George Herbert -7 (“Death” – 2)

Allen Ginsberg and his Naropa students continue their discussion about George Herbert’s metaphysical poem, “Death”

Student; I love the reasoning (in the poem)….

AG: Well, it’s not so much reasoning. It’s just making up, you know, some funny ideas about death

Student: (Yeah, I know – (our close) relationship to death)

AG ; Yeah, well, it’s going to get worse before we’re out of the thicket. It seems to accompany the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, the mills of thought begin grinding. This is.. what? Sixteen thirty-nine? . It’s the beginning, they’re exploiting America, you know, their bringing all the tobacco back and pretty soon they’ll be founding satanic factories all over in..

Peter Orlovsky : Sugar is popular then.

AG: Yeah, bringing in sugar. It’s the beginning of, like the modern world (the Medieval days are over, the Renaissance is over and people are really getting addicted, at this point.

Student: Serious.

AG: Pardon me?

Student: They’re going to get down and get serious.

AG: Yes, they’re going to get serious. They’re going to start all sorts of troubles from now on in, and.. And it’s all accompanied by this centralization of abstraction, apparently – and also S & M going on with it, like “My child”.. you know, like, what did God say when “The Collar , at the end? – “Child! And … My Lord.” ) – so people are going to start considering themselves as a little babe-children and answer to “My Lord” – (which would be alright, because it’s psychologically accurate to the way we are, actually, except that the questioner is not ourselves but is a deus ex machina coming down – as we will see more and more, until we finally get to (John) Milton and you’ve got the whole freaky scenario of the universe and somebody outside of it and a floor that opens up and goes into Hell, and… And then.. Then (William) Blake comes along and says, “Oh, no, no, this is too much” .

Student: What does “I will abroad” mean here?

AG: I’ll go abroad, I’ll get out of here. I think,,Is there a note? – I will abroad” – “broad” is the table. Yeah, my lines of life are free– free, on the road, yeah, “I’ll go on the road abroad. Why do I have to wait around here and get hung up on being good? You know, I want more…(Love).. Now that’s a question….

Student; I have a question about that.

AG: Yeah?

Student; Did you.. Are you saying he meant to be humorous?

AG: Pardon me?

Student: When you say certain lines are funny, are you saying,..

AG: Oh I think… O I think “Death” is totally humorous. Well it’s a mixture, you know, He’s talking about death, naturally, but he’s talking about it in such a witty, funny, goofy way, saying that you were “once an uncouth hideous thing/ Nothing but bones,” – Death, there was once a time when you were nothing but bones, but now we’ve got some flesh on you with Christ going..” – I think that’s pretty funny, I think. Well, ok, “funny”, in the sense, (Jack) Kerouac has this one three-word-phrase, which always turned me on to Shakespearehe said “Genius is funny” – “Genius is funny”, meaning the ideas are so acute, are so fine, so original, say, and so inventive that there’s an energy and a spark. sparky-ness, as they say (perkiness or spark, or little humorous ambitiousness) to go beyond thought and go into.. like go beyond the prison of, like, a heavy thought, heavy-handed thought – to be playful, to be playful with the notion of death. In fact, he’s saying Christ made death playful. And it is playful when he says “We now behold thee gay and glad,/ As at Doomsday;” – Well anybody who says…”How Happy to be in Judgment Day..

Student: (The grave gives no warning, there you go…)

AG: Pardon me?

Student; (That the grave gives no warning…..)

AG: Yeah – Except it’s more intellectual – “Death, (That) thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing” – It is not necessarily intended to, you know, be a gospel that’s going to break through gloom, but it’s just sort of a lot of funny remarks about it.

Well, also the idea of “shooting short” (and) “Dry dust, which sheds no tears, but may extort (tears)” –(if you didn’t understand what that meant – “Dry dust, which sheds no tears, but may extort tears” – We looked on this side of the..“shooting short”…We looked on the grieving side of death, you know, we didn’t look beyond the grave for the resurrection for God and Paradise and Hell and whatever, and we just looked on this side, And so we were scared, because all we saw, “shooting short”, all we saw was a bunch of dust and bones and yellow rags and bracelets around the bones and bright hair and all that..

Peter Orlovsky: What is “fledge souls?  “ F-L-E-D-G-E?

AG: Fledge souls.

Student: Fledge.

Student: Newly-arrived.

AG: Pardon me?

Student; Newly-arrived.

AG: Newly arrived. Just hatched – Well, fledglings are the.. little feathered birds. but ‘new-fledged” would be new-born, new hatched. So the souls had been hatched (but) their shells have been left behind (i.e. the bodies) or, as Ramakrishna said, “the body is nothing.. the corpse is nothing but an old pillow”, or a shell. The shells of new-hatched souls have been left behind here on this side of death as dry dust which sheds no tears but which dry dust might extort our tears, (in other words, might draw tears from the living who see the corpse)

“But since our Savior’s death did put some blood /Into thy face” ( that’s pretty nice- since Christ’s death put some blood into the face of a skeleton (the corpse).) – Thou art now “much in request, much sought for as a good”. And then, not only that, there’ll be Doomsday, where everyone will be dressed like birds of paradise and therefore we can go sleep and have an honest grave and some people will be sleeping on down, on beds of down (or down into dust).

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-two-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-nine minutes in]

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