We have already featured Allen Ginsberg reading the opening of Paradise Lost. Here, continuing in his 1980 Naropa “Basic Poetics’ class, he recites (and passingly annotates) long sections of Book Nine of the poem
The audio begins here, approximately fifty-seven and-three-quarter minutes in
AG: So it (Book Nine of Paradise Lost) begins:
“No more of talk where God or Angel guest/With Man, as with his friend, familiar us’d, To sit indulgent, and with him partake/Rural repast; permitting him the while/Venial discourse unblam’d. I now must change/Those notes to tragic; foul distrust, and breach Disloyal on the part of Man, revolt,./And disobedience: on the part of Heaven/Now alienated, distance and distaste,/Anger and just rebuke, and judgement given,/ That brought into this world a world of woe,/Sin and her shadow Death, and Misery Death’s harbinger: Sad talk! yet argument/Not less but more heroic than the wrath Of stern Achilles on his foe pursued/Thrice fugitive about Troy wall “..- (the subject of the Iliad) – “or rage/Of Turnus for Lavinia disespous’d” – (I don’t know what epic that refers to… Nah, it’s some ancient epic – it’s probably some.. Turnus? who? – probably you can look it up in… as (Jack) Kerouac says, “Well, you can look it up in a book if the right words are important”).
..Aeneid.. Aeneas this is..ok, Aeneid ] – “Or Neptune’s ire, or Juno’s, that so long/Perplexed the Greek, and Cytherea’s son” – (that’s Achilles] – “If answerable style I can obtain/ Of my celestial patroness, who deigns/Her nightly visitation unimplor’d/,And dictates to me slumbering; or inspires/Easy my unpremeditated verse:/Since first this subject for heroic song/Pleas’d me long choosing, and beginning late;/Not sedulous by nature to indite/Wars, hitherto the only argument/Heroic deem’d chief mastery to dissect With long and tedious havoc fabled knights/In battles feign’d; the better fortitude Of patience and heroic martyrdom/Unsung; or to describe races and games,/Or tilting furniture, emblazon’d shields,/Impresses quaint, caparisons and steeds,/Bases and tinsel trappings, gorgeous knights/At joust and tournament; then marshall’d feast/Serv’d up in hall with sewers and seneschals;/The skill of artifice or office mean,/Not that which justly gives heroic name/ To person, or to poem.
Me, of these/Nor skill’d nor studious, higher argument/Remains; sufficient of itself to raise/That name, unless an age too late, or cold Climate, or years, damp my intended wing/Depress’d; and much they may, if all be mine, Not hers, who brings it nightly to my ear” -(he’s talking about his Muse, Urania, which, there, Urania, the heavenly Muse, note whom Milton invoked at the beginning of Book 1 – “Sing, Heavenly Muse” – so getting back to his Muse again, to call her, but discussing, like, the nature of the Muse),
So, did you follow what he was saying? – that he was not interested anymore in fighting the old wars, the old stupid human wars, or tournaments of night, and all the tinsel and the banquets. and everybody’s bullshit, he’s actually going to talk about the ultimate wars, the great spiritual war, the actual war in Eden, the war between Satan and God himself., and not going to get hung up like..like that dope Homer, or others, on the, you know, merely human scene, he’s going to get the metaphysical conflict in. So now he gets to the narrative. Having stated his case, he gets to the narrative:
“The sun was sunk, and after him the star/Of Hesperus, whose office is to bring/Twilight upon the earth” – (well he was the evening star) – “short arbiter/ ‘Twixt day and night, and now from end to end/Night’s hemisphere had veil’d the horizon round:/When Satan, who late fled before the threats/Of Gabriel out of Eden” – (“of Ga-bri-el-out-of-E-den” – six syllables – Gabriel out of Eden) – now improv’d/In meditated fraud” (“in-med-it-ta-ted-fraud”, six again) – “and malice, bent/On Man’s destruction” – (“On Man’s destruct” – one,two, three, four) – lion”) – ” maugre what might hap/Of heavier on himself, fearless returned..” – Well, it goes on and on and on and on. Do you want to hear anymore of this?.
Do you like it, or…? Is it..? What I’m afraid of is to go into it for fear that I’ll have to stop at every line and explain, what is “maugre”? who is Hesperus? what is Hesperus? who’s Gabriel? – Can we do without all the explanation for a while? Is that alright? – Because I feel.. There may be.. like Lloyd (sic) is that alright
Student (Loyd): That’s fine. I’ll just go right on…
AG: You don’t even have the text there!… you’ll just wind up feeling bored and confused, or something… okay, anyone else not got a text? because I got extras..
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-seven-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in]