Expansive Poetics – (Shelley’s Adonais)

AG: I’d like to read the end of (Percy Bysshe Shelley’s)  “Adonais”. We don’t have time for the ideal thing which is to read “Adonais” from beginning to end, but it’s.. I’ve forgotten how many..fifty-five stanzas or something?..it’s a little long. I’ve done it in the open air. It’s great. It’s a lamentation in classical form for John Keats, so it’s a great subject – the death of a great poet.

How many have read “Adonais”? [show of hands] Yeah. And how many have not? [further show of hands] – So that’s even more. “(Ode to the) West Wind” is better known. “Adonais, however, ends even higher than “Ode to the West Wind”. It has even more symphonic power or inspiration.

And also, the interesting thing is the end of it, as in the end of many great or heroic inspired poems, is a reference, again, to the breath – to the breath-spirit. In other words, spirit means breathing – “spiritus” – Latin – breathing – inspiration means breathing. The ideal idea of spirit – spiritual – actually relates to the breath. And if you take the word “spirit” to relate to the physical breath, then you’ve got something you can work with, literally, without bullshit, without being a faggot aesthetician, you can actually just have real spirit, meaning breath. You don’t have to worry about the validity of your discussion of inspiration. You can do it with ordinary mind. You can have inspiration with ordinary mind in the sense that there is such a thing as inspiration (or unobstructed breath, in this case, or breathing). Unobstructed inspiration, I should say, is a possibility.

What I’ll read as an example of unobstructed inspiration, which finally talks about.. the subject of which, finally, is the breathing itself, is the last stanzas of  “Adonais”. And to understand it, has anybody here been to the American Cemetery (the Protestant Cemetery –  Cimitero Accattolico (the A-Catholic Cemetery – the Non-Catholic Cemetery) at Rome ever?

Student: Yeah

AG: Yeah. Well, there’s a very beautiful spot on the outskirts of Rome or the ancient wall, near the old wall, which is now in the middle of town, near Cestius’ pyramid (a tiny pyramid maybe as high from the ground as the ceiling is from the ground (here) in Boulder, called the English cemetery [sic]. I think it’s called the English Cemetery [sic], where many of the Englishmen who came during (the) Renaissance and later times, during the Romantic times, 1750-1850, 1900 – ex-patriots, remittance men who settled in Rome to enjoy the boys, or the sunlight, or whatever they were getting away from in England. Shelley is buried there. I think (Edward John) Trelawny, his friend, and (John) Keats are buried there. So it’s a really illustrious poetic cemetery. Anybody else, do you know? Who else is in there? I think Leigh Hunt or one of Leigh Hunt’s children. [Editorial note – and also, notably – this was recorded before his death –Gregory Corso!] It’s nice. If you ever get to Rome, it’s one of the most charming  poetic places in Rome to visit. It’s mentioned here – “Go thou to Rome” – and it mentions the cemetery, or the pyramid next to the cemetery..

I’ll read the first stanza (which (Jack) Kerouac loved also, because so romantic) – “I weep for Adonais, he is dead” – and then the last one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen… the last about twenty stanzas altogether – about half the poem.
It’s an elegy on the death of John Keats. Some believed his death had been hastened, if not directly caused by, a harsh review of Keats’ early poem “Endymion” in the Quarterly Review of 1818. But for the emotional Shelley, Keats had been murdered by his critics, and “Adonais” is an oblique attack on his murderers. Then the title of the poem is an adaptation of the name of Adonis

Student: Oh

AG:.. the beautiful youth loved by Venus and killed by a boar, which is written (up) by (William) Shakespeare in “Venus and Adonis”, the long poem.
And the immediate sources of the poem (particularly at the beginning) are the “Lament for Adonis” by the Greek poet, Bion (and that’s very much worth looking up, the early pastoral melancholy elegies – the “Lament for Adonis” by Bion, I think we do have in the library here).

Student: B…

AG: B-I-O-N. It’s a Greek pastoral poetry, it’s (in) the old Loeb Library series. I have it. If it’s not there, I may have it in my house.
And the “Lament for Bion”, for the poet who wrote the “Lament for Adonis”, by Moschus – M-O-S-C-H-U-S. These are worth looking up if you like this strain of poetry.These are the classical beginnings of it, the lineage from which Shelleyean melancholy inspiration comes from.
The “Memorial Idyll” by the Greek poet Theocritus – pastoral. And then (John) Milton had tried a similar form, or a similar mode, or a similar high style “Lycidas” – okay.
The poem is written in Spenserian stanzas

Student: (Has your understanding and) reading of this poem changed..since the time you wrote “Kaddish”?

AG: No, I picked up this poem before.

Student: Yeah?

AG: I mean, that’s why I always liked that..

Student: Uh-huh

AG: …but it influences “Kaddish”

Student: Yeah..

AG: That was the point that I was making, that if you absorb into your body these rhythms and these breathings, then you can make variations and reproduce them yourself. Once you know that expansiveness of breath, once you have that spirit in you (which you can get from another poet), then you can do it yourself, because you’ve already done it, you’ve already pronounced it aloud. You’ve already done the breathing so all you have to do is your own.

Student: Well, what opened you up to the.. to that reading of it, when you say, for example, that your father was reading…it different(ly)..

AG: Lead Belly! – Listening to Lead Belly sing blues on the phonograph over station WNYC, singing! –
We’ll continue, then, next..

Student: Oh

AG: We probably won’t have the anthologies ready (yet). It’ll probably cost fifteen or twenty dollars. So those who want it, before we go, please sign up those who want to order the anthology, sign up. I’ll make three extra copies for the library. For those who are broke, it’ll be there, but I would recommend you getting it, if you can afford it, sometime during the course of the class, because it, actually, is permanently useable. You can take it home and breathe over it for a decade..
Those who didn’t sign up for attendance, sign up on one page. Those who came late and have a car…  [tape and the class end here]

– to be continued

[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately seventy-and-a-half minutes in and running through to the end of the tape. Allen’s reading from Adonais may be heard, beginning approximately seventy-seven minutes in]

– oh, and as a postscript

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