Ginsberg’s “Woe unto thee Manhattan” (An Early Sonnet)

AG: I think.. I wrote.. When I first read Jack Kerouac’s first book, I wrote a sonnet imitating this, that ended something like.. something very similar with “Woe unto..” (yes, “Sion is…”  “Sion lies waste, and thy Jerusalem,/ O Lord, is fall’n to utter desolation

Woe unto thee, Manhattan, woe to thee,
Woe unto all the cities of the world.
Repent, Chicagos, O repent; ah, me!
Los Angeles, now thou art gone so wild,
I think thou art still mighty, yet shall be,
As the earth shook, and San Francisco fell,
An angel in an agony of flame.
City of horrors, New York so much like Hell,
How soon thou shalt be a city-without-name,
A tomb of souls, and a poor broken knell.
Fire and fire on London, Moscow shall die,
And Paris her livid atomies be rolled
Together into the Woe of the blazing bell–
All cities then shall toll for their great fame.

So that’s a Sonnet I wrote when I was.. in 1948 or so, or ’49 or ’50 , on first reading Kerouac ‘s first book, realizing he’d accomplished this huge monumental American novel just like novelists wrote. That was so amazing – that anybody could actually write a book! – I thought, Well, if he’s right, then “Woe unto thee Manhattan”.

So it was actually an imitation of that – “Fire and fire on London, Moscow shall die” – “Sion lies waste, and thy Jerusalem,/ O Lord, is fall’n to utter desolation”

So I think it was a combination of reading Hart Crane’s Atlantis and Fulke Greville that gave me that kind of a vowelic.. vowel-trumpet sound ..French.. – it’s quite a heavy trumpet thing, Gabriel’s trumpet thing. So this is the Gabriel’s trumpet note in English lyric poetry, which comes to.. which really gets to big big big massed brass, massed brasses with (John) Milton, going to Milton and (William) Blake.

I don’t know. Have we seen anything before this, that’s quite as…. ? no, “horns of annunciation life” – so..

Next.. There’s no. . I would… We’ll get to (Hart) Crane later on and we can maybe examine what the poem means because its really gibberish in certain respects but it’s just a good glimpse of Caribbean…flash “tin flash in the sun-dazzle”  [Allen quotes Ezra Pound here] in the Caribbean

Next thing I thought we might do. We did a little bit of the (Spenser’s) “Epithalamium”, I don’t really know too much about it so (perhaps) I shouldn’t really bother teaching it

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

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