William Blake – The Book of Thel – 1

Allen Ginsberg’s 1980 Basic Poetics Naropa class – continues from here

AG: Well, there is a little girl who didn’t want to get born because she was afraid of the emptiness in the grave and she didn’t want to enter the emptiness of the grave so she prefered to stay in the Garden of Eden and not come out of the Garden of Eden and not have the experience of Life because if she came out and got born she knew she’d have to die and. So she was thinking of.. thinking about the problem, and she went to see.. to talk to the lowliest thing she could find, so she went to talk to a clod of clay, and then she talked to a worm in a clod of clay (no, first she talked to a cloud, because it was sort of like fantasy, and the cloud said, you better get down on earth and talk to the clay), and then she talked to the worm, inside a little flower, and then the clod of clay said, “Well, want to take a look in the grave and see what happens there, and decide if you want to get born or not ?”. And she looks inside, and she shrieked and ran back to the vales of Har and Heva, where Adam and Eve, Har and Heva, live forever, grow older and older and older and stupider and stupider.. So that would be (William) Blake’s little prophetic book (which we have in the Norton anthology) – The Book of Thel

So I think, maybe, go through the Book of Thel, which is only three pages, and then finish the term (sic) with singing some of “Songs of Innocence and Experience”. So, shall we read this Book of Thel? – has anybody read it? – who here has read the Book of Thel? Was anybody (here) in my class when I taught that? were you, Susan (sic)?, were you in the class where I taught Thel?..

This is his first Prophetic Book. – have you read that, (Mike)? – “Thel’s Motto: – Author and Printer Wlliam Blake, 1789 – (was that the year of the French Revolution? – So it’s like the new-born Angel of Revolution deciding whether to go into the world of Experience and actually take blood and get killed and… They’d already had the American Revolution but now the Revolution was sweeping Europe, and so there is the birth of the Babe of Revolution or the birth of the spirit of Revolution involved. This is like… David Erdman calls this little thing “a mystery play for adolescents”, that is to say, whether or not to come into puberty and get laid, to have their virginity taken or not, whether or not to allow yourself to be fucked in the ass, or whether or not to allow yourself to be fucked straight lay. or, whether or not to experience. And…

“Does the Eagle know what is in the pit?/ Or wilt thou go ask the Mole:/ Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod?/ Or Love in a golden bowl?” – (I don’t know what that means, except, can you put Love in a golden.. well, Love is much more varied, it won’t fit, it won’t just stay in a pretty bowl. That is, of course, from “Or ever the golden bowl be broken and the silver cord be loosed” (“Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken”) – from the Bible

“The daughters of Mne Seraphim led round their sunny flocks” – (who’s “Mne Seraphim”?, nobody knows, it’s a big mystery. It’s Blake’s first name-dropping of an archetypal form, and nobody can figure it out. She’s mentioned in… I think in the Book of…what is it the Book of Har and Heva? Tiriel). This book refers.. this book is the accompaniment… this he did print and illustrate, and it was the first little printed illustrated book, but it refers to an unprinted, unillustrated larger work, called the Book of Tiriel, which is a sort of a story about a… Richard Nixon, raging through the wilderness, angry, resentful, growing old, dying, being pushed aside by his children, and he goes back to the Garden of Eden to see if he can make out there, and he sees all these stupid old fucks lying aound getting more and more senile, and he says, “No, not there”. So he goes off to die by himself. So that’s a background to this thing. “Mne Seraphim”, I think, may be one of the nurses that takes care of Adam and Eve as they grow senile in their Garden of Eden, (the Garden of Eden (in) which they.. they never took the Apple of Knowledge, so they never got kicked out, so they just grew old and older and older, and didn’t experience anything). So this girl here wants to know whether she should get out, sort of.

“The daughters of Mne Seraphim led round their sunny flocks” – (in the Garden of Eden, that is) – “All but the youngest – (Thel) – “she in paleness sought the secret air./ To fade away like morning beauty from her mortal day:/ Down by the river of Adona her soft voice is heard:/ And thus her gentle lamentation falls like morning dew” – (“Adona”, I don’t know what that is… I’ll look it up. There’s a Blake dictionary, which tells you everything you need to know about (William) Blake. Has anybody ever seen it? It’s been reprinted. This is an old edition. It’s been reprinted by Shambhala Books in a cheaper… Adona – it is “the river beside which Thel laments. The name was suggested by the river Adonis, where the Syrian damsels lamented in amorous ditties the annual wounding of Thammuz.”
So it’s a.. like, the virgins, a river where the virgins might come and sing and weep – “Down by the river of Adona her soft voice is heard: And thus her gentle lamentation falls like morning dew.”

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

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