Allen Ginsberg on William Blake (continuing from here)
AG: So, back here, (to the text of Visions of the Daughters of Albion) because it’s really getting good now. These little poems (I just read you) are good, but this is going to be one of the great rhetorical flights. Total inspiration is coming on to him.
So – “Innocence! honest, open, seeking,/The vigorous joys of morning light, open to virgin bliss” – (Wow!) – “Who taught thee modesty, subtil modesty! child of night & sleep?/When thou awakest. wilt thou dissemble all thy secret joys,?Or wert thou not, awake when all this mystery was disclos’d?/ Then com’st thou forth a modest virgin knowing to dissemble/With nets found under thy night pillow, to catch virgin joy,/And brand it with the name of whore; & sell it in the night,/In silence. ev’n without a whisper, and in seeming sleep:/Religious dreams and holy vespers, light thy smoky fires:/Once were thy fires lighted by the eyes of honest morn/And does my Theotormon seek this hypocrite modesty/ This knowing, artful, secret, fearful, cautious, trembling hypocrite?” – ((Me! – Whenever I read that I always said, “that’s me!”) -“Then is Oothoon a whore indeed! and all the virgin joys/ Of life are harlots: and Theotormon is a sick man’s dream/ And Oothoon is the crafty slave of selfish holiness./ But Oothoon is not so, a virgin fill’d with virgin fancies/Open to joy and to delight where ever beauty appears:/If in the morning sun I find it, there my eyes are fix’d/ In happy copulation; if in evening mild, wearied with work,/ Sit on a bank and draw the pleasures of this free born joy./ The moment of desire! the moment of desire! The virgin/That pines for man; shall awaken her womb to enormous joys/ In the secret shadows of her chamber; the youth shut up from,/The lustful joy shall forget to generate and create an amorous image/ In the shadows of his curtains and in the folds of his silent pillow./Are not these the places of religion? the rewards of continence?/The self-enjoyings of self-denial l? Why dost thou seek religion?/Is it because acts are not lovely, that thou seekest solitude,/Where the horrible darkness is impressed with reflections of desire?”
Boy, that’s a great speech! Can’t get beyond that. But all of Whitman comes from that line: ” …the youth shut up from,/The lustful joy shall forget to generate. and create an amorous image/ In the shadows of his curtains and in the folds of his silent pillow.”
Who hasn’t done that? That’s so deep!
Peter Orlovsky: Had Whitman read Blake?
Peter Orlovsky: Whitman read this?
AG: I don’t think Whitman read this, no. This is probably not even published (or) available. Well, I don’t know the history of this one. It may be that … when did Whitman die? Does anyone know? The 1890s? Late ’90s or 1889, but 1890s, [Editorial note – Walt Whitman died, March 26, 1892] and the first English editions that contained this were probably not until 1880. I don’t know if (this text) is in the first biography…the (Edwin J.) Ellis. Well, he might. Yes, he might have, because (Algernon) Swinburne was writing to Whitman, and Swinburne was editing and reading these, though maybe even Swinburne didn’t know this. But Swinburne , who was gay – or was interested in being whipped, or something. That was the.. that was… (Seriously, Swinburne had a very interesting, various, sexual life and was very conscious of it and wrote Whitman about that, wondering if Whitman’s Leaves of Grass meant that kind of sexual openness, and if Whitman was gay, and Whitman got freaked out by this direct question and wrote him back a long letter, saying, “No! How can you dare suggest such a thing? I’ve had a long life, jolly, bodily, and I have six bastard children in New Orleans by an octoroon woman!” He actually did write that back.
So Swinburne knew all these texts. He probably knew most of Blake by that time. Swinburne knew (Dante Gabriel) Rossetti, probably, and Rossetti had a lot of these manuscripts and a lot of them were passed on to (William Butler) Yeats, so “the Gay ‘Nineties”, “the Yellow Decade”, are probably where these were first discovered then, maybe, I don’t know. A few collectors had the prophetic books. I think this.. I’ve forgotten.. I don’t know how many copies were made of this. Seventeen copies. Seventeen copies are now known, so in the 1880-1890, God knows how many. I don’t know.
Peter Orlovsky: Why did they call it “the Yellow Decade”?
Student: So do you think any of those made it across the ocean?
AG: Well, I don’t know. It’s possible. That’s just a transition time when Blake was coming to the surface in people’s minds. Certainly to Yeats, actually. He was being discovered by Yeats and Edward Ellis. Yeats and Ellis prepared an edition of Blake with explanations, three volumes, which you can get over in our Naropa Library. I think I’ve mentioned it before. It’s there. If you want to see Yeats’ take. Not (a) very good edition of the text but a really interesting, if confusing, attempt to understand the symbolism. I think that was the… Remember I was talking about “The Mental Traveller”, saying that Yeats could never figure that one poem out (and) thought that was the most tough nut in all of Blake? That’s from that commentary.
But I love that line: “…create an amorous image/In the shadows of his curtains and in the folds of his silent pillow.” – Because I think it’s probably absolutely universal for most anybody who’s ever masturbated. He’s created that That is such an elegant, beautiful, and accurate way of saying it: “… create an amorous image/In the shadows of his curtains and in the folds of his silent pillow.”
[Audio for the above can be heard can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixty-two-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-seven-and-a-half minutes in]