Allen Ginsberg on William Blake’s “Tiriel” continues
AG: So now the sons confront Tiriel. Tiriel is brought by Ijim, so to speak, (like the rebellious masses, but the stupid masses), to his sons – “Heuxos & Lotho ran forth at the sound of Ijims voice/And saw their aged father borne upon his mighty shoulders/ Their eloquent tongues were dumb & sweat stood on their trembling limbs/ They knew twas vain to strive with Ijim they bowd & silent stood/ What Heuxos call thy father for I mean to sport to night/This is the hypocrite that sometimes roars a dreadful lion” – (If you cast this as the King of England) – “This is the hypocrite that sometimes roars a dreadful lion.” (sic) -“Then I have rent his limbs & left him rotting in the forest/For birds to eat but I have scarce departed from the place/ But like a tyger he would come & so I rent him too/ Then like a river he would seek to drown me in his waves/ But soon I buffetted the torrent anon like to a cloud/ Fraught with the swords of lightning. but I bravd the vengeance too/ Then he would creep like a bright serpent till around my neck/ While I was Sleeping he would twine I squeezd his poisnous soul/ Then like a toad or like a newt would whisper in my ears/ Or like a rock stood in my way, or like a poisnous shrub/ At last I caught him in the form of Tiriel blind & old/ And so I’ll keep him fetch your father fetch forth Myratana.”
Well, it’s kind of many levels there, because it could be the majesty of the king, it could be the material world he’s talking about, it could be the illusions and entrapments of involvement in authority, in your psychiatrist. or your guru. or your father-figure, or your authority-figure, or your dictator, or your belief in phenomenal external reality, but that rant by Ijim seems to me to be a psychological presentation of someone trying to escape from illusion – an illusion of authority – that constantly resurrounds him and constantly reconstructs itself. Or (it) could also be a simple parable of the mad King George with all different tricks of paranoia coming up over and over again on all of his counselors and coming up on England constantly with new mad tricks.
Finally, Ijim is totally disillusioned. That is, Ijim (which you can easily take as stupid belief in the material world around (him) or as the populace) is completely disillusioned both with Tiriel and with his sons. Disillusioned with the entire political existence, or political phenomena. So, on line 73, (Heuxos being Tiriel’s son), “Then is it true Heuxos that thou hast turnd thy aged parent/ To be the sport of wintry winds.” – (And “overthrown the Shah“). (sic) – (said Ijim) – Is this true? – “It is a lie & I am like the tree torn by the wind/Thou eyeless fiend. & you dissemblers. Is this Tiriels house/ It is as false (as) Matha.” – Matter – “Matha”. “It is as false (as) Matha.” – All the footnotes say that must be some pun on the word “matter.” It is as false as matter itself. “(A)nd as dark as vacant Orcus” – the underworld. Land of shadowy dead./Escape ye fiends for Ijim will not lift his hand against ye/ So saying. Ijim gloomy turnd his back & silent sought/ The secret forests & all night wanderd in desolate ways.”
Next, Tiriel curses his children in Part V., curses his own daughters, (somewhat as King Lear), all except his youngest daughter, (just like King Lear). Then, in line 24 – “Hela my youngest daughter you shall lead me from this place/ And let the curse fall on the rest & wrap them up together/ He ceast & Hela led her father from the noisom place”
It’s actually the body, I believe. The “noisom place” might even be the body, itself. Hela is interpreted as the sexual sense, the sexual impulse, or of procreation, by various Blake commentators. The other four daughters are other senses. So the daughters of Tiriel are sometimes interpreted as the actual sight, sound, smell, taste, touch – and Hela is touch. Sex.
“The four daughters stretchd on the marble pavement silent all/”(I)n ghastly death./ falln by the pestilence.” – That’s one line – (line 30) .
So Hela, or sex, or some kind of sexual urge, still leads the body out, or still leads the authority figure out, or still leads the believer in material reality, or the possessor of material reality, or the king of that. (It) still leads them out. And he wants to go back to the aging land of Adam and Eve, the aging Eden, the aging paradise, having encountered all the confrontations and contradictions of political reality and physical reality and material reality, and having been defeated, and having cursed himself, and cursed his sons, and having destroyed the entire worldly scene, he now wants his sexual daughter to lead him back to some place where you can have one last good time, or where he might finally find some pleasure. Back to the Garden of Eden, to the Vales of Har.
In Part VI – “Now Hela I can go with pleasure & dwell with Har & Heva/ Now that the curse shall clean devour all those guilty sons/This is the right & ready way I know it by the sound/ That our feet make. Remember Hela I have savd thee from death.” – That’s the one thing he won’t give up, is sex. I’ve “savd thee from death/Then be obedient to thy father for the curse is taken off thee.”
So he goes on, but he has a big argument with Hela, finally. Or there’s some conflict there, recognized. And then in line 30 of Part VI, he begins getting pissed off with her – “Wherefore from my blind orbs art thou not siezd with poisnous strings/ Laugh serpent youngest venomous reptile of the flesh of Tiriel/ Laugh.” – (That makes it sound pretty much like the old serpent). That daughter – “serpent youngest venomous reptile of the flesh of Tiriel/Laugh.”…”for thy father Tiriel shall give the(e) cause to laugh/ Unless thou lead me to the tent of Har child o’ the curse.”
He still wants sex to lead him to some kind of permanent limbo. Well, what Burroughs would call “(the) green goo trap” – some kind of permanent erotic limbo. Some limbo where’s there a permanent erotic existence possible. So he’s going to curse his daughter, his sense of touch, unless it can lead him to (a permanent paradise). The king of matter is going to curse his daughter, or (his) projection – the sense of touch – unless that touch – sex – can lead him to some permanent pleasureland back in the Garden of Eden. And naturally she can’t. So she says to him, now – “Silence thy evil tongue thou murderer of thy helpless children/ I lead thee to the tent of Har not that I mind thy curse/ But that I feel they will curse thee & hang upon thy bones/ Fell shaking agonies. & in each wrinkle of that face/ Plant worms of death to feast upon the tongue of terrible curses”.
So, he replies to her – “Hela my daughter listen. thou art the daughter of Tiriel/ Thy father calls. Thy father lifts his hand unto the heavens/ For thou hast laughed at my tears. & curst thy aged father/Let snakes rise from they bedded locks & laugh among thy curls/ He ceast her dark hair upright stood while snakes infolded round/ Her madding brows. her shrieks apalld the soul of Tiriel/ What have I done Hela my daughter fearst thou now the curse?”
So it’s like finally, in the last desperate attempts to make sex work for him, he’s overplayed his hand and turned into a kind of horrible snakey Medusa.
Well, they pass the cave of Zazel in Part VII. I think Zazel was his brother, (sometimes interpreted as impulse to revolution). Tiriel had put Zazel in chains and Zazel is left chained in a cave. Tiriel on his way to revisit the Garden of Eden, on his way to death, passes Zazel’s cave where sex, his daughter, leads him, (and it’s some little glimpse of what the heavy-handed belief in materialism, and in the earthly power, and in the body had (done), chained up some spiritual breakthrough, spiritual revolution, or political revolution. So that would be Zazel’s role. So you get a little glimpse of that).
And finally they get to the Garden of Eden. – “And Mnetha hasted & met them at the gate of the lower garden.” Now, Mnetha is (nearly) an anagram for Pallas Athena, actually, according to some people. Athena, Pallas Athena. Classical wisdom, or classical traditional wisdom art. Remember “the sound is forc’d, the notes are few”? the early poem where he was talking about the art of his age? Har and Heva are also interpreted by some as being the Royal Academy in its senescence. That is, the arts, but arts in a dopey Garden of Eden, i.e, arts in a degenerate stage, Mnetha being the guardian of the arts. Mnetha takes care of Har and Heva. Mnetha is sort of like their nurse (and] feeds them, shelters them, keeps them out of trouble. Mnetha is sort of the Royal Academy, so to speak, or the rhymed couplet. The classical, traditional degenerated uninspired art world of Blake’s day that was kind of a limbo Eden. It was art and it was beauty, but at the same time there was no inspiration, there was no real life. It was sort of ossified. So it’s sort of an ossified classical art. If poetic genius would be that revolutionary imaginative element that would get Tiriel and his world out of this fix that they’re in (out of the historical cycle that they’re in), Har and Heva and the Vale of Har would be the limbo of mediocrity and repetition of older art forms, as well as older perceptions (and) older notions of perception.
“And Mnetha led them to the tent of Har. and Har & Heva/Ran to the door. when Tiriel felt the ankles of aged Har/He said. O weak mistaken father of a lawless race/Thy laws O Har & Tiriels wisdom end together in a curse.” – That is to say, unimaginative art and muscle-bound politics, materialist politics and art without imagination, end together in a curse for the whole culture – “Why is one law given to the lion & the patient Ox/And why men bound beneath the heavens in a reptile form/A worm of sixty winters creeping on the dusky ground.”
But then comes the most beautiful poetry in the whole poem. And there is a little passage of explanation from Erdman’s book, which I’d like to read. It’s very brief. It’s on page one four four – “Nevertheless energy is restrained (or) not nutured. Tiriel does rule, though his efforts to measure creatures as various and “the lion & the patient Ox” according to “one law” are more oppressive than successful, and although time after time he destroys his own paradise by “Consuming all, both flowers & fruits.” Blake’s diagnosis of tyranny probably owes something to a reading of Swedenborg on “the essence of diabolic love,” the true nature of which is “(in) hatred, for …in its inmost nature (it)” -diabolic love – “desires to rule over all, and to possess the property of all, and at last to be worshipped as a god.” To the tyrant who wants that sort of obedience, the varieties of men’s forms and geniuses are an intolerable menace. Some men, says Tiriel” in this following speech “are ‘nostrild wide breathing out blood. Some close shut up In silent deceit … With daggers hid beneath their lips … Or eyed with little sparks of Hell or with infernal brands Flinging flames of discontent….'”
So. That sort of brings it together for Erdman as an interpretation, to unite both the direct physical politics of his day and his spiritual or divine politics of the psychology of Blake himself, looking for a political and spiritual breakthrough in his own situation, relating now to the artists of his day – the Royal Academy – to the tyranny of his day, under George III, to the revolutions of his day on a physical plane, to his own beginnings of breakthrough in constructing his own imaginative system.
But there’s this great cadenza – “Why is one law given to the lion & the patient Ox/And why men bound beneath the heavens in a reptile form?” – Because he’s beginning to wonder what is the vegetable form of man, anyway? How come we are ‘a worm of sixty winters’, and is that all there is? So he’s beginning to rebel against the curse, actually, of being part of vegetable nature, like Tiriel. Blake himself is beginning to suspect vegetable nature, or vegetative nature, or animal nature (of) being a trap and illusion. – “A worm of sixty winters creeping on the dusky ground/ The child springs from the womb. the father ready stands to form/ The infant head while the mother idle plays with her dog on her couch/ The young bosom is cold for lack of mothers nourishment & milk/ Is cut off from the weeping mouth with difficulty & pain/ The little lids are lifted & the little nostrils opend/The father forms a whip to rouze the sluggish senses to act.
So “the worm of sixty winters” is brought into physical form, prodded, slapped, nourished in an odd way and forced into conscious existence by animal nature, by Tiriel and his wife.
But then “The father forms a whips to rouze the sluggish senses to act”, and then “And scourges off all youthful fancies from the new-born man/ Then walks the weak infant in sorrow compelld to number footsteps/ Upon the sand, etc..”
Compelled to go to school, actually, be disciplined. In other words, he’s pointing out that the creation is given by the Jehovaic god-like authority. The flesh is laid on us, the meat is laid on us, but then a tender curtain of flesh curbs the imagination. That the very same father that creates us, also begins to discipline us and curb us, so that we finally wind up in a cage, in a cage of our own flesh, (and an unimaginative cave or cage, where the imagination is cut off, as it was with Tiriel).
And this is his first formulation of that realization that the poetic genius or imagination goes beyond material appearance, and his analysis is that – “The father forms a whip to rouze the sluggish senses to act/ And scourges off all youthful fancies from the new-born man/ Then walks the weak infant in sorrow compelld to number footsteps/ Upon the sand. etc..”/ And when the drone has reachd his crawling length/ Black berries appear that poison all around him. Such was Tiriel/Compelld to pray repugnant & to humble the immortal spirit/Till I am subtil as a serpent in a paradise/ Consuming all both flowers & fruits insects & warbling birds/And now my paradise is falln & a drear sandy plain / Returns my thirsty hissings in a curse on thee O Har/ Mistaken father of a lawless race my voice is past/ He ceast outstretchd at Har & Hevas feet in awful death.”
So it seems to wind up a kind of a tentative, somewhat obscure but readable and interpretable story of the body’s realization of its own limits and the mortal worm’s realization of the limits of its own power and the cruelty of its own powers, projected on a large scale into political melodrama, but maybe just the discovery, on Blake’s part, of the monstrosity and tyranny of himself being in a body, and this being the end of his belief of sexual body alone as the final reference point. The disillusionment with having been born as “a worm of sixty winters”, with all the powers of “a worm of sixty winters” – that is to say, physical power and the power over others, power over the body, power over sex, power over matter, power over commerce – all the power that could be projected for a material world. So it’s his disillusionment with that, I think. Every time I’ve read that, it seems to be some kind of psychological interior play that does include politics and also does include his own death insight.