Expansive Poetics – (Shelley’s Cadence)

Student: [on Shelley’s “Hymn To Intellectual Beauty”] – The thing I had trouble with, (with) stuff like that, is wondering if I should (be), like, listening to every word, understanding what’s being said.

AG: In this case.. Well, the first thing is, no, you don’t need to understand it. The most important thing to get is the most important element, which is the rhythmical cadence – the cadence – to get the amazing cadence of dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-datta-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-duh-dah.

Student: Right

AG: “I vowed that I would dedicate my powers/To thee and thine.” – Listen to it just as cadence.

Student: Right

AG: Dah-dah-duh-dah-dah-datta-dah-duh-dah-duh-dah-duh-dah-dah-dah. Duh-dah-dah-dah-duh-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-duh-dah-duh-dah-dah-dah-duh-duh-dah-dah” – “Each from his voiceless grave”“Dah-dah-dah-duh-dah-dah-datta-dah-dah-duh-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah. Dah-dah-dah-datta-dah-duh-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-duh-dah-dah-dah-duh-dah”They know that never joy illumed my brow/Unlinked with hope that wouldst free/This world from its dark slavery” (except I took a breath there)

I think the first element is the rhythm, or the cadence, let us say, or the breath-cadence.
In Moscow, (in) 1965, visiting Andrei Voznesensky, Russian poet, in his elevator going up to his apartment, he said, “What language do you think in?”, and I said, “Mostly English, sometimes Spanish”. He said, “Ah, I think in rhythm”. I think many poets actually do think in..(rhythms)..they get that dah-dah-dah-duh-duh-dah-dah dah-dah.

Student: Not words?

AG: And then the word..well, the rhythm-cadence comes from a certain emotion. Dah-dh-duh-dah-dah day-da-duh-dah-dah. So there’s a specific emotion involved with that breathing. In other words, just as when you’re excited you might breathe one way and when you’re lying in bed being stroked and, delicately, fingers are running down your titty, down to your pubis, you might have a different breath and a different emotion.

So, probably, these cadences do relate to actual realistic… no, realistic life situations that you’re in – death of your mother, (the) approach of love, or post-coitus triste – so that the rhythms actually have a definite realistic intellectual content. You might not know at the moment. There might be some spin-off from yesterday’s orgasm, but they do refer to some emotional state of mind and that emotional state of mind refers to a situation you’re in in a classroom, or in your bedroom, or on your street on the Mall.. So it would just be a question of producing the words that fit that rhythm

Student: Right.

(Another) Student:  Couldn’t it be seen in a more pure form in, say, jazz?, some certain forms of jazz?

AG: Very similar..

Student:  Even the actual.. I mean..

AG: Yes. but what.. right, but you’ve also got to remember that jazz itself has its origins in human speech and chant and is only an imitation of the human voice.

Student: Right.

AG: In Indian music , and also in American bop, in the most sophisticated and complex of jazz – bebop – it’s found .. bebop in Harlem, in the late (19)30’s and early (19)40’s, is founded on the musicians – (Charlie) Parker and (Dizzy) Gillespie and others – phrasing through their instruments the rhythms that they heard on the street-corner around them (as in “Salt Peanuts, Salt Peanuts”). Historically, that was the progression – that they were actually imitating speech.

Student: So there is a direct…

AG: There’s a direct thing.. So we can go..

Student: According to..?

Seymour Wyse

Jerry Newman

AG: This is according to (Jack) Kerouac‘s jazz, or bop, Virgil, or teacher, Seymour Wyse, who with a fabulous character named Jerry Newman, who had a recording company called Esoteric, went up to Harlem in (19)38, (19)39, (19)40, and (19)41, to Minton’s, and a few other places, and actually recorded Charlie Christian and Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in their earliest.. or, not their earliest, but in their ripest, original, New York, phase of be-bop. And Kerouac and Seymour Wyse were classmates at Horace Mann school in Manhattan near..around Harlem (and) would go up with Jerry Newman, and Wyse told me that that’s what the historical thing was – that they were getting their phrasing from speech -“I’m gonna…” Like the rapping on the street-corner.

Student: Rap

AG: When you have disco [sic] rapping now [1981] or, not dissimilar. Just like, “Your mother’s cunt stinks, and your father’s prick is up, and I’m gonna cut ’em both off, and you’re not gonna do nuttin’ about (it), so..”, [“Signifying Monkey’] or something. Duh-dah-dah-duh-duh-duh-dah dough-dah. So the music comes from speech anyway.

And in India, the classical idea, of course – the first thing you learn – is (that) the human vocalization is the measure of every other instrument. And every other instrument is just an exfoliation, or extension, or practical application, of the voice.

Student: Right, I was… I was thinking of not actually like.. that person over there was saying..  [tape ends here – but then continues] … being attached.

AG: Well, I was saying that the first thing to hear is the cadence or the rhythm. But then I was pointing out that the rhythm or cadence has to do with the emotion – with the breathing. The breathing has to do with the emotion. The emotion has to do with the situation. The situation has to do with the intelligible meaning – “My Momma died” “Duh-dah-dah-dah”. “Duh-dah-dah-dah, Duh-dah-dah-dah” – “My Momma died“, “My Papa died” – where am I gonna go now? – “Duh-dah-dah-dah” (and that has meaning, I mean, literal meaning).

Student: In EST [sic], they’ll teach you – I’ve heard, I haven’t taken the course – to say things like “My Momma died”, but try and make it sound happy

AG: Um-hmm. Well, here I’m just trying to get to the center of the emotion.

Student: Do you feel that that sense of expansiveness (expansive poetics) can occur also in a formula-type poem, as for example, a sonnet, or do you feel…

AG: The “Ode to Intellectual Beauty” (“Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”) has the most complicated stanza pattern of anything,

Student: But it doesn’t have the sense of a fixed pattern, like say…

AG: Oh, it has a fixed pattern

Student: Oh?

AG: It has a fixed rhyme, a totally fixed pattern. Yes, completely. Yes. The point of (a) fixed pattern is because you get a certain frame of reference, or a certain rhetorical, or rhythmic, or rhyme, structure. You just build up on it higher and higher, and higher, higher (like, in the end of Dante(‘s) Divinia Commedia), the cadences that he’s used in the last cantos of  (the) Paradiso, the cadences that he used in the rest of the terza rima, gets to be this repetitive ultimate orgasmic – in te pietate,/in te magnificenza, in te s’aduna/quantunque in creature e di bontate“.. I don’t know  (“In thee is munificence, in thee compassion, in thee is whatever abounds through the universe” [or, in (a) more recent, Allen Mandelbaum, translation – , in you is pity/ in you is generosity, in you/is very goodness found in any creature”]). It’s like the repetitive thing that he used in the terza rima works for him to get up into an ecstatic breath and an ecstatic statement. It can be done, yes, through formal form, regular old forms.


However, the problem with old forms (like Shelley’s) is that the..  that those forms were evolved by people with different emotions from us Americans (or they got to be used for different emotions) so that the cadences of Shelley became then.. evolved into.. the cadences of (Alfred Lord) Tennyson, and got more and more watered down as they were repeated (people repeating each others’ emotions, so to speak). In other words, people were not having emotions of their own, but were getting turned on by Shelley’s emotions and were repeating the cadences of Shelley’s emotions.
So that, finally, by the time you get to some 1910 American poets, like William Vaughn Moody, somewhat, or Edward Arlington Robinson, or the standard great poets of the anthologies of the (19)10’s, (19)20’s, (19)30’s, you find that the poems… William Rose Benetor Stephen Vincent Benet, the Book-of-the-Month-Club poets, so to speak – (famous, not bad, they’re in the anthologies), (but), they’re just repetitious of those cadences, because they didn’t (don’t) have any real emotions of their own.

So that the real emotions of our own in America had to find some slightly different cadences, equivalent to our own breathing and our own speech-patterns, (which were slightly different from the British)  – and what comes to mind is – the very opening passages of (Charles) Olson’s “Maximus Poems” –  “How to”, “where to”, “where can you find it,?” “what do you?”  “look..?”, “wherever you look”, “all you hear” – that kind of staccato – “How to”, “where to”, “all you..” “Dah-uh-ah” [ the lines, perhaps, that Allen is recalling are “By ear, he sd/But that which matters, that which insists, that which will last/ that! O my people , where shall you find it, how, where, where shall you listen/when all is become billlboards, when all, even silence, is spray-gunned?”. That was an American thing and you don’t find that in Shelley, you don’t find that in English. The nearest you find that is in Gerard Manley Hopkins – “Be beginning to despair, be beginning to despair, so how to stay back, beauty, beauty, beauty, from fading, fading away, what?, is there any catch or broach or braid or clip to keep, keep, keep back beauty from fading, fading away, no, no, there’s none, none but dying, drooping death, and death’s worst, tombs and worms and winding sheets and ruck and wrinkle and tumbling to decay” [Allen is misremembering Hopkins’ “The Leaden Echo and The Golden Echo” here – “How to keep, is there any any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or/broach or braid or brace, lace, latch or catch or key to keep/Back beauty, keep it beauty, beauty, beauty…from vanishing away…“] – That’s closer to Olson than almost anything else, but that’s almost late 19th Century sprung rhythm, where he broke it apart. We have the Olson section as part of our anthology, and maybe I should throw in that cadence, from “The Leaden Echo and The Golden Echo” from Hopkins, as a precursor, come to think of it [Editor’s note – he never did]

Charles Olson

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins

The formal patterns, the formal stanzaic patterns, worked up to Hart Crane’s “Atlantis”, but it was somewhat of a suicidal pattern. I attribute Hart Crane’s suicide to his persistence in sticking within that closed pattern and not being able to break out of it and becoming more and more impacted and trying to intensify it more and more within the closed system of iambic pentameter (blank verse) until it became so powerful and so opaque that he couldn’t figure it out anymore, and he couldn’t figure it out because it was totally abstract by then, it was just an abstract emotion that repeated from any other emotions, but he wasn’t able to introduce new facts from his own life, and so it was sort of a suicide-bomb poem.  We’ll get to that later..

Hart Crane

Student: Did Shelley get kicked out of school for that poem?

AG: For “…Intellectual Beauty”?  No.. I don’t know.

Student: I think so.

AG: I think it was..  for this poem?

Student: Yeah. They got very upset at school because of  (that phrase of being in) ecstasy.

AG: “I shrieked..”

Student: “I shrieked in ecstasy”

AG: “I shrieked and clasped my hands in ecstasy!” – I thought he was kicked out for something on atheism?

Student: A pamphlet he wrote

AG  on The Necessity of Atheism”

Student: Right

AG: But I’m not sure if that was the occasion of getting kicked out, or.. [Editorial note – it was – at any rate, his refusal to answer questions about it before a University board was] ..  I mean, I don’t remember. Do you know about… where was that? Oxford?

Student: Uh-hm

AG: There’s a little side-passage room in Oxford where they have this white marble near-naked statue of Shelley, which was erected in 1910 or (19)20 as a formal apology by Oxford for kicking him out. It took them a hundred years, and they decided they should formalize their awareness of the mistake for the benefit of future undergraduates.

[Audio for the above may be found here, beginning at approximately forty-two minutes in and concluding approximately fifty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in – It may also be accessed via the Internet Archive here, and here via Open Culture]   

One comment

  1. We used a cassette from a 1975 reading at naropa for the vocal track of " Ode To The West Wind" and synched up a loop of backround music. The amazing thing was, that Gregory never dropped a beat for over 4 minutes..the music synched up perfectly without an edit.

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