William Blake – “Poetic Genius”

William Blake – Portrait by John Linnell (1861 – based on a previous work of 1821)

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake continues

AG: So what does he (Blake) mean by “Poetic Genius”? We have it in “There Is No Natural Religion”, (on) page three.  That’s his first illuminated work, illuminated printing.  You’ve seen it if you have this book (Erdman’s The Illuminated Blake).  Are these all out also?  Phil?

Student (Phil): Yes.
AG: Everything.  Has anybody got any of these?  [Allen asks for a show of hands] Just one?  How many have this one?  Good God!.  There are some in the library, I guess.
Student: Naropa said they’re on order.
Student (2): (But they’re not sure when they’ll be arriving)…
AG: Yeah.  Well, I’d make some effort to actually get ahold of this. I didn’t know it was (rare).
Peter Orlovsky:  (You can see here) illuminations to some of the….
AG: Yeah.  Does anybody want to (take a) look at it?
Student: (I can look at it later)
Peter Orlovsky:  Why don’t you look at it now?

AG:  We had touched on this before.  In the last class the “..No Natural Religion”, and then finally there’s a third part, “All Religions Are One”, and the first principle – “That the Poetic Genius is the true Man. and that the body or outward form of Man is dervied from the Poetic Genius. Likewise that the forms of all things are derived from their Genius.  which by the Ancients was call’d Angel & Spirit & Demon.”

And then, the end, again: “The true Man is the source he being the Poetic Genius….

Well, this is a really proud move forward, like a real funny shot for Blake.  It’s his opening prophecy, and his opening prophecy uses the word “Poetic Genius” – so you’ve got to figure out what he means by “Poetic Genius.”  In the long run, it means unlimited, unfettered, infinite imagination.  The capacity of mind to enter everywhere, the characteristic of mind which is universal penetrancy and inquisitiveness – total tolerance.  That is to say, tolerance of any condition of reality, and willingness to enter into it, to understand it, to penetrate it, or to imagine it. Willingness to imagine anything. The imagining of anything, the unlimitedness of imagination, (which means, in practical terms, that we can all imagine ourselves in Buchenwald, we can all, without fear, imagine nuclear explosions consuming us all, we can imagine the last second before we go out, we can imagine what happens after it, we can imagine what we were before birth, we can imagine what we’ll do in the next five minutes, we can imagine what we’ll do in the next day, we can imagine what we’ll do in the next year, we can make an infinite number of imaginings of what we’ll do, we can calculate and reshuffle all the imaginings like a computer machine to figure from second to second what we will do next, we can actually do what we imagine what we’ll do next, so actually by continuously imagining every sixty-fourth-of-a-second, we continuously create a reality and act on it and change it.  So actually our own imagination is what creates us grown-up with bones and flesh and milk and teeth, in the long run.  We are what we imagined.)

Now how that would apply to a new-born babe? How can you say a new-born baby imagined that?  Did he imagine himself and imagine he was going to grow teeth?  Well, leave that to the poetic imagination to figure out – that paradox.  There are explanations to cover those cases.  I don’t think we have to go into it, but the main conception that Blake is laying out is that the universe is a poem that we have projected, or that we are in the process of projecting.  “The true Man is the source he being the Poetic Genius.” There is no other universe beside the one we hold in our minds and that the universe we hold in our minds is the universe that we have interpreted and our interpretation of the universe, that is to say, we all interpreted things such that we wound up in this room sitting at these desks talking about Blake, and our interpretation is what solidifies various different realities and desolidifies them and improves them or changes them.   Yes?

Student: If our universe is based on our imagination, then how can you say that we imagined that we would be here? It would seem to me that one person imagined this room, and everybody in it, talking about Blake.

AG: Well, I certainly imagined this room and talking about Blake, so this room is a creation of my imagination. I am the true Man, the source being the Poetic Genius.  However….

Student:  (..so am I) a creation of my imagination?

AG: Well, yes, you certainly imagined your role here.  Paid your money and took your choice.  It was a collaborative (dream)  So it was a lot of (people’s).  One could beg the great point, and say, “Well, maybe it’s a democratic imagination and a lot of people imaginate together, and imagining together they create the situation.”  Which is true.  It takes a lot of us imagining together to make a catalog, project a course, pay the money, come from abroad, walk up the steps and sit down here.  We all have to project it, we all have to imagine the situation and then walk upstairs and enter into it.  So we could concern ourselves with that.

But it’s just a very simple point that he’s saying, (which) is that anything, any life lived, is lived according to the interpretation of the guy who’s living.  In that sense, Poetic Genius.  In that sense poetic.  Poesis is making.  Actually “poet” means “maker”, interestingly enough. The root, etymologically, of “poetry” is “making”.  So it’s like the universe is what we make up.  So Blake is pointing that characteristic out.


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