AG: These specimens in American poetry of open-form verse are not that easy to find. Even after (Ezra) Pound and (William Carlos) Williams – 1905 or so – most American poets continued writing in the more archaic, nineteenth-century, iambic patterns. And when I first discovered free verse, working with William Carlos Williams, it was an adventure going out and trying to find poets in America or England who had written in an open form and had done it well (not just sloppy free verse, but poets who had some kind of electricity in the line).
[Allen then begins reading D.H.Lawrence’s poem, “The Evening Land”, stumbling with the opening before reading it in its entirety] – “Oh America,/The sun sets in you./Are you the grave of our day?/ Shall I come to you, the open tomb of my race?/ I would come, if I felt my hour had struck,/I would rather you came to me./For that matter/Mahomet never went to any mountain/Save it had first approached him and it had cajoled his soul./ You have cajoled the soul of millions of us, America/ Why won’t you cajole my soul?/I wish you would/ I confess I am afraid of you./ The catastrophe of your exaggerate love,/You who never finds yourself in love/But only loses yourself further, decomposing…”….“Dark faery,/Modern, unissued, distinctive America/Your nascent faery people/Lurking among the deeps of your industrial thicket,/Allure me till I am beside myself,/ A nympholept./ “These States”, as Whitman said – / Whatever he meant!”
AG: That’s a pretty good poem for..whatever year that was..
Student: Wow! Really!
AG: Baden-Baden. So, it would be in the (19)20’s – There’s a number of little poems about America – a little note, a little notice. And then he’s got a great essay on Whitman in.. what is it?
Student: Classic Studies of American Literature
AG: Studies in Classic American Literature
AG: A book worth reading. But the chapter on Whitman is totally devastating. It’s mean, actually. It’s just macho mean. I mean, it’s so mean that it’s untrue.
AG: Because he won’t have any homosexual contact of any kind, and that’s what he sees in Whitman immediately – some kind of a vast outspreading piece of fat – trying to rub up against everything in the universe, or trying to annihilate all boundaries. And it scares Lawrence (although he’s got that himself, in his book The Plumed Serpent). But it’s an intelligent view, actually, and it’s the best anti-Whitmanic, anti-gasbag statement ever made, I think, except that it doesn’t have as much humor as Whitman himself, so it fails that way. It’s not as simple-minded and amusing (ultimately it’s not as amusing as Whitman – It’s not as sophisticated as Whitman, finally – because Whitman did have a basic humor, as in that “certain impalpable rest, neither in the game, nor out of it” that surpasses Lawrence’s spleneticism, finally – (a) splenetic shot.