Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s birthday today
– from Richard Holmes’ definitive biography:
” (William) Wordsworth called him “the most wonderful man” he had ever known; but many subsequent biographers have been skeptical. It would seem possible to write an entire book on Coleridge’s opium addiction, his plagiarisms, his fecklessness in marriage, his political “apostasy”, his sexual fantasies, or his radiations of mystic humbug.
And indeed, all these books have been written. But no biographer…has tried to examine his entire life in a broad and sympathetic manner, and to ask the one vital question; what made Coleridge – for all his extravagent panoply of faults – such an extraordinary man, such an extraordinary mind.”
Allen noted the “mystic humbug” (not exactly) – the Neo-Platonism and gnostic wisdom derived from, in good part, Thomas Taylor‘s highly-influential translations. (Taylor was also a conduit to Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake)
and, as for the drug-use?
Allen, from the 1971 Partisan Review interview:
“What went on in the Humphry Davy household on Saturday midnight when Coleridge arrived by foot, through the forest, by the lakes?”
“Laughing Gas” – Nitreous Oxide – We now know quite a lot about that encounter:
from Coleridge’s notes concerning his nitreous experiments:
“The first time that I inspired the nitreous oxide, I felt a highly pleasurable sensation of warmth over my whole frame, resembling that which I remember once to have experienced after returning from a walk in the snow into a warm room. The only motion that I felt inclined to make was that of laughing at those who were looking at me….”
“..it was in August of 1996 that I first wrote the Nobel Committee, nominating Dylan for its literature prize. The idea to do so originated not with me but with two Dylan aficionados in Norway, journalist Reidar Indebrø and attorney Gunnar Lunde, who had recenly written Allen about a Nobel for Dylan. Ginsberg’s office then asked if I’d write a nominating letter (Nominators must be professors of literature or linguistics, past laureates, presidents of national writers’ groups, or members of the Swedish Academy, or similar groups). Over the next few months, several other professors including Steven Scobie, Daniel Karlin and Betsy Bowden endorsed Dylan for the Nobel. I would go on to nominate Dylan for the next dozen years. This year he finally won.”
And also from the Washington Post (Hillel Italie’s AP story) – Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s response – “Bravo for Dylan” – “Ferlinghetti told AP that he had “always considered Dylan a poet first.He had said that decades ago he had hoped Dylan would release his material in print form through the publishing arm of Ferlinghetti’s celebrated City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Alas, Ferlinghetti said, “he became famous” and lived on as “a song and dance man”
Joan Baez‘s response to the news – “The Nobel Prize for Literature is yet another step towards immortality for Bob Dylan. The rebellious reclusive unpredictable artist/composer is exactly where the Nobel Prize for Literature needs to be. His gift with words is unsurpassable. Out of my repertoire, spanning 60 years, no songs have been more moving and worthy in their depth, darkness, fury. mystery, beauty, and humor, than Bob’s. None has been more of a pleasure to sing. None will come again.”
Tom Waits – “It’s a great day for Literature and for Bob when a Master of its original form is celebrated. Before epic tales and poems were ever written down, they migrated on the winds of the human voice and no voice is greater than Dylan’s.”
and this (ever-astute) from another poet-troubador, Leonard Cohen – “To me (the award) is like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain.”Dylan’s own response? – Well, he’s remained very much in character, by not giving a response, being purposefully enigmatic (“The Nobel Prize Committee has given up trying to reach Bob Dylan, five days after he became the first musician awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Dylan, 75, is yet to respond to the accolade”)
Allen’s response? – Well, we’re grateful to George Drury and our good friend Charles Bernstein over at PennSound for this remarkable piece of prescient audio ( “I’m reading Bob Dylan’s Writings and Drawings book”, Allen declares), recorded 1974 in Buffalo, upstate New York
– (“On Reading Dylan’s Writings”) “A Poem For The Laurels You Win”:
“Now that it’s dust and ashes/Now that it’s human skin/Here’s to you Bob Dylan/A poem for the laurels you win/ Sincerest form of flattery/Is Imitation they say/I’ve broken my long line down/To write a song your way/ Those “chains of flashing images”/That came to you at night/Were highest farm boy’s daydreams/That glimpse the Angels light./ And tho’ the dross of wisdom come/And left you lone on earth/Remember when the Angels call/ Your soul for a new birth./ It wasn’t dope that gave you truth/Nor money that you stole/–Was God himself that entered in/Shining your heavenly soul.”
The Pompidou Center’s Beat Generation show is now down – but, great news, it resurfaces again, in a slightly-scaled-down version, next month at ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany ( Jean-Jacques Lebel, Philippe-Alain Michaud and Peter Weibel will be the co-curators)
Cause for celebration. Next Tuesday (the 25th) is Allen’s teacher, Gelek Rinpoche‘s birthday.
For previous Gelek Rinpoche postings see here, here and here.
And, for those in the New York City area, make a note of this – Saturday November 5 at The Great Hall of Cooper Union – a White Tara Initiation, led by Gelek, free and open to all (seating is limited so registration to reserve space is required)