Basic Poetics – Ballads (The Wife of Usher’s Well)

AG: So “The Wife of Usher’s Well” – another great classic among them. (It) has.. One thing you can see in this one, which is throughout all the ballads, but one thing I noticed is that.. well, the simplicity of the moral is exemplary clear, for one thing, whatever is being said, in this particular case, the moral point is right there, right up front, but the images, or the life depicted, is really elemental archetypal home-grown bare, so that you have, in this case – “a wealthy wife was she” and “She had three stout and stalwart sons,/ And sent them o’er the sea” – (well, she’s wealthy, but a wealthy and greedy woman, so, fast as that, you get right into it) – “There lived a wife at Usher’s Well, / (And) a wealthy wife was she/ (And) she had three stout and stalwart sons/ And sent them o’er the sea” ” They hadna been a week from her,/ A week but barely ane/When word came to the carline wife/ That her three sons were gane” – So that’s the whole story, right, right fast, there – of..of her karma. She sent them over to this.. sent them over the sea, presumably to bring back slaves, money, petroleum, whatever, gold, ambergris, captives, poppies from France, or something, I don’t know (he knows). Well, okay, well, then, (it) gets to the fantastical part, and she summons up the ghosts. She says that she won’t.. she says, “I hope the wind never ceases blowing nor troubles on the ocean (“fashes in the flood”), “till my three sons come hame to me/ In earthly flesh and blood”.

So they do come home. She makes a fire, brings water from the well, (and) she makes for them a bed, (“She’s made it large and wide” – in stanza eight). She’s “ta’en her mantle her about”, to sit “down at the bedside” – So, she’s got three guys in the same bed, these three brothers, (which is, like, really interesting, it’s just sort of.. there’s a quality of home-like, archetypal home-likeness there, that’s really interesting. I mean, a modern movie would not have that – a modern household likely wouldn’t, but sort of primitive degenerate households would, in the country – why not? – it’s just a convenient place for all three, all three to sleep). I just find it startling that they make, make.. “And she has made to them a bed,/ She’s made it large and wide” – for three people to sleep in the same bed (she’s… amazing…). And, also, they’re lying in bed, these ghosts, talking (the brother-ghost) talking to each other – “The cock he hadna craw’d but once,/And clapp’d his wings at a’/, When the youngest to the eldest said/, “Brother, we must awa'”. ” (or the oldest says to the youngest, we must away, when he hears the cock crow, and the youngest says to the eldest) It’s three guys in bed, ghosts, with their mother sitting by, talking to each other, really familiarly, like brothers, you know, but stark, down to the bare bones, when… what have they got to say? – well – “We’ve got to get up and get out of here, go back to limbo, or wherever we came out , because – “The cock doth craw, the day doth daw,/The channerin’ worm doth chide” – (that’s a great line – the channerin’ worm doth chide”) – “Gin we be miss’d out o’ our place/ A saur pain we main bide” – (or, “some pain we must bide”) – “the channerin’ worm doth chide” – was that the fretting worm? – “channerin'”? – there’s probably another… The translations in this book aren’t very good. What would “channerin”” be? does anybody know?

Student: Is that a…

Peter Orlovsky: What does ‘chide” mean?

AG: Oh – complain – “Oh you’re late. Come on back to the coffin, so I can get at you,”I’m hungry!” (the worm is hungry for..

PO: Who’s the worm?

AG: Oh, they’re dead, they’re all dead!

Student: They’re all dead.

AG: They came back to visit their mama, because she said that she wanted to stop nature, stop the wind, make the wind blow forever, and rumble on the water, till her little kiddies come back to her and they’re meat and flesh and blood. So they did..

PO: And now the worms are calling for them?

AG: Well, the cock has crowed, the day is dawning, they’ve got to go back to the grave, and the channerin’.. the cock does crow, the day does dawn – the channerin’ worm doth chide -it’s a great line – everybody realize how pretty that is – “the channerin’ worm doth chide”. I mean, it’s gibberish in a sense in terms of modern Americanese but (and the sound is.. it’s partly the sound – “the channerin’ worm doth chide”. Also, I guess rhythmically, it’s so right-on perfect one-hundred percent “da da da da da da da” – The cock does crow, the day does dawn – the channerin’ worm doth chide – It’s that perfect little syncopation – “channer” and “chide” – “channer” and “chide” (so it all fits in the ear right) – I don’t know what “channer” means, I guess.. We don’t have an old English dictionary in anyone’s skull here? – if somebody has… does anybody know the OED? – anyone here..?

Student: I have a miniature one..
AG: Could you look up “channerin”” ?
Student: Yeah..
AG: Let us know – “the channerin’ worm doth chide” –
Well, it’s nine-thirty. We’ll go on with these ballads, whatever, a few more, and some from Penguin Book of Ballads, and other books. [class ends]

[Student; Do you want the assignments?]

[to Students] – You might hand things in and I’ll grade them and hand all the poems back this Thursday. (On) Monday, Peter and I are going off on a night-club tour, to exhibit our ballads, on the East Coast, so on Monday, Stan Fefferman will come in and teach variants of the translation of the King James Bible, which is more or less contemporary with this, with this time and then Thursday, Dick Gallup will be coming in and teaching, I guess, beginning with, start off with Thomas Wyatt, actually, get back into Thomas Wyatt, which is somewhat of his specialty. Then I’ll likely, unless I break my back, be back the following Monday. So, if you hand in your assignments (and remember, those who want credit, I’ve got to have something to judge you by)

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-eight minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape]

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