Allen Ginsberg and Tom Schwartz on John Milton – 2

William Blake – The Temptation and Fall of Eve. (1808) – illustration of Milton’s Paradise Lost

Allen’s 1980 Naropa Basic Poetry class continues – {Allen is joined by his friend Tom Schwartz in a discussion of the poetics of John Milton and the opening of Paradise Lost]

AG: So..what’s it? – the first lines are. “Of Man’s first Dis-“, – (that’s.., the accent falls on the fourth syllable)  – Then  “Of that forbid-den tree”- (four syllables)  – “Brought death into the World” – (six. syllables) – “With loss of E-den” – (four syllables) – till one greater Man/Restore us, and regain” – (six)  “Restore us, and regain” – (six) – “Sing..” (good accents on the first. part. “Sing, Heavenly Muse! . So he’s got two there.  But he’s got built up connections on the “Muse” – “Sing, Heavenly Muse! ” – (just one. two, three) –  one,,  But actually (it’s)  not “Sing Heavenly Music, here’s the cute trick – “Heav’nly”. – “Sing Heavn’ly Muse” ( and he’s got H-E-A-V-apostrophe-N-L-Y – he left out the “E” so that he could make that into two instead of three, otherwise he’d have “Sing Heav-en-ly Muse”   that would put it on the fifth syllable) but he’s got ” “Sing Heavn’ly Muse”  – 1-2-3-4. – (So he meant it, just for real, and there were lots who didn’t like that).
It’s just an interesting thing to note – that any way you look into Milton, would that be so?…

TS: I checked in a few places. It seems to hold. I can’t  see why. There’s fourteen thousand lines of his poems (so there might be some variants).  Also there,  a traditional iambic pentameter. isn’t..  just isn’t right, (because, with fourteen thousand lines of iambic pentameter, it would drive somebody nuts!)

AG: Yeah, and if it were an iambic pentameter it would be [Allen proceeds to chant in iambics] –   “Of Man‘s first disobedience/and the fruit/Of that forbid-den tree whose mort-al taste..”,  and.. that’s what you would get in sort of a dumb.., someone without an ear.  So you’ve got two things going, – he’s got this varying accent here,  which can go go into fourths and sixths, and any musician (can) realize what a fantastic thing that is to have, to use  – da-da-da. da-da da – or  “Of Man’s first dis-obedience” – no, “Of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit..”, ..” of that forbid-den tree”  “of that forbid-den tree”, ” of that for..” “of that for..” – yeah – “of that for-bidden” – “of that for-bidden fruit” – “bidden-tree” – “for-bidden tree”  – (you can put your accents wherever you want there… Does that make sense to any musician here?  He’s got that  rhythmic thing you can vary  and..

TS: (Well, actually that could be read other ways)

AG: Pardon

TS: It could be read other ways

AG: Yeah, or you could read it..either one, most of the time, but I think you could say  “Of Man’s first dis-obedience” – 1-2-3-4-disobedience – instead of…

Student; Well, I’ve got…

TS:  That would be the fourth or the fifth

AG:  “Bidden” – “For-bidden”

TS: It falls in the middle of the line on the fourth or fifth, and it’s just a matter of what your ears hear, it’s (no more) than that

AG:  ..or which way you want to say it.

TS” ..I chose that because of the  double-vowels or a long vowels that were…

AG  (I never realized that in Milton, it’ a big deal (and) interesting this). You get an ear for it after a while.

Student: Is there any sort of consistency between the vowel.. the tones in the vowels,.. are they all acute or grave, they go up and down, on those stress points?

TS: I don’t know

AG: Wherever the stress builds up, generally. In English, it seems that whenever there is extra stress, there’s a higher pitch. For instance, let’s take  “of that forbidden”, –  “of that forbidden tree”,  you put the stress on the “tree”,  then the “tree” goes up – “the tree”  (whereas if you put the stress on “forbidden” – ” “of that forbidden tree”, – “Man’s first  disobedience/and the fruit/Of that forbidden tree” – “forbid-den tree” –  then the “tree” will come down and “bid” will be up) – or if you want it to be the tree – “that forbidden tree”, -dig? – Is that clear?   Whichever part… whichever (filament of)  stress will be the one that’ll go up and control the pitch, would tie up the scale, would be where you put the stress, normally.

AG:  (to TS) ” Is there anything more that you need to deliver?    There was one thing that I dredged up that I wanted to add..

TS:  There’s some other things, which I’m (mega)- in(to).. I got so far in my head and nuts today, that I don’t think I…(can..)

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-four-and-three-quarterminutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-nine minutes in ] 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *