Ecstasy and Grounding

[“Beauteous the moon, full of the lawn” (Christopher Smart)]

Allen continues his discussion (at Naropa, 1980) on Basic Poetics

AG: Okay,  so the question was what really..? (a) bummer? –  what do we mean by bummer?..  Where does he get that idea? – from  me?  that we’re not supposed to go into dithryambic rhapsodies?

Student:  There was… there was a time (from what I hear), when (for you) that seemed to be the case..

AG: Well, no, I was just.. Because, (no), most of the (student) poetry that I was getting and seeing had no (real) basis. So I thought that the only way of doing it is (was) (to) go back to some basic thing, like William Carlos Williams, and begin teaching grounding and common sense. And maybe if people get balanced enough, then, on the basis of the building blocks of reality, then you can build it in a mighty line and get into an ecstasy or a dithyrambic. But I think you first have to get grounded. It’s as simple as that.

Because otherwise, unless you have some extraordinary pale Shelley-ian. imagination that can, like a chameleon, subsist on flame and ether, it’s not likely that the poetry you’ll write will have any validity, you know, will connect with anything – the dithyrambs.  Dithryams have got to connect with bricks. Brick Dithryambs. Dithryambs on the basis of bricks. It’s got to be physical somewhere. It’s got to have some connection to the physical world.

And, actually, if you take the details in this thing (Christopher Smart’s “Song to David)  you’ll see that there’s an awful lot of interesting details he gets – Well,  “Beauteous the fleet before the gale/Beauteous the multitudes in mail,/Ranked arms and crested heads/Beauteous the garden’s umbrage mild/Walk, water. meditated wild/And all the bloomy beds” –  at least there’s some places there, and things, and scenes – “Beauteous the moon, full of the lawn” –  (he probably just looked out the window! – just looked out the window at that moment) -“Beauteous the moon, full of the lawn” – (probably up all night like me! ) – “Beauteous the moon, full of the lawn”. So where did he get that? And that’s a nice line – “the moon full on the lawn”.   

Student:  So the line’s very beautiful but it isn’t what you think.

AG: So what do you mean by that?

Student: Well, you know…

AG (to other students) : He’s got a special theory!  He’s slipping it in in there!

Student:  There’s a lot of lines in there that anybody could write, just observing what you see around you and stuff like that. I mean the entire theme…..

AG: Yeah,  right, but what really makes it interesting is that, where he touches home-base ground again, like “Beauteous the moon, full of the lawn”,  suddenly the poem comes into clarity, you know, it comes into focus in this world, and then it can take off again. You see, as long as it keeps coming back to focus in this world so you know where he’s at, (I think.)

Student: So for him it’s not just an empty boat

AG: Pardon me?

Student: It’s not just an empty (boat)  [Editorial note – Student is referencing Chuang Tzu’s  Zen parable here (as related to Allen by Katagiri Roshi see here]

AG: Well, no, it isn’t but, not for him (but, on the hand, remember he was drinking a bit) –  “Empty”, in the sense of..  in other words, the boat is empty of someone to be angry at, it’s not (an) empty (as) boat, (in other. words), the boat is floating on the water and there’s a full moon above the boat, and there’s (energy) in the boat, and there’s woods all about, and it’s in the middle of China, on this planet. It’s just that he thought there was a devil..

Student: Who did?

AG: The Zen master. He thought that there was some evil person that was purposely interrupting his meditation, and he thought that he was a good guy and the other guy was a bad guy, because he was meditating, so he must have been a good guy, and then he woke up and found out that there was no bad guy out there, and the so-called, supposed good guy had imagined the bad guy. So what kind of good guy is it who imagines a bad guy when there’s no bad guy there? He’s not a good guy, obviously. A good guy that imagines a bad guy and there’s no bad guy there couldn’t be such a good guy, because, where did the evil come from? where did the bad guy come from? – It came from his own brain – or heart? (who knows?) ego? – I don’t know what,  whoever he is, where did it come from?

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-eight minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-two-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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