AG continues his review of early English lyrics
AG: Okay, so going on to (page) sixty – This is… I was looking at this today, and it reminded me what (Bob) Dylan is laying down on his latest album, so I thought…
“I have labored sore and suffered death,/ And now I rest and draw my breath,/But I shall come and call right soon./Heaven and earth and hell to doom/And then shall know both devil, and man,/What I was and what I am.” [Editorial note – Allen quotes from the loose translation/interpretation by Mike Burch of an anonymous medieval lyric (circa the fifteenth century) – “I haue laborede sore / and suffered deyeth/ and now I Rest/ and draw my [b]reyght/ But I schall com/ and call Ryght sone/heuen and erthe/and hell to dome/and than schall know/ both devyll and man/ what I was/ and what I am“]
It was Slow Train Coming – “And then shall know both devil, and man” – and that’s the origin of “Slow Train Coming”, the origin, that’s an early precursor of that particular mode of moral… moral judgment and apocalyptic prophesy. It’s pretty good though – “And then shall know both devil, and man,/What I was and what I am.” – It’s a good.. it’s a good rhythm. “I have labored sore and suffered death” – (that was Christ talking) – “And now I rest and draw my breath.
The syncopation of “And then shall know both devil, and man” is then cut by the simple “What I was and what I am.” – “then shall know both devil, and man” – da-da-da da da-da-da, da-da-da da da-da-da. So that you’ve got a real complicated syncopation, followed by a resolution that’s real simple – “And then/ shall know/both devil/ and man,/What/ I was/ and what/ I am.” – Four accents, each line. So, with the four accents.. However, there’s a.. “And then shall know both/dev-il and/man”, eight syllables with four accents – “What-I-was-and-what-I-am”, six sylllables with four accents. So if you got eight syllables, you got to speed it up and syncopate, or it syncopates by itself (what, is it seven?) – “And- then-shall-know both-devil-and-man” -or, well, you could say nine? – “And-then-shall-know both-dev-il-and-man” – or – “And-then-shall-know both-devil-and-man” (depending on if you want “devil” as… “dev-il” as nine -So nine syllables to six (that’s a pretty funny syncopation) . If you cut down the syllables when you’re rhyming and if you’re writing in meters, in accentual meters, if you have a four-beat line and cut down the syllables, it has a funny kind of directness if you want to set it next to something syncopated – “And then shall know both devil, and man” – It’s actually.. he does that throughout the poem, come to think of it -“I have labored sore and suffered death,/ And now I rest and draw my breath,” – So the first line is a little syncopated, the second line is plain, but then the third line is plain – “But I shall come and call right soon” – Then he syncopates in the fourth – “Heaven and earth and hell to doom” – he’s got the syncopation of “Heaven and earth” in the fourth – “And then shall know both devil, and man/What I was and what I am.” – So that’s interesting. You dig? – the fourth line,”Heaven and earth and hell to doom”, the syncopation’s at the beginning of the line. “And then shall know both devil, and man”, the syncopation comes towards the end of the line. So he’s got syncopation here, syncopation there.
Are you following? Is it (clear)? Is anybody not following (this)? Is that unclear? Just say so – Huh?
Student: (Can you repeat it again?)
AG: Okay..I was just now, while reading, noticing how he alternately syncopates and then has a straight four-square line and then syncopates at the end . The.. also I noticed that in lines..in the fourth and fifth line – “Heaven and earth and hell to doom/And then shall know know both devil, and man”, that the part of the line that syncopates, in “Heaven and earth and hell to doom” syncopates at the beginning of the line, and then, in the next line, “And then shall know know both devil, and man”, the syncopation falls towards the end of the line. So it isn’t that he repeats the same syncopation over and over, but he varies it so that it’s symmetrically within the line. And, furthermore, the first line is a syncopated line –
“I have labored sore and suffered death”. The second line is sort of four-square and straightforward – “And now /I rest/ and draw/ my breath” (no syncopation necessary, because you don’t have extra syllables). Then the next line is also a non-syncopated straightforward line – “But I/ shall come/ and call/ right soon” – (no extra syllables there). So he’s reversed it, and so the following line of that couplet is a syncopated line. So you’ve got syncopated, unsyncopated, unsyncopated, and syncopated, right? In other words, a jazz line, square line, square line, jazz line, for the first four lines – and then the fifth line is another jazz line (but the jazz comes at the beginning instead of the end like in the one before).Is that clear now? clearer? In other words, I was just trying to find out where he jazzes it up. He jazzes it up in the first line, he jazzes it up in the fourth line, and he also jazzes it up in the fifth line (the fourth line he jazzes it up at the beginning, and the fifth line he jazzes it up at the end). And then the last line is the simplest, squarest of all the lines – “What I was and what I am.” So the thing is built like a brick shit-house. I mean, it’s just.. hammering on spot, what makes the poem tick rhythmically, or how it ticks, rhymically, And, actually, if you’re writing, if you get into writing this style, this kind of verse, you know, rhymed rhythmic verse, it’s good to know that there’s that much variation possible, that you don’t make it just automatic, metronomic, da-da, da-da, da-da, da-da, the same way every line. You see, what it is is the playfulness, what happens is a kind of intelligent funniness and playfulness in the way it varies. It’s just like when you listen to a jazz musician blow choruses, you follow the way he varies from chorus to chorus, or varies his rhythm, various the little licks, so the licks are varied here in these little Fifteenth Century anonymous poems.
That…Please tell me, did anybody not understand what all that was just about? can’t follow?. If you didn’t follow, tell me. Don’t be.. I mean, I’m talking a bit abstractly, I probably should do it on the blackboard. Next time I’ll do it on the blackboard, so it’ll be visible. I was assuming we all had the that text.
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-and-a-quarter minutes in , and concluding at approxinately forty-eight minutes in]