More on Metrics – 2

Allen Ginsberg, San Francisco, 1956 – Photograph by Harry Redl

Allen Ginsberg continues, lecturing his Naropa students on metrics

AG: “Moloch who’s eyes….. da da-da da, da-da da da , da-da da ,da-da da-da da, da-da.. And if you have a gang of choruses going bop-pa-pa-bom, bop-pa-pa-bom, you’ve got something very powerful going on And so, in.. without knowing it, just intuitively, I was using choriambic and variations of choriambic meters, in the Moloch section of “Howl” – “Moloch-who’s-eyes-are-a-thous-and-blind-wind-ows” – (da-da da da-da da da-da da da-da) – “thousand-blind-windows”, “thousand-blind-wind..” “Moloch-who’s-eyes-are-a-thous-and-blind-wind-ows” – So it’s a combination of choriambic and anapestic – “Moloch-who’s-eyes” are “a thous-and blind wind-…”

Student: That would be a dochmiac. though, “a thousand blind windows”

AG: “A thousand blind windows” would be a dochmaic. Yeah, choriambic and a dochmiac, I never did figure them out, actually. Some day I’ve got to sit down and make the marks correctly.

So,well, the reason I’m going through this, it strikes me that it might be possible to teach advanced ecstatic poetics by pointing out these meters as natural to the language and pointing out that they do exist as possibilities for composition, and then saying why don’t we try writing something in those kind of meters, and see what, you know… I haven’t formulated yet what kind of exercise but just…well we’ll pass these out. [class hand-out, “A Synopsis of Metrical Systems] and I think, maybe a little bit later, begin to try some experiments in doing those meters.

I have one … I’ve never been self-conscious of it, but I’ve one always been working with it, like, in the Journals, the book of journals I put out. there’s a thing called “Rhythmic Paradigm”, which is a long run, maybe about ten lines, of these kind of mixed meters that begins, “Blasted be Congress and Blast ..” – no, – “Damned be the Congress, and Blast be the President, Fuck be the da da da da da, God-damn finks!” – That’s the first line – “Blasted be the Congress and Fuck to the President and da da da-da and God-damn finks!”, “something the Senators, God-damn finks”. – “House of Representatives” – da-da da da da-da, you know ..there’s a whole thing.. (I’ll have to bring that in.) – [Editorial note: the actual first line -“Blasted be Congress and doom on the White House and cursed are the works of our Mayors and Priests”].. I never worked it out. I was never.. never was able to continue it, because I didn’t really know the principles I was working on, and I didn’t know how to break down and analyze it and continue – (I probably could now).

But I remember when I was writing “Howl”, I did have occasion of one or two lines where I got stuck, you know, where the rhythm didn’t quite sound right, I really did have to analyze it out, not knowing the names, but knowing what was going where, and what the units were, and then, either reproducing, or varying it. So I did actually do analytics in putting together this kind of analytic stuff, and putting together.. you know, just a short, not a long time.. just.. something stuck. So I just figured out the lines a little bit,, and then saw how I could make it a little more symmetrical, a little more… And I did that on a couple of occasions when I’d been trying to write at the height, you know, when I’d get something going that’s really rolling, and was in that kind of a high meter. I do find knowledge of the.. at least… if not names, if not knowing necessarily the names, at least knowing, this.. how to notate long and short, or heavy and light.

Student: Did you turn it to a foot, though? or did you ..

AG: No, I wasn’t even…I didn’t think in feet, I just sort of.. I saw that I was going da-da da da-da da, so then the next thing should be da-da da da da or da da da da da da-da, or something.

Student: (Using five…)

AG: Oh, I was using five, and even seven. See, I think in sevens and eights even. I think everybody does, you know, like, when they’re high, when you’re excited or interested, but you can think in.. You see, I think we’re… The interesting thing is that, in high school, we’re we’re trained to think only in two (those who are trained in this at all – in iambic and trochaic – and most people are) -are trained to think in two, and then the most they get is from Longfellow – three – This-is-the-for-est-prim-eval-the-mur-mur-ing-pines-and-the-hemlocks”dactylic – those are taught and also the anapest is taught – “And the wind in the…” something like that – “The As-syrian-came-down-like-a-wolf-on-the-fold” because Byron and Longfellow, and a few of the Romantic poets, added the. three-beat meters (two of the three-beat meters, there’s one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight, there’s eight varities of the three-beat meter..

[Allen continues with his lecture on meter, but now moves over, to demonstrate on the blackboard]

AG [at the blackboard] : There’s anapest and dactyl (that means the anapest is two short and one long, the dactyl is two long and.. So the anapest is… and the dactyl is… So it’s still one stress and two little short or long.. I’m mixing up length of stress (but I just use them interchangeably, but for the Greeks it’s…) – Is that alright? It’s not too confusing? Is that confusing to anybody? Now, there’s also the possible… what if you had this.. and that’s also a three-syllable foot , why not? and then… or this? – “Boy-oh-boy!,” (that’s the) Boy-oh-boy! one) – or there’s positions, there’s lots of different positions…or ,as we had here, next, the.. and that’s the..what? the molossus, this one?….(that’s an odd name for it, the molossus)... the molossus, the tribrach… Well I’ll tell.. I was just pointing out the logic of it – one, two, three, four, five, six, seven – but after that.. twelve.. Well, the logical way would be…..if you have to do it the logical way is, you’ve got – one, two, three… these are all the logical sequences……[Allen continues to mark up on the blackboard …’s like the I Ching! – one-two-three-four-five-six .. I must’ve missed one..

Student: Short long, short….. right before the last one..

AG: Yes.. right, So that makes eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. So that ‘s the possibility of eight syllables for that one. And then, if you have a four-syllable line, you have sixteen possibilities, sixteen variations. Those would be the paeonic and the epitritus. I’ll pass out a sheet which has them. So…

In other words, speech rhythm does go in that direction, and would be covered by one of them and you could actually have whole series like that – or whole series like that – “Oh help him”, “Oh help him” – “God damn it”, “Betrayed it”, “He laid it”, “He made it” . In fact, (Bob) Dylan uses that, something like that – “I don’t wanna modify you.. betray you..

Student: Mistreat you?

AG: What is it? [Allen is trying to remember]

Student; “You got a…” – “You gotta lot of nerve/ to say you are my friend…”

AG: “I don’t want to (die) for you.. be like you.. see like you, be like me … that’s..,, “be like me” “be like you” “I don’t wanna be like you” [Allen attempts singing the words to “All I Really Want To Do” ] – It generates a, see, heavy sound, ” two heavy and one light ...”I don’t wanna be like you,/make you…” – So that would be called the antibacchiusda da-da da da-da – “be like you” – antibacchius? – this one, I think, you know, or some variety of that…..

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-four-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately forty and three-quarter minutes in]

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