Poetic Inspiration


Student: Spirit?

AG: As respiration, inspiration, spiritus, Holy Spirit! (the holy breath)…let me see what it says here [Allen points to his book (a dictionary)] – I don’t think this is etymological.. it may be…let’s see.. “spiritus” – How many did not know spirit meant breath, breathing? – and how many knew? [show of hands] – That proves it. Most knew. In other words, it’s known.

Peter Orlovsky:  (I suppose) “Spirit”  (is) when you die you go up to heaven.

AG: Well, you go into the air. You fade into the air. [Allen, reading from the dictionary] – “spiritus lenis – smooth breathing, “spiritus asper” – the rough breathing…. “ethereal” (which is like “spiritual”) also means ether, air – “respiration”, everybody knows – oh yeah, okay, “Middle English and Latin, “spiritus” – breathing (“spiritus” just means breathing) – Pretty good. So that solves the question of what spirit is. Where there is breath, there is life – like..what? -Ah! – Breath is itself. Breath is itself, like God is itself. It casts no shadow. So, it’s empty, it’s invisible, it can be followed by the mind. It can be followed by the mind, and it can be fast or slow. Anyway.. So, but the reason that the spirit is important here… Well, what.. there’s this question of the neurological immortality of the poem, so to speak, or the neurological relationship, like the breathing and the nerves, and the tingling of the nerves.

So for that, consulting (William) Blake, (a text which you don’t have here), in the opening stanzas of “Milton” is an address to the spirit of Milton actually – He has another way of approaching it – and it’s the opening line of his..the opening lines of the First Book, of the Prophetic Book called Milton by William Blake. Here, it’s not so much in terms of spirit but in terms of the nerves of his brain and his arms and his physiology that he calls forth the ladies of the subconscious to come and help him.

“Daughters of Beulah!” (the subconscious) – ” “Daughters of Beulah! Muses who inspire the Poet’s Song/ Record the journey of immortal Milton thro’ your Realms/ Of terror & mild moony lustre, in soft sexual delusions/Of varied beauty, to delight the wanderer and repose/His burning thirst & freezing hunger! Come into my hand/By your mild power; descending down the Nerves of my right arm/From out the Portals of my Brain, where by your ministry/The Eternal Great Humanity Divine, planted his Paradise,/And in it caus’d the Spectres of the Dead to take sweet forms/In likeness of himself.” –

(That’s just an interesting, slightly different approach, different physiological approach from what I’m laying out but) – ” Come into my hand/By your mild power; descending down the Nerves of my right arm/From out the Portals of my Brain” – (so whenever you begin to write a poem, just make that little prayer – ” Come into my hand.. descending down the Nerves of my left arm, right arm”.

Imagine invoking that much power, or that much energy. Well, it’s just to get back to the physiology of poetics.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-eight-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding approximately thirty-three minutes in]

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