AG: There is a poem of (John) Donne‘s which is not in the book which I would like to lay out. I think it may be his last poem or toward his last poem, his last, death, poem – “A Hymn to God The Father”, which doesn’t seem to be in this book, though it’s one of his best, in terms of puns. There is a late poem on death, at the end here (of your book), “Hymn To God In My Sickness, but I’ll read this other one because you can always get this (that) in the Norton (Anthology), another one, called “Hymn To God The Father”, where there’s a constant pun on “Donne”, on his name, as he goes to death – [Allen begins reading] ” Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,/ Which were my sin though it were done before?” – (that is fucking, or eating the apple, the eating, “which was my sin though it were done before”, by Adam and Eve) – it’s not in this book… – [Allen resumes reading] – Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,/ Which were my sin though it were done before?/ Wilt thou forgive that sin through which I run,/And do run still, though sttill I do deplore?/When thou hast done, thou hast not done, /For I have more/” – “When thou hast done, thou hast not done” – John Donne – “For I have more,” – “Wilt thou forgive that sinn which I have won/ Others to sin , and made my sin their door?/ Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun/A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score?/When thou hast done, thou hast not done/For I have more./ I have a sin of fear, that when I have spin/My last thread, I shall perish on the shore/But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son/ Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore/And, having done that, thou hast done;/ I fear no more.” – That’s really good – “And having done that, thou hast done” – He really gives himself ..a total, a real surrender. It’s’s one of the most beautiful devotional poems in the language on its own merits
Peter Orlovsky; The “Son” there refers to…
AG: Oh, the “Son” is Christ – “But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son/ Shall shine” – capital “Son” – Christ – “Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore” – Both, I guess
AG: Then, well there’s just too much of (John) Donne that’s good! – and interesting.. So, I guess we might just as well leave him!
Student: Do you have that “Batter my heart, three-personed God”?
AG: Yes, it’s in here. Do we want to do that..yes…That’s one of his famous religious-crisis nervous-breakdown poems! Do you want to read that?
Student; What page?
AG: I’ll do a dramatical reading of that..page two-hundred-and-fifty, Sonnet XIV by John Donne. So these are called..what? ..Divine Sonnets? – Holy Sonnets – Holy Sonnets. Look at the difference between where he’s laying his love, between him and Shakespeare, because Shakespeare had this girlfriend/boyfriend Dark Lady, the whole… the whole human scene.
This – “Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you/As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;/That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend/Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new./I, like an usurp’d town to another due,/Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;/Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,/But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue./Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,/But am betroth’d unto your enemy;/Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,Take me to you, imprison me, for I,/Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,/Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
That’s a pretty good S & M shot – “Nor ever chaste..” – but that was like the… one of the great extreme, beautiful, perfect statements of that religious self-abasement
Student: I think that, that’s a good.. another good example of his difference from (William) Blake in not being mystical…
AG: Yeah, and a will to get to God, will-power
Student: What does “three-personed God” mean?
AG: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. I guess, the traditional Christian God
Peter Orlovsky: What is “Nor ever chaste”?
AG: I will never be pure unless God ..takes him…. rapes him..fucks him, unless he’s fucked by God, unless he has an orgasm with God, or union with God. But the only way he can habe union with God is if God comes down and loves him, or takes him. In other words, this is a completely helpless human condition, a traditional view of the human condition, which is that God is outside of the universe but breaks through time and descends in the spirit to people and gives them ecstasy. It’s the.. it’s a traditional, old traditional (actually un-Buddhist view, in a way, because it’s a very Christian monotheistic view), the idea that there is a Supreme Person of the universe,who is conscious of the alienated Fallen Man and who will come down and save the Fallen Man or Woman by entering his soul. And you have to pray and be good, or obey the rules, or be ascetic in order to deserve this vision or bliss. But you have to wait for God to give you the bliss, to achieve the bliss in you.
I went through that for years. It took me about twenty years to get out of that, actually.
It is.. I think the common terms are of the Western religious experience (even mystical experience in a way), the intermittent, the commonest term – Western “intermittent” bliss, mystical experience. That is where it is not a slow, steady, path of accumulation of awareness but where there’s expectetd to be divine fireworks and a descent of bliss entering into the brain, which then can get into, like..like (Antonin) Artaud or (Vincent) Van Gogh or (Arthur) Rimbaud, you know, “seizures, of frantic light doth seize my brain” – in madness or acid, or some version of it which is, “batter(ing) my heart”, you know, battering your head against the wall to get it, commit suicide.. That leads also to, sometimes, to the idea, “lest I die, I can’t be with God” – or “Die, if thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek”, therefore the fastest way is to commit suicide (except the Church says, “no, that isn’t that either!). So..that old..psycho… – It’s a real acme of Western mystical idea(s). So I like your distinction between “religious” and “mystical” – “religious” is thinking about the mystical experience all the time, “mystical” is actually having it.
Student; Was (William) Blake religious then?
AG: He was anti-religious.
Student: Oh he was?
AG: In the sense of anti- this kind of theory – and this depends on the idea that there’s somebody outside, there’s a God outside.
Student: ..which doesn’t imply experience
AG: Pardon me?
Student: …which doesn’t imply experience then..
AG: Well, there ‘s the idea that there is an experience of connection, that maybe you’ve had it, intermittently, but to get the complete thing. – “When thou hast done, then thou hast done” – In other words, Donne has to be taken up to the God of Death to be completely one with Christ. So it’s actually the opposite of the notion of “Be Here Now”, so to speak, or of awareness and mindfulness as being the ultimate state (which is like a path of accumulation of patience in the Orient). Here, it would be some violent breakthrough (or not even a breakthrough, one way or the other), which the religious person could provoke by asceticism or self-disdain, or calling, you know, submission to divine rape!..
Student: (Give up)
Student (Give up)
AG: Is that the way to do it? – that reality comes in from the outside
Student: …People grind you into dust until finally you just let go – Who do you think you are? – and one way (that you)….
AG: Except this does depend on the idea of a sort of liquid bliss supreme spirit coming in, infusing into the brain. I guess.. There’s lots of poets that have this.
And from now on in, in English poetry, we’re going to be stuck with this thing, the… stuck with this painful lifting of the asshole to heaven to be raped!
Peter Orlovsky: What did Donne think of Shakespeare? Did Donne study Shakespeare and read everything Shakespeare wrote and…
AG: Mmm, I don’t know about that. He probably thought Shakespeare was.. I’m guessing ..something – what other people thought about Donne in relation to Shakespeare, he probably thought that Shakespeare was great and wild but..but didn’t have religion, you know, didn’t have that mystical ecstasy shot, didn’t have the golden supreme single-point golden bliss that Donne was aiming at. And that supreme single-point golden bliss lasts in English poetry all the way up to T.S.Eliot, before it begins to break up again, but it dominates English poetry (at least the spiritual side of English poetry gets hung up with that, one form or another) with.. of calling upon the divine abstraction to come down and enter..like, you know, like lightning-bolts through the top of the skull….
Student: Is that different from the ancient thing of invoking the muse?
AG: I think so, yeah. Because the idea was you would invoke the muse and then begin chanting and then the muse would inspire you, and if you were accomplished, you could do it and then it was done. And the other one that invokes the muse in that way…well (John) Milton does, for rational purposes, but (William) Blake does, more successfully than anyone I know, call,,. but, he says the muse should come down and go down the nerves of his right arm (that’s a funny way of doing it!)
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighty-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately ninety-one minutes in]