Blake continues – 5

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake continues

AG: This was his first attempt at a seven or septenary (line),  as they call it, I think – a fourteener.  At the beginning of Jerusalem, Blake, conscious of Milton, wrote a little thing to the public.  Let’s see, what was Milton’s called?  The little note I read was …

Student: “The Verse”.

AG:  … well, it just says “The Verse”. “The Verse”.  It just says  “The Verse”. Then Blake, at the beginning of Jerusalem, on page one four three of the Erdman edition, or whatever edition you’ve got, Jerusalem first page,  Blake’s written, “To the Public”, discussing his verse form. Well, there’s a little philosophic matter here, and then there’s a section that says:  “Of the Measure, in which/the following Poem is written,” –  on page one-forty-four.  Of course he’s talking about  Jerusalem.  That’s more or less, I think, a similar line.  “Of the Measure”  is interesting, because that’s the word that Williams used – “measure”. Twentieth century Williams, conscious of all these progressions of verse form and the growth of verse forms over the centuries and the variations of them, began using the word “measure” a great deal, wanting an American “measure” for speech and an American “measure” for poetics.

” We who dwell on Earth can do nothing of ourselves, every thing is conducted by Spirits, no less than Digestion or Sleep….”…”When this Verse was first dictated to me I consider’d a Monotonous Cadence like that used by Milton and Shakespeare & all writers of English Blank Verse, derived from modern bondage of Rhyming; to be a necessary and indispensible part of Verse.”

Well, he’s saying that though Milton dropped the rhyme, he kept the same blank verse five-beat line,  the iambic pentameter line – a line of five beats, and generally in iambic form.  “Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit/Of that forbidden tree” – duhdah duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah duh dah — light/heavy, light/heavy, light/heavy, light/heavy, light/heavy.  So he dropped the rhyme but he kept the line, the blank verse line – Shakespeare, Milton.  Milton and Shakespeare.  The “Monotonous Cadence like that used by Milton and Shakespeare” – (that’s pretty good. chutzpah – but he’s pointing out that it is derived from the modern bondage of rhyming).     Yes?

Student: Is he speaking, when he says in his on writing, “dictated to me”,  is that …

AG: Yes.

Student: … his own writing and not….

AG: Well, what he means by “dictated to me”  is that he hears it in the back of his head, or perhaps an angel writes it down on the paper for him, or he sees it written down on the paper and just traces it out in this form.

Student: Yeah (visionary)

AG: We’ll get to that.  Well, to do this (we’d have to make) a jump into Europe  just to make a little divigation, because a fairy dictated Europe (to him), so he describes how it happened.

So, when he first started he thought that blank verse was a necessary and indispensible part of verse.

“But I soon found out that in the mouth of a true Orator..” – (Here he’s using the word “oratory” again, nicely, just as Milton did. So he’s very conscious that Milton wrote a little preface about his verse (and) he’s going to write a preface about his verse and keyed around oratory and spoken rhythm – “But I soon found out that in the mouth of a true Orator such monotony was not only awkward, but as much a bondage as rhyme itself.  I therefore have produced a variety in every line, both of cadences…”

That is, the rhythmic sequences:  Don-duh-duh don-duh-duh don-duh-duh don-duh-duh; duh-duh-dom duh-duh-dom duh-duh-dom duh-duh-dom.  Or, don-tuh don-tuh don-tuh.  Or duh-dah-dah-dah duh-dah-dah-dah duh-dah-dah-dah.  The number of various cadences possible.  “(B)oth of cadences  & number of syllables..” – (So there will be a varying number of syllables).

Now, in America  it’s basically a seven-beat line and basic fourteeners, (Harold) Bloom says, or septenary, which, I guess, would mean basically fourteen syllable (lines)

“Every word and every letter is studied and put into its fit place:  the terrific numbers are reserved for the terrific parts…” – (” terrific numbers”, like DUH-DOM-BOM-BOM. – like terrific, terrifying) – “…the mild & gentle, for the mild & gentle parts, and the prosaic, for inferior parts:  all are necessary to each other.  Poetry Fetter’d, …” – (by the bondage of rhyming or fixated form verse). –  “Poetry Fetter’d, Fetters the Human Race!  Nations are Destroy’d, or Flourish, in proportion as Their Poetry Painting and Music, are Destroy’d or Flourish!  The Primeval State of Man was Wisdom, Art, and Science.”

So we have this Blakean instruction in the 20th century through Pound and Williams to study ever letter and put it in its fit place – every word and every letter studied and put into its fit place. (The) twentieth century then completely opened up the verse form.  He’s still got the long line which would then be taken over by Whitman, among others, derived mainly from the Bible.  As you were reading you noticed … I’m sorry, your name? I forgot.

Student: Bruce.

AG: Bruce.  As you were reading you noticed it was all like “wherever the golden bowl be broken/or the silver cord be loosed”  –  each line divided into two, like Ecclesiastes or the verse form of the Bible.  Did you notice that at all?

Student (Bruce): As I was reading?
AG: Yeah.  Or later or before.  Or is that a familiar, recognizable cadence?  At all?
Student (Bruce): I didn’t catch the first thing that you said.
AG: That the two-part … see, as you reading, remember, the lines broke into two, generally.
Student (Bruce): Yeah.

AG:  And in the middle of the line would be a comma and it sort of would be duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah duh-dah-dah dah/dah duh-duh datta dah.  And that’s the biblical form, as in the Bible.    Yeah?

Student: What is the Greek thing in the parentheses?

AG: Eli Eli Lama Sabachthan, maybe?  I don’t know.  It’s the last words of Jesus.  I don’t know. You can look it up in the notes in the back but I don’t think it relates to our prosadaic problem, so I skipped it.  I didn’t want to get hung up on a footnote.

Student: It’s not in the back.  It’s the last words of Jesus.
AG: Which (were) what?  “My God, why have you forsaken me?”  No?
Student: “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”
AG: “Forgive them, they know not what they do,” maybe.
Student: Well, it’s….
AG: Yeah.  You can do “nothing of ourselves, everything is conducted by Spirits, no less than digestion or sleep –  Forgive them, they know not what they do.”  – That’d make more sense.

Student: Yeah.  There were several.  In each book it was different.

AG: Um-hmm.

to be continued

{Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-three-and-a-half-minutes in and continuing to approximately forty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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