Allen Ginsberg’s 1980 Basic Poetics class (at Naropa) – continuing from here
AG: So, the next experiment I did (was) with Miltonics – Milton. This is my Miltonics. It was pretty sick Miltonics. Because what it is, is a total – 1949 -it’s a.. I think I was either coming or.. going to-and-fro from.. Bedlam – New York State Psychiatric Institute, and I was convinced that there was a supernatural consciousness that I had to achieve and I was not achieving it, and that I wouldn’t achieve it until I died, or that death was maybe the nature of that consciousness, and so this was, like, a prayer addressed to a living.. a living divinity idea. It’s called “Psalm”. So it’s actually the first – Psalm 1, I believe – of a series that I’ve continued under the... wherever I get the idea of writing to some vast divinity, say.
“AH, still Lord, ah sweet Divinity/Incarnate in our grave and holy substance/ /Circumscribed in this hexed endless world/Of Time, that turns a triple face, from Hell/Imprisoned joy’s incognizable thought…” – (so I was defining “Hell” as “imprisoned visionary joy”, imprisoned somewhere in our consciousness, or in our body, as some kind of thought that nobody can think, some thought so complicated that nobody could think it, “incognizable”, unknowable thought – Imprisoned joy’s incognizable thought…” – so that’s very Miltonic-sounding and very philosophic-sounding, (and I’m sure it appealed to my mind, as very intellectual), but it doesn’t mean a fucking thing, actually! – it has no reference – it ultimately has no reference. And that’s the problem with this whole thing – Sounds good, though! So it’s all in the mouthing of the syllables, finally).
“AH, still Lord, ah sweet Divinity/Incarnate in our grave and holy substance/ /Circumscribed in this hexed endless world/Of Time” – (that’s nice – a “hexed endless world/Of Time/that turns a triple face, from Hell/Imprisoned joy’s incognizable thought/To mounted earth that shudders to conceive” – (“mounted” meaning earth being mounted by angels, and fucked by the angels, I don’t know) – “that shudders to conceive” – (to bear birth to some apocalypse)
“Toward angels, borne unseen out of this world,/Transate the speechless stanzas of the rose/ Into my poem and I vow to copy/Every petal on a page, perfume/ My mind, ungardened, and in weedy earth;/ Let these dark leaves be lit with images/That strike like lightning from eternal mind,/Truths that are not visible in any light/That changes and is Time, like flesh or theory,/Corruptible like any clock of meat/That sickens and runs down to die,/With all those structures and machinery/Whose bones and bridges break and wash to sea/And are dissolved into green salt and coral..” – (Well this is just a good big long mouthful. I was trying to impress (Jack Kerouac. (and) William) Burroughs, I thought (it) was actually, you know, kind of abstract and impossible, but Burroughs liked that line, “clock of meat./That sickens and runs down to die” – Yeah, it’s a good line, that phrase. Kerouac adopted it and Burroughs adopted it – the phrase “clock of meat” or “meat clock” (or “Meat Science Essays” later, twenty years later, from (Michael) McClure) – Meat Science Essays. They used the word” meat” as an adjective rather than a noun ( a meat adjective rather than noun) – “Let’s have your meat, sir”. Pardon me?
AG: Yeah, and meat thoughts – “pleasure meeting you, sir” (and) “Big meaty negroes trying not to die”, as I wrote the other day in that warrior poem [“Verses Written For Student Antidraft Registration Rally, 1980”] – or “Big meaty negroes trying not to die”. It was a funny way of. suddenly realizing that the meat was without soul, block of meat, annata, so, some notion of annata, or realization that our nature isn’t…. of human beings, you know divine, human personages as being a bunch of meat, (or, as (Gregory) Corso later said, “a hairy bag of water”) – The human condition – a hairy bag of water. “Clock of meat” – but that appealed to Burroughs somehow – semi-metaphysical mechanics – meaty mechanics -It had a nice run there.
“Truths that are not visible in any light/That changes and is Time, like flesh or theory,/Corruptible like any clock of meat/That sickens and runs down to die,/With all those structures and machinery/Whose bones and bridges break and wash to sea/And are dissolved into green salt and coral – (all the “green salt and coral ” came out of Hart Crane, actually, it was Hart Crane’s influence – and “Full fathom five thy father lies/Of his bones are coral made”. Same images. I was actually recycling all the old images that I’d been reading in these poems.
Then, it gets a little bit symbolic about... private symbols of the time – “A Bird of Paradise..” – (these are all symbols of some kind of eternal resurrection) – “A Bird of Paradise, the Nightingale/I cried for not so long ago, the poet’s/Phoenix and the erotic Swan/Which descended and transfigured Time./And all but destroyed it, in the Dove/I speak of now is here, I saw it here,/The Miracle which no man knows entire,/Nor I myself, but shadow is my prophet,/I cast a shadow that surpasses me,/And I write, shadow changes into bone,/To say that still Word, the prophetc image/Beyond our present strenth of flesh to bear…” – (that’s a paraphrase of T.S.Eliot‘s “Go (go go) said the bird: human-kind/ Cannot bear very much reality ” from “The Four Quartets”)… “that still Word..” – so this is Eliotic, actually, it’s very much of the same Johnny One-Note, pining for eternal vision, or grace, or a flash of visionary consciousness, or entering in “the still Word” that T.S.Eliot speaks of in “The Four Quartets” , (like, a still point of the turning world)- That’s.. I was obsessed with the idea of that, you know, a psychedelic consciousness – I don’t think we’d taken acid (I’d take peyote three years… three years later peyote appeared on the scene), but, I’d always had some kind of a weird experience. So..
And, so, by “shadow changes into bone”, I meant that the imagination of an eternal world, and imagination of some absolute beauty, a shadow of it, does actually become corporeal and real and then harden and manifest itself, solid as a rock or thick as a bone, or something (and it’s probably at the time of death). So, “shadow”, the imagination of eternity, probably, comes true at the moment of death was what I meant – “shadow changes into bone”. That was my motto for about four years. I was going around mysteriously telling everybody “shadow changes into bone”! Kerouac liked the line though.. I mean, it was a beautiful line – I mean, just as a conception – shadow changes into bone. Sort of a bit like… I think,..but. out of that, he had a similar line – “a neuter think changes the sea” [?] – “but, a neutered think changes the sea” [?] (which is like Blake’s line “the eye altering alters all” ).
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixty-six-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-four-and-a-quarter minutes in]