Allen Ginsberg, continuing his 1980 Basic Poetics class at Naropa – here
AG: Well, he lives only.. (Richard) Lovelace lives only forty years. The commentator here says, “a life of only forty years spent in such vicissitude give little opportunity for that retirement from the world that art and scholarship require” – So, now, Lovelace has written a couple of classics, that everybody knows, by heart actually – “To Althea From Prison” – maybe… who would like to read that? – does anybody know this poem? – Remember “Stone walls do not a prison make/Nor iron bars a cage”? – That’s his great (line)… I mean that charming man did that.. Who wants to read that? [to Student] – Yes, Andrew (sic) – but read it vigorously! – for you’re “the handsomest man in London”
[At approximately forty-five-and-a-half minutes in, Student (A) reads Lovelace’s classic poem]
“When Love with unconfinèd wings/ Hovers within my Gates,/ And my divine Althea brings/ To whisper at the Grates;/ When I lie tangled in her hair,/ And fettered to her eye,/ The Gods that wanton in the Air,/ Know no such Liberty./. When flowing Cups run swiftly round/ With no allaying Thames,/ Our careless heads with Roses bound,/ Our hearts with Loyal Flames;/ When thirsty grief in Wine we steep, /When Healths and draughts go free,/ Fishes that tipple in the Deep/ Know no such Liberty./. When (like committed linnets) I/ With shriller throat shall sing/ The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty,/ And glories of my King;/ When I shall voice aloud how good/ He is, how Great should be,/ Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood,/Know no such Liberty./. Stone Walls do not a Prison make,/Nor Iron bars a Cage;/ Minds innocent and quiet take/ That for an Hermitage./ If I have freedom in my Love,/ And in my soul am free,/Angels alone that soar above,/ Enjoy such Liberty.”
AG; A bit like Emily Dickinson – “Debauchee of dew am I and tippler of the sun” – remember? She has funny little lines like that – [Editorial note – Allen is recalling two lines from Dickinson’s poem, ” I taste a liquor never brewed” – “Inebriate of air am I / And debauchee of dew” and “To see the little tippler/Leaning against the sun!” ]
“Fishes that tipple in the deep.”. “tipple”, drinking in the deep, nobody knows what that is? I haven’t been going over the meanings of these poems, particularly. I’m assuming that they’re more or less clear. If anybody gets stuck on something and wants to know what it means, we can go over it. So, we can always stop to check out any particular stanza, or verse, or line, that you really like, or like to check out. Go on.
Student (A): – “When (like committed linnets)…”
AG ; But it’s so good – “When (like committed linnets)” – get the “t’s – “When (like committed linnets)” – Go on.
Student (A): I…
AG: Oh come on, do the line!
Student (A) (continues) : “When (like committed linnets) I/ With shriller throat shall sing/ The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty,/ And glories of my King;/ When I shall voice aloud how good/ He is, how Great should be,/Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood,/ Know no such Liberty./ Stone Walls do not a Prison make,/ Nor Iron bars a Cage;/ Minds innocent and quiet take/ That for an Hermitage./ If I have freedom in my Love,/ And in my soul am free,/Angels alone that soar above/Enjoy such Liberty.”
AG: Hmm. so there’s lots of poets, apparently, that wound up in really badly off in the jail (like we’ve had Raleigh’s poems – the last poems from jail). So, apparently, there’s quite a bit of politics that’s all along been involved with these delicate rosy lyric poets, amazingly.
And the other, “To Lucasta Going to the Wars” – (actually, I’ve always thought this was a reactionary poem – and these guys really were kind of reactionary, I imagine – saying he wants to leave the girl and go to war). Incidentally, in Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos, as you may remember, if you go back in your brain, at one point, when he’s talking about the ..”Lawes and Jenkyn, guard thy rest, Dolmetsch ever be thy guest” – he says “at my gates no Althea” – “at my gates no Althea”, referring to this Lovelace poem, “To Althea From Prison” – “at my gates no Althea”. Now ( (page) three sixty (page) three sixty two) – “Lucasta Going To (the)” Wars” – who would like to do that? – Chris
[ Student (C) reads “To Lucasta Going to the Wars” ]
“Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,/ That from the nunnery/ Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind/ To war and arms I fly/. . True, a new mistress now I chase,/ The first foe in the field;/ And with a stronger faith embrace/A sword, a horse, a shield. Yet this inconstancy is such/ As you too shall adore;/ I could not love thee (Dear) so much,/ Lov’d I not Honour more.”
AG; Lov’d I not honor more” … Lov’d I not Honour more” – But you read that well, I thought. You read that well, you minded the commas (thank God!) – That made sense. Did you follow? He was sticking with the commas right? He made good sense in breathing. You know that line, “I could not.love thee (Dear) so much/Lov’d I not Honor more.” It’s also famous, like “Stone Walls do not a Prison make,/ Nor Iron bars a Cage”
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-four-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty minutes in]