George Gascoigne’s Lullaby

George Gascoigne (1535-1577)

[Allen Ginsberg’s 1980 Naropa “Basic Poetics” class continues. An inscription on the tape notes that the first forty-five minutes of this class are missing (were not recorded) but the class picks up with this fresh tape, recorded February 21, 1980]   

AG: Next, (George) Gascoigne, now we’re getting serious – page one-nine-nine – one-nine-nine, oh, I’m sorry, page one-twenty-nine,  the “Lullaby” (“The Lullaby of A Lover“) – Is anybody familiar with this poem? Has anybody read it before? Somebody like to read it? Somebody who hasn’t read ever?, just  improvise it as you go along …Yes… please do.. strong voice

Student (reads): Sing lullaby, as women do,/Wherewith they bring their babes to rest,/And lullaby can I sing too/As womanly as can the best./With lullaby they still the child,/And if  I be not much beguiled,/Full many wanton babes have I/Which must be stilled with lullaby.

AG: Full many wanton babes have I/Which must be stilled with lullaby./ First, lullaby my youthful years…

Student (continuing): “It is now time to go to bed,/For crooked age and hoary hairs/Have won the haven within my head/With lullaby, then, youth be still;/With lullaby content thy will;/Since courage quails and comes behind,/Go sleep, and so beguile thy mind./Next, lullably my gazing eyes…

AG: No, it’s “first”, “next”, “lullaby, my gazing eyes”. See, he’s talking about himself. He’s saying, “goodbye to me” – “goodbye eyes”, “goodbye youth(ful)..” – it’s really awful! Anyway. But, “next” – there’s emotion there. Go on. Act it out. Make-believe you’re eighty years old – or forty. Mae-believe you’re fifty-three years old.

Student (continuing): Next, lullaby my gazing eyes/Which wonted were to glance apace./For every glass may now suffice/To show the furrows in my face;/With lullaby then wink a while,/With lullaby your looks beguile;/Let no fair face nor beauty bright/Entice you eft with vain delight.”

AG: Okay. May I interrupt again? What (Ezra) Pound, what (Basil) Bunting would have done with reading “With lullaby then” (you see that’s a “then”), sounding every sound, because every sound actually exists in that poem (in those poems), they’re so well-built that every sound can be pronounced and really make a little mark in your ear, and it’s really prettier that way, rather than, you know, skimming it. You don’t need to skim it when you’re reading aloud because it is so rich-sounding. So you can slow it and read it and…

Student (continuing): “And lullaby, my wanton will;/Let reason’s rule now reign thy thought,/Since all too late I find by skill/How dear I have thy fancies bought;/With lullaby now take thine ease,/With lullaby thy doubts appease./For trust to this: if thou be still/ My body shall obey thy will./  Eke lullaby, my loving boy,/My little Robin, take thy rest;/Since age is cold and nothing coy/Keep close thy coin, for so is best;/With lullaby be thou content,/With lullaby thy lusts relent,/Let others pay which hath no more pence…

AG: “Let others pay which hath mo’ pence” – Let others play who have more money than we’ve got –  “Let others pay which hath mo’ pence”, I think..

Student continuing):  “Thou art too poor for such expense./  Thus lullaby, my youth, mine eyes/My will, my ware, and all that was./I can no mo delays devise,/But welcome pain, let pleasure pass;/With lullaby now take yoour leave,/With lullaby your dreams deceive;/ And when you rise with waking eye,/Remember then this lullaby.”

AG: The whole thing is built beautifully, but at the very end, when he has “Thus lullaby, my youth, mine eyes/My will, my ware, and all that was”, it’s like a great.. (There’s a beautiful series of poems that have, like, lists like that within a few lines. This also begins to get really serious in terms of recognition of death and suffering – First Noble Truth – suffering, (which, beginning around.. well, earlier, we had “this ae nighte, this ae nighte,/ Every nighte and alle“, but, as a personal subject for literary poets it becomes… it comes through clearer and clearer,until you get up to Thomas Nashe and Henry King and others where.. poems written at the time of the plague, where there is the omnipresenceof death. Here’s a lullaby but it’s going to be more serious. I just like the sound, the good sound, of that poem. And it’s really beautifully built. And it’s still a song, a lullaby song.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding approximately five-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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