AG: Then I tried some combination… then Shakespeare , then I tried a Shakespeare sonnet (again, the same year (1948). The occasion was reading the entire manuscript of Kerouac’s The Town and The City, and because it was so monumental and poderoso, powerful I thought, and the prose was so grand, at the end, toward the end, it got towards Thomas Wolfe-ian, Herman Melville–ian prose, that I realized that we must be on the train to some vast destiny, that all our day-dreamy arty.. walkings-under-the-Brooklyn-Bridge-in-the-moonlight must be prophetic, and were for real, rather than just goofs, fooling around, flopping, out of grad school, or something.
So, the first poem that I wrote when I read Kerouac’s thing… I think I’d met Herbert Huncke and had been hanging around on Times Square for a few years with Hence (and met (Alfred) Kinsey– we were part of Kinsey’s statistics, because Huncke was his connection to Times Square floating population and he was doing statistics on the sex life of the Times Square floating population. (William) Burroughs had just started taking junk . I met a lot of people that I… I’d just met Neal Cassady and a lot of other people.
So – “I dwelled in Hell on earth to write this rhyme,/I live in stillness now, in living flame:/I witness Heaven in unholy time/ I room in the renown-ed city, am/Unknown. The fame I dwell in is not mine./I would not have it.Angels in the air/Serenade my senses in delight/Intelligence of poets, saints and fair/Characters converse with me all night,/But all the streets are burning everywhere,/The city is burning these multitudes that climb/Her buildings.Their inferno is the same/I scaled as a stupendous blazing stair./They vanish as I look into the light.’ – (Because I’d been reading Dante) – The “Intelligence of poets, saints and fair/Characters converse with me all night” – We had just started taking benzedrine and were staying up all night talking. That was what that was about)
Student; What’s that called. Allen?
AG: That’s.. Well, page three, Two Sonnets, and the second... It’s a Sonnet – ( “I dwelled in Hell on earth to write this rhyme…”)
And then when I realized that Kerouac was.. that The Town and The City was, in a sense, a maladiction on the cities, pointing out that when the family moved from the town to the big city everybody got cancer and died, and the family dispersed, and the war came, and, like, childhood ended. So I was thinking about the city.
“Woe unto thee, Manhattan, woe to thee,/Woe unto all the cities of the world/Repent, Chicagos, O repent; ah, me!/Los Angeles, now thou art gone so wild,/I think thou art still mighty, yet shall be,/As the earth shook, and San Francisco fell,/An angel in an agony of flame./City of horrors, New York so much like Hell,/How soon thou shalt be city-without-name,/A tomb of souls and a poor broken knell./Fire and fire on London, Moscow shall die,/And Paris, her livid atomies be rolled/Together into the Woe of the blazing bell -/All cities then shall toll for their great game.” – (That was, like, a nuclear holocaust prophecy. Again, like before – the Inferno – “The city is burning these multitudes that climb/Her buildings…” – that’s kind of a nice line, though – “The city is burning these multitudes that climb/Her buildings…” – a bit like Hart Crane – It’s the horrific-city imagery again, that began with.. who was it? that fellow, the other day?, when we had that poem?. remember the poem about horrific city? (well, that’s the phrase I use)
Student: Before (Andrew) Marvell?
AG: Before Marvell… Then..next…
AG: Oh, Cowley – “The Wish” – yes
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-eight-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in]