Allen Ginsberg and “The Shrouded Stranger”

Lamont Cranston – The Shadow –  “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”

AG: This isn’t in the the same meter (as Tom O’ Bedlam) but it’s a similar theme – [Allen next proceeds to read, in its entirety, his poem “The Shrouded Stranger“] – So that was somewhat the same theme. And then (Jack) Kerouac, at the same time, was saying, or conceiving.. We were discussing the notion of the shrouded stranger, a ghostly figure, or, you know, a shroud of New York, a shroud of the East River.  So he wrote up… (or a shroud of the Merrimack River).. a ghost arising out of the river and scaring everybody, death (sex, death).

Student: What is the name of that?

AG: This is called “The Shrouded Stranger”  (page thirty-four of The Gates of Wrath). So Kerouac wrote Doctor Sax, a couple of years later. That was of the same image, basically.

Student:  Do you consider any of your work in, you know, .in periods –  where, you know, there were, like, changes, you know, when you, you know, you went through a time when  certain types of things fascinated you? 

AG: Yes, this is.. these are all written imitations, when I was in college

Student; Was that in your closet or out of the closet?

AG: You mean..?   sexually?

Student:  You were presenting your early poetry. Were you writing it while you were still in the closet or did you…

AG:  Sexually in the closet?

Student: Yeah, exactly.

AG: Well, no – this is…  It’d… Yes and no. It’s pretty overt, the erotic – “I give my body to an old gas tank”,  “Maid or dowd or athlete proud” – that’s taken straight from this “Come dame, or maid, be not afraid/Poor Tom will injure nothing – “Maid or dowd or athlete proud/May wanton with me in the shroud”

Student; That part, where “Apollo humps (your) back”, in the second stanza (sounds like…)

AG: Yeah , I’m also being fucked by the Sun! – It’s also a mystical poem – I”ve been fucked by the Sun, and the I..  Jack Frost, a masculine Jack Frost…)

Student: The whole things kind of overt, though, it’s not distinctly out of the closet

AG: No, it’s just.. it’s on the surface.

Student:Do you you consider that, like, a change in your direction?

AG: Well, this is alright, this is  open enough it’s erotic enough – “I hide and wait like a naked child…” – (masturbating under bridges, I guess,  I mean, “I hide and wait like a naked child/Under the bridge my heart goes wild” – that’s an American experience! – getting naked under a bridge at night and jacking-off, while the railroad train passes over, I guess, that’s a…  you couldn’t get more American than that!)

Student (2): It could be in a car?

AG: What?

Student (2): It could be in a car?

AG: Well, yes.  This is the (nineteen) thirties, you know!

Student; In the seven-year period, tho’,  between The Town and The City  and On The Road,  Kerouac’s  style changed drastically… (Is there any similar) graphic change in your own

AG: Well, no,  shit,..this is all still trying to do it in terms of the classical meters – And, slightly in the closet, yeah – I’ll show you some other poems, I’ll give.. I’ll get to some other poems. which are direct love-poems to Neal Cassady, done in (John) Donne-style

Student; You wrote that (“Shrouded Stranger”)  before, long before you got it published, right? . That was (when)?

AG:: Oh yeah, this was published in… I wrote that in nineteen forty-eight,  and this was published in nineteen… when was it published? – seventy-two

Student: (So it wasn’t contemporaneously published)

AG: No this was published in 1972.

Student:  I heard (Bob) Dylan might have helped with that

AG: I don’t know. I loaned it to somebody who… way back when.. who just circulated it around. I remember I took it to England, and brought it back, and then I don’t know how it got..  a friend, Lizzie Lehrman, and she just circulated it..  I just showed it to people, in nineteen fifty-three, (fifty-one, fifty-two),  And (then) I lost it, the manuscript, actually. And I didn’t have a duplicate. And. somehow or other, it wound up in (Bob) Dylan’s hands, in nineteen sixty-seven (that’s right, that’s the reason it wasn’t published earlier, I didn’t have a copy).

And he said he had this book of mine, and I went up and saw him in Woodstock, about nineteen sixty.. (seven, eight?), around the time that those Indians.. – Nashville Skyline? {Editorial note – no, John Wesley Harding ],,, were there – the guys on the cover, the American Indian fellow and the gardener, on the cover) – (and) he had this manuscript (which amazed me). I had a couple of poems that weren’t in it, so (I) put it all together.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seven-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately thirteen-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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