AG: Another version, a couple of years later, directly inspired by the (William Blake’s) “French Revolution”, is the first poem in a book called Planet News, dating from 1961 [“Who Will Take Over The Universe?”]. It begins sort of Surrealist, but then it gets to a direct imitation of “The French Revolution”.
“The Ghost of John F. Dulles hangs/over America like dirty linen/draped over the wintry red sunset,/Fumes of Unconscious Gas/emanate from his corpse/& hypnotize the Egyptian intellectuals – /He grinds his teeth in horror & crosses his/thigh bones over his skull/ Dust flows out of his asshole/ his hands are full of bacteria/ The worm is at his eye – /He’s declaring counterrevolution in the Worm world…”
This was (19)61, and there was still that ghost of Dulles, who had set up the containment policy. It’s very similar to the Blake set-up in “The French Revolution”, that combination of church-priestly law, the wrong Christ, (a) Christian campaign against godless atheist China to contain China, which led to the Vietnam War. So, in that sense -“The Ghost of John F. Dulles hangs/ over America like dirty linen/draped over the wintry red sunset.”
“(H)ypnotize the Egyptian intellectuals” – I’ve forgotten what newspaper reference that was. It was some tricky pull to keep the Egyptians in line with American policy.
But the most Blakean lines (are) “He grinds his teeth in horror & crosses his/thigh bones over his skull/Dust flows out of his asshole…/He’s declaring counterrevolutions in the Worm-world.”
So you see the possible applicability of this kind of rhetoric to any time, any age, any revolution, is just the mind that sees the cosmic form, or the poetical form, or the romantic form, or the cartoon form, or the sublimely cartoon-esque form of what’s going on now, what you’re seeing in front of you as politics or as streets.
“From my window I see the old mountains of France, like aged men, fading away.” Now, what is happening here is he is summarizing the entire, I think, several weeks of the French Revolution into one passage of a day, of a night, and the references within the poem…. Pardon me?
Student: What line are you on?
AG: Oh, not on any particular line, on page two of (William Blake’s) , “The French Revolution” on page 283 of this book. (We) could start with line ten, but I haven’t gotten to a specific line. He’s going to summarize the course of the change of power from the king to the people and he’s going to boil it down. Now, he’s writing in this hyperbolic fashion because he’s a little scared of saying it directly, politically, because there are sedition trials in England because the French Revolution is also threatening England, and they’ve just had the American Revolution and there’s all these sedition laws and Tom Paine is on the lam. The King of France was waking from his feudal slumber of five thousand years, and Tiriel, according to Erdman, he had traced the internal integration of despotism….
[the tape ends here and then resumes – in media res]
AG: … publishing (Tom) Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. The Rights of Man was published in February 1791, by (Joseph) Johnson. The Tories were raising a hue and cry over that, according to Erdman, so Paine had to go to another publisher. Mr. Johnston had put this first book in print, but was afraid to issue it, or else, perhaps, Blake himself may have withdrawn it out of fear that he would get in trouble. Because from now on all of his writing goes into mythological form; though it’s strictly about politics, he goes into inpenetrable mythology.
However, in this particular book it’s the one time he ever tried a one-to-one correspondence with the names of the present-day characters of history. Erdman notices withdrawal of this work from (the) printer was to mean Blake’s withdrawal from any audience beyond a few uncritical or even uncomprehending friends. But he also points out that yet, today, as Blake’s audience grows, we comprehend that his failure was but for a season, because he had to cast the thing in more permanent and eternal form. He had to make his concepts permanent or to make them mythological. He (didn’t have) had to find a way but he automatically then set it up in such a form as you could read it as a crystal ball now to look at the Iranian Revolution (sic) as well as the French Revolution of its day.
Like (Jack) Kerouac he had a nervous fear of censorship and of the authorities of the State. Kerouac’s notion, out of Confucius, was to stay away from the authorities. Keep out of the notice of the authorities. An old Chinese thought. He thought he’d go to jail if he actually did it too directly. In his old age, though, Blake did speak of knowing Paine and, according to Gilchrist, the biographer, he always avowed himself a liberty-boy.