The Seafarer – 1

(Allen Ginsberg on Basic Poetics continues. Allen continues today with alliterative meter and (Ezra) Pound’s translation of the old Anglo-Saxon poem, “The Seafarer”)

AG: So what else is there ?Now I want to go back in time, (with (Ezra) Pound(also)), who’s a good time-traveler, poetically, to thealliterative meter that was practiced by… well, actually it’s… the origin is old Scandanavian, old German, Finnish, and Old English. There’s Old English and then there’s Medieval English alliterative. I’m not an expert in either but Pound has done some of the research for us and translated some of the alliterative Old English poetry into his twentieth-century English and done a fantastic condensed job, so the great poem – that I read in college, actually, and always stuck in my head, altered my nervous system, like I said – I’m quite serious about that – altering the nervous system – There is a line of Antonin Artaud, (twentieth-century French poet), which says certain pitches or tones, (speaking of music or vocalization of poetry ), certain pitches or tones have such a penetrant nature or vibration that they do enter into the nervous system and permenantly alter its functioning, slightly – like “Each outcry of the haunted hare/A fibre from the Brain doth tear” says William Blake – “Each outcry of the hunted hare (rabbit), a fibre from the Brain doth tear”. So certain sounds have such vibration that they permanently enter the nervous system and perhaps, you know, damage a brain cell if it’s a panicking scream – or, if it’s a very subtle rhythm, delicatize and subtle-ize the entire nervous system and brain pan, perhaps.

Here’s a… what this is.. what alliterative rhythm is.. old-fashioned for oral recitation, way back, fifteen hundred years now, eighteen hundred years, this is probably 500 AD, maybe – The Seafarer – has anybody ever seen it? The Seafarer? no? – [Student raises hand] –

AG: Where did you run into it?
Student: In anthologies
AG: Yeah. You know Pound’s version?
Student: (In college..)
AG: Yeah. It’s actually his own youthful prophecy, what was going to happen to him. It’s On the Road, except “On the Ocean”, so, like, the great voyage into life. It’s also an accurate down-home description of the difficulties of being a sailor, and also the glories and sufferings of ocean. I’ll read it and then we’ll talk about the structure or the sound. So this is from Anglo-Saxon – [Allen, starting from approximately thirty-seven minutes in, through to approximately forty-three-and-a-half minutes in, reads in its entirety Ezra Pound’s “The Seafarer”]

May I for my own self song’s truth reckon
Journey’s jargon, how I in harsh days
Hardship endured oft.
Bitter breast-cares have I abided,
Known on my keel many a care’s hold,
And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent
Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship’s head,
While she tossed close to cliffs. Coldly afflicted,
My feet were by frost benumbed.
Chill its chains are; chafing sighs
Hew my heart round and hunger begot
Mere-weary mood. Lest man know not
That he on dry land loveliest liveth,
List how I, care-wretched, on ice-cold sea,
Weathered the winter, wretched outcast
Deprived of my kinsmen;
Hung with hard ice-flakes, where hail-scur flew,
There I heard naught save the harsh sea
And ice-cold wave, at whiles the swan cries,
Did for my games the gannet’s clamour,
Sea-fowls, loudness was for me laughter
The mews’ singing all my mead-drink.
Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten, fell on the stern
In icy feathers; full oft the eagle screamed
With spray on his pinion
Not any protector
May make merry man faring needy.
This he little believes, who aye in winsome life
Abides ‘mid burghers some heavy business,
Wealthy and wine-flushed, how I weary oft
Must bide above brine.
Neareth nightshade, snoweth from north,
Frost froze the land, hail fell on earth then
Corn of the coldest. Nathless there knocketh now
The heart’s thought that I on high streams
The salt-wavy tumult traverse alone.
Moaneth alway my mind’s lust
That I fare forth, that I afar hence
Seek out a foreign fastness.
For this there’s no mood-lofty man over earth’s midst,
Not though he be given his good, but will have in his youth greed;
Nor his deed to the daring, nor his king to the faithful
But shall have his sorrow for sea-fare>
Whatever his lord will.
He hath not heart for harping, nor in ring-having
Nor winsomeness to wife, nor world’s delight
Nor any whit else save the wave’s slash,
Yet longing comes upon him to fare forth on the water.
Bosque taketh blossom, cometh beauty of berries,
Fields to fairness, land fares brisker,
All this admonisheth man eager of mood,
The heart turns to travel so that he then thinks
On flood-ways to be far departing.
Cuckoo calleth with gloomy crying,
He singeth summerward, bodeth sorrow,
The bitter heart’s blood. Burgher knows not —
He the prosperous man — what some perform
>Where wandering them widest draweth
So that but now my heart burst from my breast-lock,
My mood ‘mid the mere-flood,
Over the whale’s acre, would wander wide.
On earth’s shelter cometh oft to me,
Eager and ready, the crying lone-flyer,
Whets for the whale-path the heart irresistibly,
O’er tracks of ocean; seeing that anyhow
My lord deems to me this dead life
On loan and on land, I believe not
That any earth-weal eternal standeth
Save there be somewhat calamitous
That, ere a man’s tide go, turn it to twain.
Disease or oldness or sword-hate
Beats out the breath from doom-gripped body.
And for this, every earl whatever, for those speaking after —
Laud of the living, boasteth some last word,
That he will work ere he pass onward,
Frame on the fair earth ‘gainst foes his malice,
Daring ado, …
So that all men shall honour him after
And his laud beyond them remain ‘mid the English,
Aye, for ever, a lasting life’s-blast,
Delight mid the doughty.
Days little durable,
And all arrogance of earthen riches,
There come now no kings nor Cæsars
Nor gold-giving lords like those gone.
Howe’er in mirth most magnified,
Whoe’er lived in life most lordliest,
Drear all this excellence, delights undurable!
Waneth the watch, but the world holdeth.
Tomb hideth trouble. The blade is layed low.
Earthly glory ageth and seareth.
No man at all going the earth’s gait,
But age fares against him, his face paleth,
Grey-haired he groaneth, knows gone companions,
Lordly men are to earth o’ergiven
Nor may he then the flesh-cover, whose life ceaseth,
Nor eat the sweet nor feel the sorry,
Nor stir hand nor think in mid heart,
And though he strew the grave with gold,
His born brothers, their buried bodies
Be an unlikely treasure hoard.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately  forty-three-and-a-half minutes in]

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