Continuing/picking up, after a short break, with Allen Ginsberg’s “Basic Poetics” Naropa classes. In this one, (dating from June 1980), he continues his discussion of early English poetry, English & Scottish ballads, stressing this time the alliterative aspects of the verse (and including a brief and summary discourse on traditional (classical) metrics)
AG: Did most of you get to read the ballad section in the book [the Norton Anthology] ? – Those who did not, raise your hands. It’s alright if you didn’t. Those who did actually read it raise your hands. The ballads sections of the book. Okay, well, we should get on and read them (because it’s too much for me to read through all the ballads here, but what I would like to do is go through the parts that I was interested in, and some supplementary ballads).
“The Douglas Tragedy”, on page seventy-nine, goes on and on and on, and it’s a story, but there are.. in stanza thirteen, there’s one really interesting image – “”Hold up, hold up, Lord William, she says/For I fear that you are slain”/”T’is nothing but the shadow of my scarlet cloak/That shines in the water so plain.” – It’s kind of very crystal clear, that one image. And, at the end, a theme that returns in ballads over and over, the entwining of the rose and the briar, the doomed lovers are knocked off and wound up being buried in the same churchyard – “Lord William was buried in St Marie’s Kirk/Lady Marg’ret in Marie’s quire;/ Out o’ the lady’s grave grew a bonny red rose/And out o’the knight’s a brier/ And they twa met, and they twa plat/And fain they wad be near/And a’ the world might ken right weel,/They were twa lovers dear – So, that occurs over and over in ballads, just as an image. You’ve heard of that? The twining of the rose and the briar? – Actually, remember that little, that (Ezra) Pound Canto [Canto LXXX] that I read had the same image at the end? – “Tudor indeed is gone and every rose”? – that passage that begins, “Tudor indeed is gone and every rose” from Pound’s Canto, one of the Pisan Cantos, had a little ballad-like quatrain set that buried, I guess The War of the Roses, with the bodies of the contestants, twining together with briers above, I guess, I don’t know,I’ve forgotten what the phrase was. Do you remember my reading that Canto? You remember I read a Pound Canto? – Well, that was in there. He just took it to, like, took that one image to, like, final lengths..
Student: The last class…
Student: ..about the assignment you gave
Student: Tell me whether I’m corrrect or not. A…
AG: Iambic tetrameter, I think it was.
Student: Right, so it would be soft-hard, soft-hard, soft hard,.. and then four lines A and B..
AG: Well either AA or BB.. but what was the form that we…?
Student (2) AABB or AA BAB.
AG: Right. We had started with the ..(William) Dunbar, didn’t we? – that poem by Dunbar. You could do it that way, It might be simplest – the Dunbar form which was.. AABB?
Student: Yeah. Can you give me an example of just one line?
AG: Er..well,right there. Well, two lines or one line? The ballad we were just looking at – “Rise up, rise up, now Lord Douglas, she says”, “Rise up, rise up, my seven bold sons” – “Rise up, rise up, my seven bold sons” – that’s, also, it’s a looser, but it’s, an iambic tetrameter line. But, we’ll get to more of them. But if you go back to Dunbar (what page is Dunbar on, do you know?), go back a couple of pages to Dunbar – “Our plesance here is all vain glory/This fals world is but transitory,/The flesh is bruckle, the Feynd is slee” – that would be the most regular, the most obviously regular line – “The flesh is brittle, the Fiendd is slee”
Student: Well, isn’t that four?
AG: Yes. Four. Tetrameter. Four
Student: I thought you said Tet…
AG; No, that was the…that was the offensive that the Vietnamese launched! – Tetra – tetra – tres – I guess tertiary would be three, wouldn’t it? – trimeter is three! – monometer, dimeter, trimeter,tetrameter, pentameter – what is heptameter? and sextameter? sex.. and hexameter, of course – hexameters.. septenarii? – (William) Blake‘s which are seven accents are called septenarii. Blake’s long long line (I guess, septameter). Octameter? What’s next? – I’ll find out. I’ve got a little (list here) pentameter.. hexameter? heptameter? octameter? – octameter is eight – I don’t think they go up any further in my book here. What, nonometer? – What’s ten, hendec-? What is a hendecasyllable, a ten syllable [Editorial note – no, an eleven-syllable] line? – I have some outlines of meters and lines which I’ll have xeroxed and handed out next time, which will give you the classical Greek meters, which is what you were really basically asking, the various different metrical systems, particularly Greek, which are the basis of the Western Civilization ones, English. Two-syllable, three-syllable, and four-syllable feet (what you were just asking about was a two-syllable foot – iambic- da-da – and then, you were asking what it was – da-da da-da da-da da-da – Then there is a.. So that’s iambic, and then there’s trochaic – da-da da-da, “ty-ger, ty-ger burning bright” and then there are three-syllable feet da-da-dum da-da-dum da-da dum da-da dum – or dadd-a dadd-a dadd-a dadd-a – Da-da – anapestic and dactylic. And there are four-syllable feet also, which are really interesting, which I use a lot, and which is good for glorious poetry, for dance, you know for sort of a.. massive, majestic march rhythms – da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, dan-dada-da, dan-dada-da, or, de dada da, de dada da, de dada da. Ed Sanders is an expert on that, on those meters, and we’ll run into them sooner or later so I’ might as well pass out some…I might as well get it all…It is all outlined here, beautiful things like choriambic meters – da dada da – is choriambic – bambiti-bom, bambini-bom – “Moloch, whose eyes” – bambiti-bom or paeonic meters – de-dadda-da, de-dadda-da, or epitrite meters – da da da-da, da da da-da, da da da-da. Yeah, or dada-da da, dada-da da, dada-da-da – epitrite tertiary meters, eptrite quarters – da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da – or – da-da-da da, da-da-da da, da-da-da da (which would be ionic. So, anyway, there are all these things as rules. And also.. So what that is from an old Greek dictionary, a list of all the meters of two, three, and four syllables, and then a little series of about eight pages on different kinds of versification, giving me the common English meters, the common feet, and then the lengths of the line, like manometer, dimeter (two-foot lines), trimeter, tetrameter, and something about alexandrines (a French form and variations of it), and then followed by a tiny little single-page outline of free verse measures (possibilities of measurement for free verse) that I grew up from teaching here [at Naropa] . So, Charlie (sic) will pass it out next time.
So, back to “The Douglas Tragedy”, back, beyond “The Douglas Tragedy”, to “The Two Sisters“..
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding at approximately ten minutes in]