Blake continues – 1

Allen Ginsberg’s teaching on William Blake resumes today – (from his January 25th 1979 class at Naropa (then) Institute)

Student: (The tape begins in media res.  The discussion is on Blake’s “The Crystal Cabinet“)  – from Erdmans notes,  from his Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake – Student is reading ] “…consistently associates with three-fold a physiological possibility for him, with the state of lovely and dreamy sexuality he called Beu..

AG:  Beulah.

Student:  … Beulah.  “Perception is heightened in this state, yet it remains inferior to the four-fold visions he considered fully human.  In other words, sexual love can take one only so far and no further.”

AG: Uh-huh.

Student: “Another autobiographical treatment of altered states of visions, two-fold, three-fold, and four-fold, occurs in this poem…”

AG: What was the last line?  What was the last line?

Student: “..occurs in the poem “With happiness stretched across the hills...” (which concludes a letter to (his patron) Thomas Butts, November 22nd, 1802)

AG: Ah.  Yeah. with the four-fold vision..  He’s got another poem about four-fold vision. The fourth fold of the vision, or the fourth element, would be Urthona, or would be imagination, or space. Is that what we were saying? Enitharmon?  Enitharmon’s projection.

Student: Enitharmon was…?

AG: Enitharmon, the projection of Urthona, would be space itself.  If you fell in love with a lady in space and tried to seize it with reason, with love (feeling) and with body, but not with imagination, you might then “burst the Crystal Cabinet”.  In other words, if you left out the four-fold vision, or the fourth fold of the vision, the imagination.  So if you tried body – body-sex – emotion, and reason, you might break or shatter the “crystal cabinet”, or shatter the space, or at least not be able to act in space, finally. So..that would be love, without the element of what? Spacious imagination? Something.  Well, except that he sure does see another imagined world in it.  Well, I never have understood that poem.  I wonder what….

Peter Orlovsky (looking at lines in Blake’s poem):  What is a “pleasant surly bower”?  [“Another Thames and other hills/And another pleasant Surret bower”]

AG: Surrey.

Peter Orlovsky:  Surrey.

AG:  The town (sic) of Surrey [editorial note – Surrey is a county not a town] – another pleasant Boulder bower.  “Bower” is a little forest nook with trees and brush overgrown, or herbs overgrown, so it would make a little room where you could make love.

I’ll see what (Harold) Bloom says (in his commentary).  That would be (page) four-eighty , if he does say anything. No.  Is there any note there?  There are no notes on,,.  Bloom doesn’t have any notes on that, does he?

Student: He only goes so far as four-thirty-something.

AG:  I wonder why that is?  Yeah.  Okay.  I give up.  I’ll look it up in another book somewhere.

Well, we were on “The French Revolution”.

Let me see.  There are a couple of announcements.  (I just got into that because that was too much – “Energy is eternal delight.”  (and)  “If the fool were persistent in his folly, he would be wise.” (from “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell“)

So we’re going (back) to “The French Revolution” again.  And we left off with the seven towers.  The patriarch in the tower, fed with hopes year by year. Page two eight four (in the) Erdman (edition). Then, on page two eight five line sixty-five or so  – well, line sixty-two -” While loud thunders roll, troubling the dead, Kings are sick throughout all the earth” – So the French Revolution is part of a larger Libertarian move, which is shaking all empire. Then, on line sixty-five – “….the Nobles fold round the King,/ Each stern visage lock’d up as with strong bands of iron, each strong limb bound down as with marble,/ In flames of red wrath burning, bound in astonishment a  quarter of an hour./ Then the King glow’d: his Nobles fold round, like the sun of old time quench’d in clouds;/ In their darkness the King stood, his heart flam’d, and utter’d a with’ring heat, and these words burst forth..”

Now, he talks about “The nerves of five thousand years ancestry tremble.” –  (that’s since the Bible, since the established religions, since Jehovah, since the first CIA in heaven, since the first police state, since the first mind-trap, first Crystal Cabinet, perhaps, shaking the heavens of France).  So the Great Revolution, which is the presage of all liberation revolutions. “Throbs of anguish”  have come – “Throbs of anguish beat on brazen war foreheads….” – (That’s pretty interesting:  “brazen war foreheads.”  Good sound,  good vowels.  But a funny condensation:  “Throbs of anguish beat on brazen war foreheads.”  (Brass war foreheads) – “…they descend and look into their graves./ I see thro’ darkness, thro’ clouds rolling round me, the spirits…” – (Clouds, remember, being the foggy vision of majesty) – “thro clouds rolling round me, the spirits of ancient Kings/ Shivering over their bleached bones; round them their counsellors look up from the dust,/ Crying: ‘Hide from the living!” –  (here the King is addressing his Nobles and advising surrender, actually, to the mob or to the revolution. Or the King is weakening.  He’s got a vision of all the kings wanting to hide from the future) – “‘Hide from the living! Our bonds and our prisoners shout in the open field,/’Hide in the nether earth! Hide in the bones! Sit obscured in the hollow scull./ Our flesh is corrupted, and we wear away. We are not numbered among the living. Let us hide/’In stones, among roots of trees. The prisoners have burst  their dens,/ Let us hide; let us hide in the dust; and plague and wrath and tempest shall cease.'”

So actually this is a kind of humane note here, like the Shah, thinking that if he hides among the bones and among the pyramids, the plagues and wrath and tempest will cease in Iran.

However, according to Erdman, following it as a historical commentary on the French Revolution, King Louis XVI sees his own armies and he regains his composure in the next paragraph.

“He ceas’d, silent pond’ring, his brows folded heavy, his forehead was in affliction,/Like the central fire: from the window he saw his vast armies spread over the hills,/Breathing red fires from man to man, and from horse to  horse; then his bosom/Expanded like the starry heaven, he sat down..”

So Erdman says his bosom expanded means that, well,  he’s rethinking his whole strategy. Maybe he shouldn’t surrender.

“…his Nobles took their ancients seats.”

Now comes the passage which originally, the first time I read this, totally turned me on and led, as I was explaining (in reference to my) poem Death to Van Gogh’s Ear“:

“Then the ancientest Peer, Duke of Burgundy, rose from the Monarch’s right hand, red as wines/ From his mountains, an odor of war, like a ripe vineyard  stretches over sheaves of corn,/ The fierce Duke hung over the council; around his croud, weeping in his burning robe,/A bright cloud of infant souls; his words fall like purple autumn on the sheaves.”

It was that vision of the Duke hanging over the council.  That’s where I got that line,  “The ghost of John Foster Dulles hangs over America like dirty linen.” –  Here’s “The fierce Duke hung over the council; around his croud, weeping in his burning robe,/A bright cloud of infant souls” – (that’s like a really tremendous movie, you know, like an Expressionistic, post-Brechtian notion of the political counselor –  the Duke getting up with robes burning with babes. glowing, fiery babes coming out of them) –   “A bright cloud of infant souls.”  Weeping.

And then he gives a speech.  The style, in this situation, (is), if you’ve read it,  you’ve got all these (speeches), one after another.  The Duke of Burgundy will get up, and then Necker will speak, and the King will speak again, and Aumont, Henry IV, will come in and say a few words, and then Orleans will speak.  The model for this is Milton’s “Paradise Lost”.  (It’s) the model for the rhetoric and the model for the dramaturgy of one by one the counsellors getting up and giving speeches, brazen-tongued, counselling on the course of the war.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding approximately eleven-and-a-quarter minutes in]    

to be continued

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