More Blake – Tiriel – 1

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake continues

This tape (from January 18 1979) begins in media res with Allen lecturing on William Blake’s narrative poem, Tiriel

AG:  … pointing out that Ijim” is an idiot belief in reality, or in material reality, and also stands, in Blake, in this particular book, for the masses, for the populace that’s getting disillusioned with the kingly authority, or the majesty, and that “Tiriel”, his majesty of material nature, is suddenly discovering his own faintness.  But ”Ijim” doesn’t want to believe it. Or has an ambivalent relationship (to it).

(It’s sort of like the people and the Shah (of Iran) right now (1979).  The Shah is declining, but at the same time there is this confusion among the people as whether they want him or they don’t want him – or they really don’t want him, but who else do they want?  And (so) then there’s going to be, (according to (Peter (Orlovsky), who read today’s paper), big fights among the Iranian populace.  The military might take over, or the hard-shell Baptist Muslims might take over, or the intellectuals from the Committee on Intellectual Freedom, or the students might take over, but there is implicit a lot of confusion).

In this case, however, in this scene in Part IV (of the poem), Tiriel announces that he’s weary and can’t continue.  “O Ijim I am faint & weary..”  – line 30. page 277, part IV of “Tiriel” – “O Ijim I am faint & weary for my knees forbid/To bear me further. urge me not lest I should die with travel/A little rest I crave a little water from a brook/Or I shall soon discover that I am a mortal man/And you will lose your once lovd Tiriel alas how faint I am./  Impudent fiend said Ijim hold thy glib & eloquent tongue/ Tiriel is a king..” – (He’s not a mortal,  he’s not going to be faint and weary) – “& thou the tempter of dark Ijim/ Drink of this running brook. & I will bear thee on my shoulders/   He drank & Ijim raisd him up & bore him on his shoulders/All day he bore him & when evening drew her solemn curtain/Enterd the gates of Tiriels palace. & stood & calld aloud.”  Then he calls to Tiriel’s children to come out and see their aged father.  The children have rebelled in the course of the story. Originally the children rebelled against Tiriel because he was somewhat, (or) too much, of a tyrant.

So Blake is there, writing, at the time of George III, when the colonies are rebelling, at the time of the building up of the French Revolution.  In George’s time, in fact, not only are the colonies rebelling but there was lots of sedition and rebellion in England itself, and so the sons of Tiriel, here, may stand for different political factions protesting George III.  And as Tiriel was kind of crazed and weak, Erdman in this book, (which is quite good), Prophet Against Empire,  suggests that it may be a parable on George III himself.  I want to check this out with you, it’s pretty funny. – Loss of “my American colonies….”

Peter Orlovsky:  What page is that, Allen?

AG: This is a book that you don’t have.  This is Blake – Prophet Against Empire by David Erdman, page one-three-five.

“Loss of ‘my American colonies’ was a major theme in King George’s delirium, (and) he sometimes imagined that he was still ruler of them.  Tiriel boasts, when he is no longer in command of anything: “I am Tiriel King of the west.”  His wife is described as “once the Queen of all the western plains.”  And the eldest son speaks in the manner of an American rebel:  “Were we not slaves till we rebell’d?. Who cares for Tiriel’s curse? His blessing was a cruel curse; his curse may be a blessing.”  (That was at the beginning of the book (“Tiriel”)

“Again the reversal described in (the poem)  “America” ,the hurling back on himself of the madness with which the King sought to plague the nations, is suggested in the return upon his own head of the curse with which Tiriel had “enslavd the sons of Zazel” ” – (his sons).  “Tiriel’s madness is less emphasized than his blindness, but his behavior as a blind man is much like that of the mad King Lear.”  (which somebody mentioned the other day after classes.  Tiriel’s rhetoric and some of the situations –  What is it?  “How sharp like to a” (Editorial note – “how sharper than a”)  “serpent’s tooth” (“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child,” – or “a rebellious child”.

Student: Thankless.

AG: Thankless.  Well, I mean “rebellious” here in “Tiriel” and “thankless” in “King Lear”.

“King George did not go blind during his 1788 illness, but at times his eyes were, as the Queen said, “nothing but black currant jelly,” and he nearly burned her with his candle. Tiriel’s queen dies.  Queen Charlotte did not, but during his madness George rejected her, insisting that all marriages had been annulled (probably recollecting the breakdown of the Marriage Act of 1781), and professing a violent attachment for the Lady of the Queen’s Bedchamber.  The loud eroticism of the mad King was indeed the curse returned upon the curser, for not only had George recently signed a royal proclamation against Vice and Immorality, but the immediate cause of his illness was the fact that three of his sons had joined in a flagrant rebellion against the moral code, making public demonstrations of inebriety, flaunting their association with court prostitutes, and opening their own gambling club.  Tiriel’s sons rebel against their father’s cruel law and bring “tears & cares” to their mother, and the king curses them as “Serpents not sons.”  He calls himself “poor blind Tiriel,” but his curses issue from a “hypocrite that sometimes roars a dreadful lion….”

“King George was hysterical in the presence of his daughters, screamed when he saw and could not reach them, and was calm only with his ‘beloved youngest child, Amelia, then only five.’  On his return to Windsor Castle after a levee, which the King held despite his illness, ‘he saw his four youngest daughters waiting to receive him and was so overcome that he had an hysteric fit.  His children, and his attendants were all struck with the alteration in his looks; and he said to … one of his equerries … “I return to you a poor old man, weak in body and mind.”‘  On the return of ‘poor blind Tiriel,’ the cry was great in Tiriel’s palace. His five daughters ran and caught him by the garments weeping with cries of bitter woe.”

[Tiriel Denouncing His Sons and Daughters – Engraving by William Blake]

[King Lear disowns his daughter Cordelia before their sisters and husbands and other members of the court – Engraving after a painting by Henry Fuseli]

to be continued

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