Spontaneous Poetics – (Wordsworth – 6)

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Allen’s Spontaneous and Improvised Poetics Naropa lectures of the summer of 1976 pick up again on August 4th, 1976

AG: I want to continue a little bit more with Wordsworth, because what I did was leave him with disillusionment with the French Revolution. (I left him) with his troubles, his political troubles, which are similar to the troubles that we’ve got [USA, 1976 – sic]. I was looking over “The Prelude” yesterday, where he continues, at great length, about his disillusionment, and I’ll read you just a couple of sentences from that (because it’s not likely that you’ll get to read his huge, long, autobiographical poem, “On the growth of the poet’s mind”, “The Prelude”) – [Allen begins reading] – “This was the time, when, all things tending fast/ to deprivation, speculative schemes -/That promised to extract the hopes of Man/ Out of his feelings, to be fixed thenceforth/ For ever in a purer element -/Found ready welcome. Tempting region that/For Zeal to enter and refresh herself/Where passions had the privilege to work,/ And never hear the sound of their own names./But, speaking more in charity, the dream/ Flattered the young, pleased with extremes, nor least/With that that makes our Reason’s naked self/The object of its fervour. What delight!/ How glorious!…” – But then, later on, he (Wordsworth) noticed if “..Nature’s self,/ By all varieties of human love/Assisted, led me back through opening day/ To those sweet counsels between head and heart/Whence grew that genuine knowledge fraught with/ Which, through the later sinkings of this cause/Hath still upheld me, and upholds me now/In the catastrophe (for so they dream,/ And nothing less), when, finally to close/And seal up all the gains of France, a Pope/Is summoned in to crown an Emperor -/ This last opprobium, when we see a people,/ That once looked up in faith, as if to Heaven/ For manna, take a lesson from the dog/Returning to his vomit, when the sun/ That rose in splendour, was alive, and moved/ In exaltation with a living pomp/Of clouds – his glory’s natural retinue -/ Hath dropped all functions by the gods bestowed,/And, turned into a geegaw, a machine,/Sets like an Opera phantom”. “Thus, O Friend!” – he’s talking to his friend (Samuel Taylor) Coleridge – “Through times of honour and through times of shame/ Descending, have I faithfully retraced/The peturbations of a youthful mind/Under a long-lived storm of great events-/A story destined for thine ear..”

Timothy Leary (1920-1996)

I got a letter from Timothy Leary the day before yesterday, talking about what he was interested in, speaking of these kind of political reversals and he was saying…well, first of all.. he was interested in doing something now that he’s alright [– sic – editorial note: a few months previously, April 1976, Leary had been released from his jail sentence by the then Californian Governor, Jerry Brown] (and) Alexander Solzhenitsyn is (now) in Switzerland.. and.. what about Patti Hearst? [Patti Hearst and her kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army – another contemporary news story] – “Free Patti Hearst” was his immediate response, because, thinking that she’s been kidnapped by both sides and (put in prey) by both sides. “Why is she in jail?” – And he also said “Free Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt” (Richard Nixon‘s White House “Plumbers) – Leary trying to free Liddy – that’s a total reversal. Yeah?: Could you make a little statement about the switch in your relationship to Leary?

AG: Well I’m just talking about switching.. Actually, I’m in good.. I like him..

Student: (But what I hear…)

AG: No, but that’s all newspapers.. Mass hallucination of newspapers. Mostly. Ninety percent of it. We’ve been in contact. This letter was interesting, fitting in here. What I’m trying to do is point out how similar the problems we have now [1976] are to those of disillusionment, change of mind, adaptation to reality, that Wordsworth had to deal with. How did he do it? And how did Whitman do it? – [Allen next reads Whitman’s “To a Foil’d European Revolutionaire”] – “Courage yet, my brother or my sister!/ Keep on – Liberty is to be subserv’d whatever occurs,/That is nothing that is quell’d by one or two failures, or any number of failures/Or by the indifference or ingratitude of the people, or by any unfaithfulness,/ Or the show of the tushes of power, soldiers, cannon, penal statutes./ What we believe in waits latent forever…”…”Did we think victory great?/ So it is – but not it seems to me, when it cannot be help’d, that defeat is great/And that death and dismay are great” – In a way, he had a much more ample psychological attitude than Wordsworth, because, I think, Whitman’s revolution was founded on a revolution of spirit, I think, (which is) deeper than Wordsworth’s sense. So when the external revolution that Wordsworth was backing failed, I think he thought all human liberty was defeated, and what was necessary to come to was some kind of conservative guarding of feeling (he’s constantly worried about disordered feelings), whereas Whitman maybe gets freaked out and gets really mad, but is actually interested in exploring further, including the feeling of death and dismay.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Student: What book was that in, that particular poem?

AG: It’s “To a Foil’d European Revolutionaire” in “Autumn Rivulets” in “Leaves of Grass” (in the Modern Library edition, you’ll find it on page 292) Phil (Whalen) loaned me his Whitman Complete Poems. (There) is a vast song of political disillusionment and personal disillusionment called “Respondez!”. Do any of you know that? The one of reversals? – It’s sort of a great litany (and, [points to student], while we’re at it, could you get Christopher Smart from the library? – Rejoice in the Lamb?) – I don’t know what the occasion was. (It was originally put in Leaves of Grass and then he took it out, because, I think, he was ashamed of the bitterness of it). Probably at the completion of.. a comment on the blood-letting and fratricide of the Civil War, because he does begin mentioning that. “Respondez” – French, you know, “Respond”, “React”, in a way. [Allen reads Whitman’s poem “Respondez!” in its entirety] – “Respondez! Respondez!/(The war is completed – the price is paid – the title is settled beyond recall!/Let every one answer! let those who sleep be waked! let none evade!/..”..””Let the limited years of life do nothing for the limitless years of death/ (What do you suppose death will do, then?)” – Actually, it’s a complete description of reality as it actually is. It’s the inverse of his prophecies about America and his political ideals, so it’s a very active description of particular now. Especially now, when he says, “Let books take the place of trees, animals, rivers, clouds!” – cutting down forests to make books. It’s really quite literal.

Student: Allen, did you say that was originally part of Leaves of Grass?

AG: It was originally in Leaves of Grass but I think he was ashamed of it, or thought it might disturb tender youthful sensibilities, so he took it out in a later edition. It says here [Allen reads from book] – “Made its last appearance in Leaves of Grass of 1876″. In other words, it was in, but then was (expurgated) at one point.

[Audio for the above can be found here, starting at approximately two-and-a-quarter minutes in and concludes at approximately twenty-one minutes in (his reading of “Respondez” begins approximately twelve minutes in and concludes approximately twenty minutes in)]

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