“French Revolution” – 2

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

AG: So then we have this vision of the seven towers of the Bastille.  Yeah?

Student: Yeah, I think I read in the Blake Dictionary  that the seven towers represented the different victims of the Revolution.. Pure woman….

AG: Yeah, I’ve got those down. So let’s run through them for everybody.  In the Dictionary .. he was wondering what it meant, the seven towers – that had a more classical reference.

Student: Oh.

AG:  But in “the den named Horror”, at the end of page two eight three, (in line twenty-six), there are seven towers where the victims of political circumstance of that day are being held and they are archetypal. The prophet, to begin with..

“… and the den nam’d Horror held a man/ Chain’d hand and foot, round his neck an iron band, bound to the impregnable wall./ In his soul was the serpent coil’d round in his heart, hid from the light, as in a cleft rock;/ And the man was confin’d for writing prophetic…” – (That’s Blake himself that he’s scared of. That’s his image of what will happen to him if this book gets published) –  ” ..in the tower nam’d Darkness, was a man/ Pinion’d down to the stone floor..” –  (Now, what is Darkness?  Do you remember in the Blake Dictionary?   The second tower?  No, well, let’s see.  I think I’ve got it right here.  Have you been passing around that picture of Blake, because I want it back sooner or later.  The prophet, the prisoner of state, well, I wonder if I’ve got these right. The prophet.)  –  “(I)n the tower named Darkness, was a man/Pinion’d down to the stone floor, his strong bones scarce cover’d with sinews; the iron rings/Were forg’d smaller as the flesh decay’d, a mask of iron on  his face hid the lineaments/ Of ancient Kings, and the frown of the eternal lion was hid  from the oppressed earth”.

So that would be the prisoner of state, in darkness.  Prisoner of state because he would be an alternative authority and so “the frown of the eternal lion was hid from the oppressed earth,” and “his face hid the lineaments/Of ancient Kings,” because he would be the alternative authority.  Or the righteous kings of old, I guess.  The prisoner of state, (according to Foster Damon).

“In the tower named Bloody, a skeleton yellow remained in its chains on its couch/ Of stone..” – (Does anybody have a pencil? – The third tower is blood.. – it’s called “Bloody”.  He’s just inventing names for these towers and it’s (very) interesting. One is “Horror”, another is “Darkness”, another is “Bloody”.  He’s just making it up.  It’s all pure bullshit, actually, at this point. Poetical bullshit.  But you know it’s invention, unimpeded imagination and invention.  You could (say, you know, “the five walls of the Pentagon in Washington, one named “”Reason, one named “Pain”, one named” Gas”, one named “Fire” Burning, one named “Propaganda”.”  Whatever you want.  You could take off from this style and project your own interpretations on any of the historical buildings in your poetics.

“In the tower named Bloody, a skeleton yellow remained in its chains on its couch/  Of stone, once a man who refus’d to sign papers of  abhorrence, the eternal worm/Crept in the skeleton.

Peter Orlovsky:  Who is that?

AG: Well, I believe it’s… let’s see now…  He says here, the next one would be…

Peter Orlovsky:  (“..a man who refused to sign papers of abhorrence..”)  Papers of abhorrence?

AG: …the schismatic.  The schismatic –  Papers of abhorrence?  I don’t know what papers of abhorrence (would be). Papers of rejection of his own ideas.

Student: Signing away your right to something like that?

AG: Yeah.  Or a schismatic that is within the church.  Someone who had a different doctrine who was trying to attack the establishment authority of the church.  Like a church revolutionary.  A revolutionary within the church.  Didn’t want to sign papers denouncing his own conceptions.  Maybe Papal Infallability is not right.

“(T)he eternal worm/Crept in the skeleton.” – (Everybody saw Blake’s face?  Okay.  The reason is he’s writing about history and so there’s the actual face) – “In the den nam’d Religion, a loathsome sick woman..” – (that’s the pure woman) – …bound down/ To a bed of straw; the diseases of earth, like birds of  prey, stood on the couch..”

Peter Orlovsky:  What are “the seven diseases of earth”?

AG: Well, I don’t know what the seven diseases are, but I imagine it’s something from the Bible.  The Book of the Apocalypse?

Student: (…speaking of the Seven Deadly Sins..)

AG: Huh?

Student: Greed…

AG:  Oh, yes, maybe yes.  Greed, lust, pride….

Peter Orlovsky:  Oh, the Seven Deadly Sins?

AG: Yeah, that might be the seven diseases of earth.  That’s a good idea.

“… like birds of prey, stood on the couch,/And fed on the body.” – She’s the pure woman, who “refused to be (the) whore” of the Minister.  So that’s interesting, the woman’s rights notion here. Mary Wollstonecraft had some input into this poem.

“She refus’d to be whore to the Minister, and with a knife smote him” – (‘smote him”!) – “In the tower nam’d Order..” – (this is the preacher of truth – )  – ” …an old man, whose white beard cover’d the stone floor like weeds/ On margin of the sea, shrivel’d up by heat of day and cold of night; his den was short/ And narrow as a grave dug for a child, with spiders webs wove, and with slime/ Of ancient horrors cover’d, for snakes and scorpions are hiscompanions; harmless they breathe/ His sorrowful breath: he, by conscience urg’d, in the city/ of Paris rais’d a pulpit/ And taught wonders to darken’d souls.”

So that’s the truth preacher.  Then, a really interesting one is next.

to be continued

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