Allen Ginsberg’s January 25 1979 Naropa William Blake class continues and concludes
AG: (continuing reading from Erdman/Bloom – on Blake’s “The French Revolution”): “Blake follows history in having the Assembly receive this ‘unwelcome message’ in silence followed by a thunderous murmur until Mirabeau arises to speak against submitting (to the king). But whereas the Assembly actually floundered in diplomatic negotiations for five days until the fall of the Bastille drove the King to order his marshal to disperse the troops, leaving the new National Guard headed by Lafayette as the only effective army in Paris by the 16th, Blake’s imagination telescopes this action, with the ideal result that no army is left in Paris.”
“Where is the General of the Nation?” cries (Blake’s) Mirabeau, whereupon….” – (there’s our next passage) – “Sudden as a bullet wrapp’d in (his) fire …” – (this is line two six two) – …when brazen cannons rage in the field,/ Fayette sprung from his seat saying, Ready! then bowing like clouds, man toward man, the Assembly/ Like a council of ardors seated in clouds, bending over the cities of men,/ And all over the armies of strife, when their children are marshall’d together to battle;/ They murmuring divide, while the wind sleeps beneath, and the numbers are counted in silence,/ While they vote the removal of War, and the pestilence weighs his red wings in the sky./ So Fayette stood silent among the Assembly, and the votes were given and the numbers numb’red;/ And the vote was, that Fayette should order the army to remove ten miles from Paris.”
Now, the footnote here says, “Blake makes two errors in his vision of this debate. On each of the resolutions in question the vote was unanimous” – (they didn’t divide) -“and anyway the French did not vote by ‘dividing’ in English fashion” – (which is getting to one side of the hall or the other) – “but by voice or by standing in their places.” So just so you can see the mechanics of how he’s building his dream politics.So, we’re going to move on to a few lines later.
Peter Orlovsky: Why did Blake change it?
AG: Well, he didn’t get all that information. It took historians hundreds of years to get things straight. Who killed John F. Kennedy, you know?
Peter Orlovsky: You mean Blake didn’t know how….
AG: No, all the specific detailed information (of) day-to-day conduct of the Assembly and King he didn’t know. Or what he knew he condensed, or what he didn’t know he had to make up. Like, he didn’t know exactly who the speakers were among the councilors of the King, so he made up the “Duke of Burgundy” and the “Earl of Borgogne”. It’s just fill in the gaps with your imagination.
So, Fayette is going to take the army out of Paris, but still the cloud hovers over the eastern hills and stretches “… across the city and across the army, and across the Louvre” – (The cloud of the old regime and religion, and also the cloud of reason – Urizen -and also the cloud of Jehovah).
“On pestilent vapours around him flow frequent spectres of religious men weeping” – (That’s, according to Erdman, the decay of ecclesiastical authority over men’s minds, “the frequent spectres of religious men weeping” and the “pestilent vapours.”) – “In winds driven out of the abbeys, their naked souls shiver in keen open air,/ Driven out by the fiery cloud of Voltaire, and thund’rous rocks of Rousseau,” – (The thinkers of the Enlightenment, who brought down the church and whose breaking through the “mind-forged manacles” had dispersed the ecclesiastical authority and the monarchial authority over men’s bodies, also. It’s the two strands of authoritarianism – ecclesiastical authority over the mind and monarchial authority over the body – The Bastile and the Church.)
It’s kind of nice, this triumph of prophets, (on line two hundred and eighty , page two ninety-five, Blake’s page fifteen):
“Over his head the soul of Voltaire shone fiery, and over the army Rousseau his white cloud/ Unfolded..” – (So Blake really digs being in that succession of prophets and realizing how Voltaire really did actually affect men’s consciousness so that it led to this dispersal or this change of cloud from a dark thunderous cloud, sulfurous, to a white cloud of Rousseau).
And then, line two-eighty five, Fayette says that the army’s got to go. And what happens to the King then? So then these last passages (are) kind of archetypal of change and political change and revolution and from (line) two-ninety-three – Does anybody want to read that? Anybody else? Who else has read the text? to the end of this text? [to Student] Do you want to try reading that? Musically.
AG: From two-nintey-four “The noise of trampling….”, paying attention to the rests, musician.
AG: Page two ninety- five
AG: Line two ninety-three: “The noise of trampling….”
Student: “The noise of trampling, the wind of trumpets, smote the palace walls with a blast./ Pale and cold sat the…”
AG: Wait. Is that the way you would “smote the palace walls with a blast”? “(S)mote the palace walls with a blast”! With music! Sing it!
Student: “The noise of trampling, the wind of trumpets, smote the palace walls with a blast./ Pale and cold sat the King in midst of his peers, and his noble heart sunk, and his pulses/Suspended their motion, a darkness crept over his eye-lids, /and chill cold sweat/ Sat round his brows faded in faint death, his peers pale like mountains of the dear/ Cover’d with dews of night, groaning, shaking forests..”
AG: No “Groaning shaking.” It’s like music, you see, there are rests. There are rests. Groaning … shaking. The comma is for breath.
AG: Go on.
Student: Okay – “… groaning, shaking forests and floods. The cold newt/ And snake, and damp toad, on the kingly foot crawl, or croak on the awful knee,/ /Shedding their slime, in folds of the robe the crown’d adder builds and hisses / From stony brows; shaken the forests of France, sick the kings of the nations,/ And the bottoms of the world were open’d, and the graves of arch-angels unseal’d;/ The enormous dead, lift up their pale fires and look over the rocky cliffs./ A faint heat from their fires reviv’d the cold Louvre…”
AG: Louvre, yes.
AG: The Louvre is where the King and his generals were assembled.
Student: Yeah. “… the frozen blood reflow’d…”
AG: So you got to watch (out). It’s sort of, “Uh oh, watch out. There’s a little heat coming in there again. And they’re going to take revenge or something. Go on
Student: “Awful up rose the king, him the peers follow’d, they saw the courts of the Palace/Forsaken, and Paris without a soldier, silent, for the noise was gone up/ And follow’d the army, and the Senate in peace, sat beneath morning’s beam.”
AG: There you go. Back to (line) two ninety five, the last line on two ninety- five is another one of those strange, wart-like lines: “And snake, and damp toad, on the kingly foot crawl, or croak on the awful knee.” That’s another great line. (to Peter Orlovsky) You had something to say about that?
Peter Orlovsky: Yeah. The whole thing is this… everyone is afraid to face cold water, and cold weather. To live out in the cold, in the caves. You get that feeling over again. And the last thing that’s in the King’s mind with all his powers being taken away from him and he’s not thinking particularly about the cold, he’s hung up on their shedding their slime. He’s worried about the frogs. They must have this thing about frogs giving warts. He hasn’t really grasped the horror of living out in the woods like the old ladies, you know….
Peter Orlovsky: Well, I mean, you know….
AG: Whether or not it’s a horror, he thinks that it’s a horror.
Peter Orlovsky: You know, a snowy cold horror, with shivering and how do you beat that? He’s still … before the snow comes, the frogs are around. So that he’s stuck there and the snake and the damp toad on the kingly foot crawl. On the king-ee foot crawl. Or croak on the awful knee. The frogs actually singing a song on his knee. While the frog is on the King’s knee. singing a song, but here the King is saying it’s going to croak, and not only is he’s going to croak on his knee. You see what I mean? In real life the frog’s got a beautiful sound. You know? You’d love to imitate it if you had time all day long you’d love to hear the frog then the King’s worried about shedding their slime. You know? The frog’s gonna take a little piss on his knee. It’s totally bad, you know? What’s the matter with that? He’s afraid he might lick it up or something and taste something. It might be interesting, who knows what’s going on.
AG: So that’s what happens to people who wear the shoes of contempt! – The frog crawls on the kingly foot if you wear the shoes of contempt. That’s very funny in relation to that “shoes of contempt” to get this little cadenza.
Peter Orlovsky: I’ve got one question, what is that adder? A-D-D-E-R? – “The crowned adder builds and hisses”.
AG: Snake with a funny crown, you know that funny kind of head crown.
Peter Orlovsky: Is it a snake crown?
AG: Builds and hisses. What does “builds” mean? “Crowned adder builds..”
Students: Maybe it’s a cobra he means?
AG: Maybe he means cobra. Maybe he’s a hooded cobra?
Peter Orlovsky: A snake common at that time.
AG: Well, probably sort of from Indian travelers. You know, cobra, with the hood.
Peter Orlovsky: But was there a French snake common at that time in the forest?
AG: Maybe. Probably not. They had adders. There were the local adders.
Peter Orlovsky” Well, the adder “builds”, what does he mean by..
AG: No, the adder going up like this.
AG: Coils up, you know
Peter Orlovsky: Oh, I see.
AG: Duh-dah-dah-dah-dah, duh-duh-datta-datta-dah.
Peter Orlovsky: What is “From stony brows”?
Peter Orlovsky: Brows.
AG: The bony brow of the snake adder
Peter Orlovsky: Oh.
AG: The cobra – “builds and hisses/From stony brows.” “Hisses from stony brows”.
Peter Orlovsky: Uh-huh.
AG: That’s pretty good, actually, for that reptilian brow – “the crown’d adder builds and hisses/From stony brows….”
But there is the indication – “A faint heat from their fires reviv’d the cold Louvre;” – so there’s still some fighting to go on. And,, actually what happens in that situation (is) kind of sad. Because here you can see how he’s made a hero of Lafayette, remember. Lafayette springs forth with a clear voice and says, “The Nation’s Assembly command, that the Army remove ten miles from Paris” and his voice thus thundered. His voice loud, inspired by liberty. Fayette lifted his hands – so Lafayette is the hero because he’s the one guy who can control the army. However, what actually happened in history was Fayette was a little more ambiguous later on. See, Fayette got a little cold feet about it. He saw the chaos that was coming on with the revolution and he didn’t really want to be the head of that. He didn’t want to take the responsibility.
Let me see if there’s some note on what Fayette finally did. Yeah. Yes. [Allen reads from Erdman-Bloom] – “Lafayette is later treated as a willful deserter of the people’s cause who, having assisted in releasing their Energy and Desire, tries” at once “to set a bound to” the “Energy and to reconcile the old order and the new. Blake’s judgment is harsh, but granted his point of view it is not inaccurate. Lafayette did fail as a revolutionary (leader) partly because he lacked infernal wisdom, that “no virtue can exist” without (a) breaking of the old rules. As commander of the National Guard he attempted to establish “public order” and “legal subordination” and to restrain the citizens of Paris from hanging grain speculators and from taking down the palace as they had taken down the Bastile. To his friend George Washington … he complained that the good people knew how to overthrow despotism better than they understood “how to submit to the law.” Though professing to “hate everything like the despotism and aristocracy,” Lafayette encouraged both by his repeated efforts to keep alive” the “staggering constitutional monarchy and to delay revolutionary solutions to the crises in bread supply and national defense. Sent to lead an army against the invading Austrians, he tried to turn it against what he considered the greater menace of the Jacobins” – that is, the sort of rabble populace radicals. “Finally, in despair, he fled …” and went to “the Austrian empire – only to end on the “dungeon floor” of another Bastile.” – (I forgot why he was arrested by the Austrian king).
Then there is that poem I suggested you look at that begins “Let the brothels of Paris be opened…Said the beautiful Queen of France” – Anybody check that out?
Well, it’s five after nine. Maybe continue next time with that, and then on to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell .
Peter Orlovsky: What’s after The Marriage of Heaven and Hell ?
AG: After The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, we got the book….
Class and tape ends here
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-seven-and-a-half minutes in, and concluding at the end of the tape]