Contextualizing William Blake

title-page illustration to William Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790) –  “Lo to the vault/Of painted heaven”

Allen Ginsberg continues and concludes his first (Jan 8, (January 28?) 1979) Naropa class on William Blake (and his Poetic Sketches) here

AG: Well, you can already see at the age of fourteen what an ear (William) Blake had . So  he knows what he’s doing.  It isn’t as if “Mad Blake” was some kind of self-taught genius that wasn’t really very sophisticated in Augustan rhythms – (that is, “Augustan”, meaning that was the age in which he was growing up, which was more or less of a “silent generation” shot). Formalistic.  Sort of classical. There was Milton – big, high-sounding Miltonian rhetoric, and then (John) Dryden, and then (Alexander) Pope, and more and more society verse and less and less romantic, romantic, less cosmic. (Print reaches) a very humanistic phase with (William) Shakespeare and (Christopher) Marlowe and  (Thomas) Kyd and the Elizabetheans, which was. like, full of blood and fire and drama and adventure. And then there was a kind of religious, apocalyptic breakthrough in verse with (John) Milton.  And then, after Milton, things went sort of on an emotional downhill.  There was no longer the same sonorous grandiose epic quality.  However there was real intelligence and real perception and real wit in Pope.  But by the time Blake started writing, 1775-1780 , 1789, when Songs of Innocence were put out, (and these are 1769), that’s already, you’ve got to realize, about thirty years before (Percy Bysshe) Shelley and (John) Keats and the Romantics break though again with some kind of, like an open inspiration –  big breath. (Inspiration meaning breath).  Open inspiration – open breath,  open body.  It’s more polite verse, not so very far, in a way, from (John) Ashbery, in an odd way.  Pope and Ashbery, for those of who are studying in Anne (Waldman)’s class, will come across that.

So, here’s this Mad Blake in the middle of all that, able to use the really cultivated, cultured standard forms of the day, but filling them with all this raw matter:  “The sound is forc’d, the notes are few!”  [from “To the Muses“] Using it almost better than anyone, or as well as anybody had done before him.  As pretty as Shakespeare. And very conscious of Shakespeare, Blake.  But a very high flown ambitious prettiest – “Lo to the vaults/ Of painted heaven” [fromMad Song]   – and also, oddly, social-realistic Socialist comments, occasionally, like in this little “Gwin, King of Norway”, in the third stanza: –  “The land is desolate; our wives/And children cry for bread”  –  that’s real straight-forward.  Or, on the next page, page four ten, in “Gwin” – “The husbandman does leave his plow,/ To wade thro’ fields of gore;/The merchant binds his brows in steel And leaves the trading shore” –  Now, that’s pretty modern, Socialist rhetoric.  Talking about war here:  “The husbandman does leave his plow,/To wade thro’ fields of gore” – ( that’s pretty good! ) –  “O what have Kings to answer for,/Before that awful throne!”

Then he does “An Imitation of Spenser”, on page four-twelve – “Golden Apollo….”  And thenBlind-Man’s Bluff“, on (page) four-thirteen is a real take off on Shakespeare, and is really good.

You know, one of my favorite Shakespeare  is that song, “When Dick the Shepherd blows his nail”  – “When milk comes frozen home in pail/And Dick the Shepherd blows his nail” –  and what? –  “Marion’s nose is red and raw.”  Do you know that?  Does anybody know that little song in Shakespeare?  Well, it’s on the different seasons, and this one is on winter. But Shakespeare doesn’t have to mention winter, in this song from.. I forgot where. Does anybody know it?  [Editorial note – “Love’s Labour’s Lost”] –  Well, I think it begins, “When milk comes frozen home in pail/And Dick the Shepherd blows his nail….” –  like that.  [Allen blows on his knuckles] –  Dick the Shepherd coming in the door, blowing his nails –  “When Marion’s nose is red and raw/And milk comes frozen home in pail” ..”And Greasy Joan” … “when nightly sings ….” –  I don’t know what.. [Allen is only partially remembering it]  Something?, a bird, “he sings a merry note” “nightly sings his merry note” [“Then nightly sings the staring owl..”] “and Greasy Joan does keel the pot” –  “keel the pote”.  So what he does is he describes winter without naming winter, simply by looking outside of himself and seeing a guy blowing his nail, seeing a red and raw nose, seeing the milk frozen in pail….[tape malfunctions again]  (So try and figure out (how he used) here the “minute particulars” to illustrate it. So….

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighty-six-an-a-half minutes in (and continuing till the end of the tape] 

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