more Blake – (“Epic Simile”)

Max Beckmann, Bird’s Hell, 1938, oil on canvas, 47 1/4 × 63 1/4 inches, private collection, New York.

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake continues

AG: Everybody notices (Blake’s) “From my window I see the old mountains of France, like aged men, fading away,” and (Harold) Bloom refers to this as an epic simile.  I refer to it as hyperbole and I would compare it actually to 1920’s Expressionism.  Do you know that Expressionist style of the 20th century where you have the painter (Edvard) Munch, or (Max) Beckmann – where you have modern scenes seen in totally mythological form, maybe even something rising out of some of (Vincent) Van Goghs Expressionist emotional articulation on the canvas?  But then in the ’20s (came) little Surrealist exaggerations and hyperbole. Simile – epic simile, as it’s called.

This verse, incidentally, (is a) seven-beat (line)– septemeter, septenary or(a) “fourteener”, as it is known, (composed of) fourteen syllables, generally.  Basically fourteen syllables or seven beats.  However, this is anapestic – somewhere between anapest and iamb.  Anapest being duh-duh-dum, duh-duh-dum, duh-duh-dum, duh-duh-dum, duh-duh-dum.  Iambic –duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah.  So this varies.  “The dead” – (iamb) – “brood over Europe” –  dah-duh-duh-dah-dahDuh-dah, duh-duh-duh-dah-dah.  Dud-dah duh-dah-dah-duh-dah – “the cloud and vision descends” – “duh-dah-dah-duh-dah” – (that’s the anapest). “…and vision descends over chear….” – “and vision descends over chear….” – duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah duh-dah -(anapest) – duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah duh-dah.  That’s the verse form. Basically anapest, mixed with duh-dah.  “The dead brood over Europe,” “The dead brood over Europe, the cloud and (the) vision descends over chearful France.”  Got it?  Clear?  -Iam –  duh-dah.  Anapest – duh-duh-dah.  That’s the basic verse form – seven feet to a line.

But everybody notices that in this anapestic-iambic septenary the great poetic similes – epic similes or hyperbole –  for treatment of down-home political themes.  And precisely this element of  (Blake’s )The French Revolution attracted me, about twenty years ago, to use this as a form, or to use this kind of exaggeration – Surrealist exaggeration – for my own verses.  In other words, for my own treatment of political themes.  So I’d like to interrupt to give you some examples of that from the book Kaddish

to be continued

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