Allen Ginsberg on William Blake (“Let the Brothels of Paris be opened”)

[ ms. from William Blake’s Notebooks – Notebook 60a – “Let the Brothels of Paris be opened”]

We continue this week with transcription from Allen Ginsberg’s 1979 Naropa lectures on William Blake.  We last left off here.  The recording today begins in the midst of him singing, “Let the Brothels of Paris be opened”, accompanying himself on harmonium and with Peter Orlovsky harmonizing on vocals.)

“Let the Brothels of Paris be opened/ With many an alluring dance/To awake the Physicians thro the city/Said the beautiful Queen of France/  The King awoke on his couch of gold/ As soon as he heard these tidings told/Arise & come both fife & drum/And the Famine shall eat both crust & crumb/ Then he swore a great & solemn Oath/To kill the people I am loth/ But If they rebel they must go to hell/ They shall have a Priest & a passing bell/  Then old Nobodaddy aloft/Farted & belchd & coughd/And said I love hanging & drawing & quartering/Every bit as well as war & slaughtering/ Damn praying & singing/ Unless they will bring him/ The blood of ten thousand by fighting or swinging/  The Queen of France just touchd this Globe/ And the Pestilence darted from her robe/ But our good Queen quite grows to the ground/ And a great many suckers grow all around/  Fayette beside King Lewis stood/ He saw him sign his hand/ And soon he saw the famine rage/ About the fruitful land/ Fayette beheld the Queen to smile/ And wink her lovely eye/ And soon he saw the pestilence/ From street to street to fly/ Fayette beheld the King & Queen/ In curses & iron bound/ But mute Fayette wept tear for tear/ And guarded them around/ Fayette Fayette thourt bought & sold/ And sold is thy happy morrow/ Thou gavest the tears of Pity away/ In exchange for the tears of sorrow/  Who will exchange his own fire side/ For the stone of anothers door/ Who will exchange his wheaten loaf/ For the links of a dungeon floor/ O who would smile on the wintry seas/ & Pity the stormy roar/ Or who will exchange his new born child/ For the dog at the wintry door.

AG: So the details are actually taken from (or) lifted from little phrases of (Edmund) Burke, like “Fayette…” “The Queen of France just touchd this Globe,” (like the queen scarcely alighting on the orb).

Peter Orlovsky:  What does that quote mean?  That she “touchd” the “Globe”?, and how does “the Pestilence” start?

AG:  She got down to it,  she just arrived on the world and pestilence came from …

Peter Orlovsky:  Ah!.. oh!..

AG:  … her cunt, I guess.  “The pestilence darted from her robe” – “But our good Queen quite grows to the ground/And a great many suckers grow all around.”  That’s pretty modern – Fayette is a sucker. “(T)he links of a dungeon floor” is literal, because Fayette wound up on the dungeon floor in Austria.

Peter Orlovsky:  The links?

AG: “(T)he links of a dungeon floor.”

Peter Orlovsky:  What’s the links?

AG:  A link  – the links of chains.  The chain links on a dungeon floor.  The links of a chain on the floor of a dungeon.

Peter Orlovsky:  Oh, I see.

AG:  The links of a chain.  But then he really gets (very powerful): “who would smile on the wintry seas/& Pity the stormy roar.”  Very powerful.

That was the first Blake I ever put to music.  I had gone to Los Gatos and had seen Neal Cassady’s ashes in a velvet bag at his wife’s house,  he being a friend of Kerouac and a prototypical dramatic character for both Kerouac and Ken Kesey.  And on the way home I kept hearing, “Fayette, Fayette, thourt bought & sold/And sold as the happy morrow/ Thou givest the tears of pity away/ In exchange for the tears of sorrow”. And I couldn’t figure out whether what was coming from my unconscious was a signal to myself, as being bought and sold, or Cassady for having died early, so to speak, for having copped out earlier, gone underground early.  Or myself, (for) having survived.

And I was on the way to Chicago (in) 1968, and I arrived there for the (Democratic) convention with that tune in my head. That and one other of Blake’s songs of the French Revolution were the first songs I put together (with) music and sang to Phil Ochs who, then alive, was the main folk-singing minstrel involved with the political revolution, rebellions, around Chicago, (which had some of the same populist paradoxes involved, potentially, as seen in the reversal of the ‘Seventies, when many of the people of the ‘Sixties rebellion changed roles, actually.  Like down in Denver now, Rennie Davis, one of the leaders of the 1968 Chicago street rebellion, was, as of a couple of years ago, a disciple of Maharaj Ji..)

Student: He’s with John Hancock now.

AG:  Now he’s with John Hancock insurance.  Doing what? Doing what?  Do you know?

Student: Doing some underwriting.

AG:  I saw him about four months ago, actually, in New York last summer, in August, at the Abbie Hoffman benefit in Madison Square Garden, meeting with (David) Dellinger and Bobby Seale.  Bobby Seale was around somewhere doing community work.  Abbie Hoffman (is)  [1979 – sic] underground doing community work on ecological matters.

But roles (have) changed.  Kerouacs view in those days (was) “All those jews were inventing new reasons for (spitefulness).”  All us jews, I should say, were inventing new reasons for spitefulness.  That is to say, “hate your parents, kill your parents, hate your parents”.  So he thought the radical revolutionary activities of the late ”Sixties were “new reasons for spitefulness.”  Which I think was partly true, though I was offended at his insight at the time. (I think that was) partly (true). I don’t think that was the whole story at all, but there was an element, unpurified yet,that still hasn’t been purified out of people’s motives, and motifs, and behavior.  Or that there’s some element of aggression still in it, that made it confusing, (and) maybe even (contributed to the election of President Richard) Nixon, actually, rather than (Hubert Humphrey in 1968). Maybe (it) created a worse mess than (we got). Or maybe it didn’t. Who knows?

Orc – revolution.  Orc is O-R-C.  Blake’s revolution.  Some of that in the end Blake banishes but (it) is a necessary figure, born out of Poetic Imagination.  Born from Poetic Imagination.  Los,  Los, Poetic Imagination gave birth to Orc – revolution.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the start of the tape and concluding at approximately eight-and-three-quarter minutes in] 

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