William Blake (“Mad Song” & “To The Muses”)

William Blake – “Mad Song” – the page from the first publication, 1783, with the pencil mark attributed to the poet

Allen Ginsberg’s 1979 Naropa class on William Blake continues

AG:  … This “Mad Song” is not too well-known, but I think it’s psychologically interesting, so I’d like to lay it out.

The wild winds weep,/And the night is a-cold;/Come hither, Sleep,/And my griefs infold:/ But lo! the morning peeps/Over the eastern steeps,/And the rustling birds of dawn/The earth do scorn.

Lo! to the vault/ Of paved haven,/ With sorrow fraught/ My notes are driven:/ They strike the ear of night,/ Make weep the eyes of day;/ They make mad the roaring winds,/ And with tempests play.

Like a fiend in a cloud/ With howling woe,/ After night I do croud,/ And with night will go;/ I turn my back to the east,/ From whence comforts have increas’d;/ For light doth seize my brain/ With frantic pain.

{Tape recorder malfunctions at approximately seventy-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in – audio is lost.  Allen’s voice returns in media res]

AG:  … or where the muses came from Mount Ida. Anyway,

[ Allen proceeds to read (next) William Blake’s “To the Muses“]

“Whether on Ida’s shady brow..” – (Mountains. The shady brow of the mountains) – “Whether on Ida’s shady brow,/ Or in the chambers of the East,/ The chambers of the sun, that now/ From antient melody have ceas’d;/ Whether in Heav’n ye wander fair,/ Or the green corners of the earth,/ Or the blue regions of the air,/  Where the melodious winds have birth;/  Whether on chrystal rocks ye rove,/ Beneath the bosom of the sea/ Wand’ring in many a coral grove,/ Fair Nine, forsaking Poetry!” – (The nine muses) – “How have you left the antient love/ That bards of old enjoy’d in you!/ The languid strings do scarcely move!/ The sound is forc’d, the notes are few!”

[Tape-recorder malfunctions again]

Student: (I wanted to ask you about the) meters.  I don’t know the….

AG:  Well, there’s anapest and dactylic.  The three-beat meters. Dah-dah-duh dah-dah-duh dah-dah-duh; or duh-duh-dah duh-dah-dah duh-dud-dah.  I’ve forgot.  I think dactylic is dah-duh-duh dah-duh-duh dah-duh-duh. ….those meters were first arranged or counted out by the Greek and Roman grammarians….

AG:  … and the length of the vowels is also fixed an assigned length, so you don’t have it in English.  You have short and long – short/long. .. Short and long. Go on.  Yes?

Student: Where could you find an explanation for these?

AG:  If you look in the materials of poetry that I have (put in the library) – I don’t know if anybody’s looked it up yet in our Naropa Library, I guess it’s under my name there, an accumulation of materials that I’ve put in.  Loose stuff like Kerouac’s “How to Write”, and I have a section that I got from a Greek dictionary giving all the different variety of meter(s), which was about the best, concise summary I’d ever seen.  If you can’t find it, I have it at home, also.  But it’s in the library.  Has anybody found that little booklet yet?  Or asked for it?  I would suggest you look through it.  There’s a lot of funny stuff. People’s different (things) (William) Burroughs’ reading lists from previous years, Gary Snyders readings lists, special papers I’ve done – one-page things like, “How to Write Free Verse” – on one page! – A list of rules and regulations for free verse. This set of materials on prosody. A xerox from a little Greek dictionary…

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