Allen Ginsberg on William Blake (“The Grey Monk”)

AG: There’s another poem on that same theme, “The Grey Monk”, which I’d also like to sing because it’s still on the theme of the French Revolution.  And sometimes what happens after revolution. Do you know where that (is)?  Can you find that, Pete (sic)? The “Grey Monk” ? do you know where that is? –  “I die I die the Mother said.”  That might be in your Erdman.  Do you know where that is?  Well, let’s see.

Student: (Page) four eighty.

AG: Four eighty?  Lets see what version they have there.  Yeah. Why don’t we use this one?  This version.  This is ten years later, 1800.  “The Grey Monk”.  It’s on page four eighty.  It begins, for those who have a different edition, “I die I die the Mother said.”  It’s a description of Blake’s role when God commanded his hand to write in the studious hours of deep midnight.  So it’s Blake’s version, in the middle..  or that’s the way I interpret it, that Blake is now commenting on his own prophetic role.

At the end of “The Grey Monk” there’s a reversal where the violent rebels become the dictators, and reverse roles.  Before that there’s a statement of pacifistic intent in that this is the only way Blake can see to get out of the fix of violence and counter-violence, and the beginnings of his statement of the political set-up, what’s the suffering of the weak, among the widows and the suffering of the populace.  So this is ten years later, he’s looking back on his radicalism of 1789, of the time of the composition of “The French Revolution”; of the poem we read.

“I die I die the Mother said/ My Children die for lack of Bread/ What more has the merciless Tyrant/ The Monk sat down on the Stony Bed/  The blood red ran from the Grey Monks side/ His hands & feet were wounded wide/ His Body bent his arms & knees/ Like to the roots of ancient trees/ His eye was dry no tear could flow/ A hollow groan first spoke his woe/ He trembled & shudderd upon the Bed/ At length with a feeble cry he said/  When God commanded this hand to write/ In the studious hours of deep midnight/ He told me the writing I wrote should prove/ The Bane of all that on Earth I lovd/  My Brother starvd between two Walls/ His Childrens Cry my Soul appalls/ I mockd at the wrack & grinding chain/ My bent body mocks their torturing pain/ Thy Father drew his sword in the North/ With his thousands strong he marched forth/ Thy Brother has armd himself in Steel/ To avenge the wrongs thy Children feel/ But vain the Sword & vain the Bow/ They never can work Wars overthrow/ The Hermits Prayer & the Widows tear/ Alone can free the World from fear/ For a Tear is an Intellectual Thing/ And a Sigh is the Sword of an Angel King/ And the bitter groan of the Martyrs woe/ Is an Arrow from the Almighties Bow/  The hand of Vengeance found the Bed/ To which the Purple Tyrant fled/ The iron hand crushd the Tyrants head/  And became a Tyrant in his stead./ I die I die the Mother said/ My Children die for lack of Bread/ What more has the merciless Tyrant/ The Monk sat down on the Stony Bed.”

So it’s like a cycle.  A cyclical thing, which you’ll get in an even stranger poem, “The Mental Traveller”, which is one of the most incomprehensible poems in all of Blake, which may be the same reversals or revolution growing old and then turning into custom, or revolution growing old and turning into authority. And authority growing old and giving birth to revolution.  Or a psychological process in which the mind becomes solidified and full of reason and matured and then breaks down under its own solidity and maturity and rigidification and so gives birth to nervous breakdown and inspiration and renewed visionary understanding, which then becomes conceptualized and rigidified and made into religion, with priests, and then turns again into chaos, which gives birth to more revolution.

Student: Does that happen with the ‘Sixties, or is that going to happen do you think?

AG: Well, I was just explaining those elements of it which did happen in the ‘Sixties.  I wouldn’t want to stereotype it to say that it’s happened with the ‘Sixties, because it’s too much of a stereotype.  I would say that it’s happened with the CIA version of it. The CIA version of the “Sixties is that, definitely.  That is, the CIA version is, people went too far and now they’ve got to come back to normal.  You know,  we’ve all heard that one from Time magazine, or CBS, or the New York Times. That’s one version of it. That’s, like, one version of it. The other.. Another version is.. this invitation, yes. Here’s the other version of it.  The other version – here’s a living example – but a very complicated version, nothing too..  a perfect poetic justice, with monarchy and everything like that, marble walls, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” –  exactly what you were asking.  It’s an invitation to a walk to celebrate the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. -with all of Blake’s paradoxes, with all of his possible paradoxes.  You have to figure it out like you figure out a Blake poem.

Peter Orlovsky:  Here, Allen (passes him an announcement)

AG: You’ve got to figure it out like you figure out “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”  Have you got one?

“The Regents Club requests the pleasure of your company at a dance for the benefit of the Naropa Institute.  Music by the Boulder Bassoon Band.  Five Dollars per person –  semi-formal.” – Make what you want out of that.

On the other hand, make what you want out of Blake.  Or make what you want out of….

to be continued

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

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