Ginsberg on Blake continues – 4

“Behemoth and Leviathan” – William Blake (1757–1827), pen and black ink, gray wash, and watercolor, over traces of graphite, in the collection of The Morgan Library and Museum, New York

AG: So, if anybody’s ever had a great acid trip where they’ve seen the Leviathan, the great serpent, the serpent of the State, the serpent of the paranoia of the State, advancing toward you with all the fury of a spiritual existence, the phrasing is great here.  So actually this a great visionary thing about a modern problem.  I remember in the early ’60s, getting high on acid and always seeing that some giant cosmic serpent or Leviathan which was connected somehow with the CIA or the State or the intelligence of the controller.

Student: “Don’t Tread on Me.

AG: Yeah.  That’s the American Revolution — the serpent, too. So the serpent serves for lots of (things) –  “Don’t Tread on Me,” you know, was the flag of the thirteen states, or something like that.  “Don’t Tread on Me,” with a snake.

Student: Um-hmm.

AG: Saying they’ll bite back if the English army comes and steps on them.  Let’s see, (David) Erdman has some (commentary on this).  Let’s see if I have a little bit more on this.  Okay:

“In this parable,” (according to David Erdman’s Prophet Against Empire)  “Blake and a conservative Angel who is alarmed at his radical ‘career’ undertake to show each other the post-revolutionary future from their respective points of view.  The Angel is unwilling to plunge with Blake into the void of the coming century to see whether the Swedenborgian ‘providence is here also, ‘because what he sees ahead is a ‘monstrous serpent’ with a forehead ‘colored green & purple’ like ‘a tyger’s”… This is what the revolution looks like to a Tory, and its symbolic of the fear of Hell which makes him restrain desire. The monster which terrifies him boils up out of the nether deep beside a ‘cataract of blood mixed with fire’ in a manner (that) prefigures the birth of Orc in America, which terrifies the King of England.”

However,  – then the next lines are interesting – “”My friend the Angel climb’d up from his station into the mill”-  (back into rational mind.  He wanted to get off this trip, come down out of this visionary thing, so he’s back in rational mind again, and the mechanical use of reason, according to Alicia Ostrickers footnote  – the mill).  “I remain’d alone” – (so Blake was up there, as a good (Timothy) Leary student – going right into the vision, going right into the anxiety, sitting with it, not getting scared) – ” … & then this appearance was no more, but I found myself sitting on a pleasant bank beside a river by moon light hearing a harper who sung to the harp, & his theme was, The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind.”

So the Tory has bred a reptile of the mind. The Welsh harper in the hut, actually, is a contemporary image, I think mentioned by Mary Wollstonecraft, who was a friend of Blake, and who was an early feminist, a very important feminist. And these contraries, these battles in Blake’s mind, will, particularly in the next book, the Visions of the Daughters of Albion, be dealing with women’s rights and the revolution in women’s rights, obviously.  That’s what that means – “The Visions of the Daughters of Albion”. It’s the visions of women, women’s rights. Particularly…  It’s even a parable of the story of Mary Wollstonecraft herself.  (We’re skipping ahead here).

Audio for the above can be heard here. beginning at approximately nineteen-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in


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