Allen Ginsberg on William Blake – continuing from yesterday
AG: William Butler Yeats used this phrase: “The Babe is Born/And flee away on Every side” for his poem “The Second Coming“. Do you know that? Does everybody know that? Who here does not know William Butler Yeats’ “(The) Second Coming”? Raise your hands if you don’t know it. And who does know that, or who has read that? [Allen surveys the show of hands] – Yeah, well, actually a minority. Well, it’s using.. it comes from this image (in Blake – “For there the Babe is born in joy/That was begotten in dire woe“), and I think in Yeats’ books he uses the epigraph, “The Babe is Born/And flee away on Every side”, for the terror of an apocalyptic change of cycle or revolution, or birth of another Messiah, or second coming, or revelation.
So his thing on the second coming is frightful like this. It begins, “Turning and turning in a widening gyre” – (that is, a “gyre”. Do you know what a “gyre” is? It begins small and whirls around like that. Like the universe is supposed to be by some accounts) -“Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer….” – (The falcon leaves the wrist of the falconer and goes in a widening gyre) – “The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/ Things falls apart; the center cannot hold;/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/… The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are filled with passionate intensity./ Surely some revelation is at hand;/ Surely the Second Coming is at hand./ The Second Coming. Hardly are these words out (of my mouth)/ When some vast image out of the Spiritus Mundi…” – (the spirit of the world) – “Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert/ A shape with a body of a lion and the head of a man/ A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun/ Is moving its slow thighs, while all about (it)/ Reel shadows of (the) indignant desert birds./ The darkness drops again…” – (he’s had this big vision, then the darkness drops again) – “…but now I know/ That twenty centuries of stony sleep – (since Christ’s birth) – “Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,/ And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born.”
Well, that “rough beast” of an apocalyptic Second Coming, of a Messianic historical breakthrough (is) the (present-day) equivalent to “The Babe is Born/And flee away on every side”, would be the hydrogen bomb, actually. So it’s quite literal in that sense, that the “twenty centuries of stony sleep/ Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle”. Well, two thousand years since Christ’s birth to now. – Yes?
Student: It’s kind of like (T.S.) Eliot‘s, how you cling to merciful Christ and then Christ rises up with a sword …
Student: … and a terrible …
Student: … purified fire of Christ rises up and …
Student: … clinging to mercy.
AG: Um-hmm. Yeah. I hadn’t thought of that, but if you were to equate the “Frowning Babe,/ Terror strikes through the region wide” (of Blake) (with) the birth of a new religion, or the birth of a new Messiah, which could come in any form – “A gaze blank and pitiless as a sun”.. which then could be exactly precisely a nuclear explosion, or nuclear weapons – “”A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun”.
Student: How about Karl Marx?
AG: Well, could be, but..
Student: How about Adolf Hitler?
AG: Adolf Hitler? Well, they would all be.. But this was something world-wide, something that would take the whole world, now. Something.. well, I guess, Hitler.. well, everybody, anybody. Like how about Arthur Rimbaud – “..gaze blank and pitiless as the sun”? – (How) about L.S.D.? How about Timothy Leary? How about (then-President) Jimmy Carter? How about you? How about me? I’ll run for the apocalypse.
So, anyway, any flash of consciousness that recognizes the cycle. But the projection outward, anyway, into a solid ball of fire, into a solid fireball.
Well, this (Blake’s “The Mental Traveler”) was written 1790, or 1800, and then Yeats’s commentary was written 1921, “The Second Coming” is 1921 or something like that.
Peter Orlovsky: This was written in 1800 exactly?
AG: I believe. Fair copies of this manuscript were made by Blake in 1803, and the poem is probably around 1800. It’s from the Pickering Manuscript.
Well, ” (And) who dare touch the Frowning Form/His arm is witherd to its root”? – And then even the monsters of nature flee away – “Lions Boars Wolves all howling flee/ And every Tree does shed its fruit”..”And none can touch that frowning form/ Except it be a Woman Old/ She nails him down upon the Rock/ And all is done as I have told.”
Okay. She nails him down a rock. Except (in) the beginning he was “born in joy/ That was begotten in dire woe”. Well, the “begetting in dire woe” (are these) various arts of love and hate and the last love affair with nature described with the young maiden at the end where he chases the young maiden. So that might be the “dire woe”. If you go back and try and retrace what the first stanza of the poem means from the end of the cycle, you might make some sense out of it, if the “dire woe” was he becomes a “wayward Babe” and she a weeping “Woman Old”.
“[H]e pursues her night & day/ By various arts of Love beguil’d/ By various arts of Love & Hate/ Till the wide desart planted oer/ With Labyrinths of wayward Love/ Where roams the Lion Wolf & Boar’ – So he becomes a “wayward Babe” – “.. (T)he babe is born a boy, in joy/ That was begotten in dire woe” – But then it says “.. we reap in joy the fruit/ Which we in bitter tears did sow” – Then does that satisfy “They cry “The Babe! the Babe is born! /And flee away on every side”? That doesn’t sound very joyful, that birth.
Well, whatever it is, it has something to do with the way our consciousness goes in and out, I think. The way consciousness sort of eats itself. Where visionary reality suddenly becomes ordinary and ordinary reality becomes visionary. And L.S.D. becomes total reality, and then, all of a sudden, twenty years later, L.S.D. is just a trip and total reality is ordinary mind. So it’s the same kinds of reversals.
Yeats, coming out of Blake, had the image – the “V” of both gyres, the sharp point of one gyre touching the flat huge base of the other cone, and the sharp point of one cone touching the base of the other cone – as two gyres going in and out, and the universe having that shape, and the mind having that shape, and thought forms having that shape, and history having that shape. All that’s outlined in his book A Vision which is a great classic systematic work that he pieced together over many, many years. (It’s) worth reading, and was one of the first books that (William) Burroughs ever gave me to read, when I was eighteen, which I kept by my bedside for years and got the hang of it. But I had not read Blake and did not realize how much he was just trying to do something like what Blake did, which was to make a prophetic system like a model of the mind-universe.
Student: I’ve been astrology professionally for a while and the astrological system that comes out of that is so right on…
AG: Is it?
Student: …in terms of the lunar phase that you’re born in.
Student: That you go around and around in twenty-eight lives…
Student: …going around the full moon, around..
Student: But it’s based on the gyre.
Student: ..given through his wife in automatic writing.
AG: Yeah. I don’t want to confuse people too much by saying where it came from. Yeah, his wife woke him up at night and dictated phrases from his instructors. Unknown instructors were talking through his wife and that’s how he wrote this book, piece by piece. However. So.
Student: Has Blake already abandoned, then, political revolution at this point?
AG: No, no, no.
Student: Does he hang on to that?
AG: No, he’s just getting more judicious. He’s just getting more judicious. I wouldn’t say he’s abandoned it, any more than I have, or you have, or anybody wants to, it’s just that, with experience … Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience.
AG: Songs of Experience. So then, now you have to figure it out.
AG: But now, maybe, it’s a good time to get into “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, because that reflects a lot of the disillusionments.
to be continued
[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-seven-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-seven-and-a-half minutes in]