. (To display,) I’ll chop them with my hand. [Allen resumes his reading of “Pied Beauty” through to the end – “Glory be to God for dappled things-/For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;/ For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;/Fresh- firecoal chesnut-falls; finches’ wings;/ Landscapes plotted and pieced – fold, fallow ad plough:/ and all trades their gear and tackle and trim./ All things counter, original, spare, strange;/ Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)/With swift, slow, sweet, sour; adazzle dim;/ He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change/ Praise him.”] – He had just two of them there – “all trades” he had marked – Want me to find one that has more of his markings? (he had a little extra-special accent mark on top of some of the words)
Well, a very beautiful thing (it’s like one of the old (Thomas) Campion or (Edmund) Waller songs – “Spring and Fall – To A Young Child” [Allen reads Hopkins’ poem, “Spring and Fall – To A Young Child” in its entirety – “Margaret are you grieving/Over Goldengrove unleaving?/ Leaves, like the things of man, you/With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?/ Ah! as the heart grows older/It will come to such sights colder/ By and by, nor spare a sigh/Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;/And yet you will weep and know why./ Now no matter, child, the name:/Sorrow’s springs are the same/Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed/ What heard of, ghost guessed:/It is the blight man was born for,/It is Margaret you mourn for”] – Actually, I don’t understand his special count, his special accent marks, because in this – “And yet you will weep and know why” – “will” is italicized (it doesn’t have a mark but it’s just italicized to give the emphasis). His marks are for special emphasis? to read with special emphasis? – So it would be “Leaves, like the things of man, you/With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?” (and he has an accent mark over “like” , so he doesn’t want “Leaves, like the things of man, you”, he wants “”Leaves, like the things of man, you”. So that’s one way of doing it..one way of getting your own special intonation into it, your own natural speaking-voice, or whatever speaking-voice you want to use.
Student: It sometimes seems – and Hopkins brings this up in a sense – that all the accents and un-accents are really pretty arbitrary. All these systems of accents and unaccented. You could almost take an iambic pentameter and read it as if it were.. read it in another accent, and it would be just as good, in fact..
AG: Yeah, sometimes. Except..
Student: That’s why it’s confusing to try and write an accented poem in a certain form.
AG: Well, unless you have a really good model in your head that you can rely on to give yu a real strict count, and an even count, and one that reappears over and over. That’s why I like the (Thomas) Wyatt – that’s why I kept laying on that Wyatt to you earlier, because it’s one of the most perfect iambics –“My lute, awake! Perform the last/Labor that I and thou shall waste,/And end that I have now begun;/For when this song is sung and past,/My lute, be still, for I have done.” – It’s really even. And if you get that in your poems, you always have a reference-point for iambic (if you want to write iambic). Wyatt does write very perfect metered verse, and it’s a good model if you’re really interested in getting into it. Read a lot of that one poem and you’ll get into it. Or – “Forget not yet the tried intent/ Of such a truth as I have meant/My great travail so gladly spent/ Forget not yet” – that’s perfect, right-on, on-time. Wyatt is on-time. (Shakespeare is not on-time, in that sense, but it always is around the time, properly).