Allen Ginsberg on William Blake’s poem ,“The French Revolution” continues
AG: And so let’s turn to Milton (Paradise Lost) for a few minutes. Well, let’s get Burgundy’s speech (in ” The French Revolution”) first.
Is anybody interested in reading this aloud? Who is a good (reader)? Has anybody read this already? Yeah. Want to do a little oratory? From line 90. But, you know, funk it up.
Student: (reads) – “Shall this marble built heaven become a clay cottage, this earth an oak stool, and these mowers/From the Atlantic mountains, mow down all this great starry harvest of six thousand years?/And shall Necker, the hind of Geneva, stretch out his crook’d sickle o’er fertile France,/ Till our purple and crimson is faded to russet, and the kingdoms of earth bound in sheaves,
AG: No, wait a minute. Before going on. Where there’s a comma, take a breath.
AG: Then you won’t get breathless.
AG: Blake has given indications so that you can read without asphyxiating. Right.
Peter Orlovsky: What is the “hind of Geneva”?
AG: Hind is a deer. A deer. What is a hind?
AG: No, a hind. “Whoso list to hunt I know is an hind.” Hind is a … the golden hind. It’s some form of deer, is it not? So it would be a more passive, pacific person here. The deer of Geneva. Yes. “Till our purple.”
Student: Yeah. “Till our purple and crimson is faded to russet, and the kingdoms of earth..”
AG: No, take a breath.
Student: Oh, okay.
AG: Stop and take a breath. Take your time.
Student: “Till our purple and crimson is faded to russet, and the kingdoms of earth bound in sheaves,/And the ancient forests of chivalry hewn, and the joys of the combat burnt for fuel;/Till the power and dominion is rent from the pole, sword and scepter from sun and moon,/The law and gospel from fire and air, and eternal reason and science/From the deep and solid…”
AG: Yeah. So it’s a funny thing. All of a sudden he doesn’t stop but he runs on the line to the next line. Yeah.
Student: “… and man lay his faded head down on the rock/Of eternity, where the eternal lion and eagle remain to devour?/ This to prevent, urg’d by cries in day, and prophetic dreams hovering in night..”
AG: I’d like to stop there a moment. “”Till the power and dominion is rent from the pole, sword and scepter from sun and moon,/The law and gospel from fire and air” -what does that mean? Anybody got any idea?
See, he’s complaining. This reactionary is complaining. He doesn’t want a revolution because in a revolution “power and dominion is rent from the pole, sword and scepter from sun and moon.” The sword will be taken from the sun and the scepter from the moon. In other words, all the symbols of authoritarianism, which had been projected on nature, will now be removed from nature and nature will shine as it is — as sun and moon, without sword and scepter. Law will be taken from fire. In other words, no more hell. Gospel will be taken from air. That is, the air to breathe rather than air to suffocate with Urizen‘s gospel and law. Eternal reason will vanish from the deep and science will vanish from the solid, so what we’ll have will be deep and solid and we won’t have any eternal reason and science. In other words, actuality will become itself again without the authority symbols and without the interpretations or the Urizenic projections that we’ve laid on them. So he’s complaining that if there’s going to be a big revolution it means the entire aspect of nature is going to change. And we’re going to come down to directly seeing fire, air, deep, solid rock. Okay.
Student: You’re like that, in your head, ripped apart by eternal (reason(s)
AG: This same thing will come up again. The reversal of this will come up later on. Go on.
Student: (continues reading): “This to prevent, urg’d by cries in day, and prophetic dreams hovering in night,/ /To enrich the lean earth that craves, furrow’d with plows; whose seed is departing from her;/Thy nobles have gather’d thy starry hosts round this…”
AG: No, see, “This to prevent urg’d by cries in day, and prophetic dreams hovering in night,/ /To enrich the lean earth that craves, furrow’d with plows; whose seed is departing from her/ Thy nobles have gather’d.” In other words, in order to prevent all this from happening …
AG: “Thy nobles have gathered”. In other words, it’s one (sentence). You actually (have to) bear in mind when you’re reading, rhetorically, that one clause is modifying another but they’re all related. It’s, like, a whole series of thoughts that are related and so you keep them, like balanced, like skiing. Like skiing down a slope you keep them balanced, you know, you know where you come from
AG: In other words, you can remember (that) you came from “This to prevent” – then you get the “Thy nobles have gather’d (up)”. – Go on
AG: “Thy nobles..”
Student: “Thy nobles have gather’d thy starry hosts round this rebellious city/”To rouze up the ancient forests of Europe, with clarions of loud breathing war; /”To hear the horse neigh to the drum and trumpet, and the trumpet and war shout reply; /Stretch the hand that beckons the eagles of heaven; they cry over Paris, and wait/ Till Fayette point his finger to Versailles; the eagles of heaven must have their prey.”
AG: Okay. Enough there. So he gives this big, fiery speech.
So, an equivalent in Milton’s Paradise Lost is in Book II. Has anybody here read Milton’s ”Paradise Lost” at all? – [Students give a show of hands] – And how many have not? – Okay, so we need this reference.
Blake comes out of Milton and Blake’s next-to-the-last prophetic book is called Milton and he sees Milton as someone who had succumbed to Urizen’s power and had denied sexuality and denied the body and imagination and succumbed to Jehovaic law. But he dug him as a great poet, as you’ll see when you get to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and thought that Milton had just suppressed his imagination. However, (Blake thought Milton) was of the Devil’s party without knowing it because he wrote beautifully when he wrote about Satan and Lucifer and he wrote boringly when he wrote about God and Christ and heaven.
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eleven-and-a-quarter minutes in, and concluding at approximately fifteen minutes in]