“French Revolution” – 1

Death mask of King Louis XVI after his execution in 1793 – by Marie Tussaud

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake’s poem “The French Revolution”, continues

AG: Okay, now to the poem.  So you get the idea.  ((S. Foster Damon) also says (that) Blake had to make up the details of Louis’s council meetings pretty much from whole cloth, the newspapers supplying only general information that the nobles were “in agonies of despair.”)

Peter Orlovsky:  What does “whole cloth” mean?

AG: Made it up out of his mind. Whole cloth.  Had to make it all up.

Student: Fabricate it.

AG: Fabricate it.  The symbol (of) the people that come in that are symbols –  the Duke of Burgundy symbolizes nobility hostile to the people, Sieyès symbolizes the people themselves, the Arch-Bishop of Paris represents the privileged clergy, the Duke of Orleans the liberal party among the nobles, Lafayette the nation’s arms. Actually it falls roughly, approximately, okay historically.

So, lines 12-13.

Forty men: each conversing with woes in the infinite shadows of his soul” – (That’s the assembly of King Louis.) – “Like our ancient fathers in regions of twilight, walk, gathering round the King; Again the loud voice of France cries to the morning, the morning prophecies to its clouds./For the Commons convene in the Hall of the Nation. France shakes! And the heavens of France/ Perplex’d vibrate round each careful countenance! Darkness of old times around them/ Utters loud despair, shadowing Paris; her grey towers groan, and the Bastile trembles./In its terrible towers the Governor stood, in dark fogs list’ning the horror…” – (The Governor of the Bastille) – (“list’ning” is interesting – L-I-S-T-apostrophe-N-I-N-G.  So, why does he say “list’ning”?  Or why does anybody say an apostrophe like that?  To make it fit trippingly on the tongue for the seven beat thing, it’s really important to get that little detail. You’ll find Blake doing it all the time where it’s muted for sound –  “In its terrible towers the Governor stood, in dark fogs list’ning the horror” instead of “in dark fogs listening the..”  –  it would have broken (the rhythm). “Listening the horror” would have taken too long to say. “Listening the horror”).

“A thousand his soldiers, old veterans of France, breathing red clouds of power and dominion,/Sudden seiz’d with howlings, despair, and black night, he stalk’d like a lion from tower/To tower..” – (The G)overnor) – “… his howlings were heard in the Louvre…” – (The Louvre, you know, is in the center of Paris.  It’s now the museum.  It was, at the time, this giant, winged, courtyarded grey stone palace where the king had his seat).

to be continued

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