Allen Ginsberg on William Blake’s America – A Prophecy continues from here
AG: Now, what happens? – [Allen continues to quote Blake] – “The stern Bard ceas’d, asham’d of his own song; enrag’d he swung/His harp aloft sounding, then dash’d its shining frame against/A ruin’d pillar in glittering fragments; silent he turn’d away,/And wander’d down the vales of Kent in sick & drear lamentings..”
AG: No. This is.. It might be Orc talking, however it’s really Blake commenting on the book America because this thing was written, the “Preludium”was written, after the book was written, and in the course of the book, according to Damon, he gets increasingly pessimistic about the fate of revolution. Also, increasingly pessimistic about the political fate of England, which is getting more and more reactionary, more and more counter-revolutionary, more and more anti-Jacobin, more and more warlike, being led by William Pitt into war with France, more and more destructive of the countryside, rich men in banks are buying up and grabbing more and more land, more and more people are going into the cities to work for the industrial revolution, the farm soil is declining.
Peter Orlovsky: He advised the bankers to grow oil and grapes?
AG: Rather than….
Peter Orlovsky: What is oil?
AG: Oh, by oil he means olive oil, because growing olive trees to make oil and grapes for wine.
AG [to Peter Orlovsky]: You had something about iron and revolution? Iron and farming? Can you tell us? Something in Erdman that you noticed?.
Peter Orlovsky: That Blake was reading Chatterton..?
Peter Orlovsky: … and Chatterton has a line in there (on two-four-nine), that the reason that wars are started is as a sacrifice to the earth, because the earth is getting damaged so that instead of sacrificing to gods, they sacrifice and kill people in wars so they can spill blood on the ground and fertilize the ground so you can grow good fruit trees.
AG: “Thus man have fought for bread, and even reversed the pestilential effect of war to the extent that the blood of tyrants and hirelings, added to their own, has enriched the lean earth. In at least two antiquarian sources, Chatterton’s Rowley Poems and Percy‘s Northern Antiquities… Blake found indications that many of man’s struggles are literally preparations for harvest….”
“Howe oft ynne battaile have I stoode,/Whan thousands dyed arounde;/Whan smokynge streemes of crimson bloode/Imbrew’d the fatten’d grounde..” – Chatterton, I think. Was that Chatterton? Yes.
AG: Yes, Chatterton. The note on England then.
What’s going on in England at that time that makes him worry that “the stern Bard ceas’d, asham’d of his own song.” See, he’s gotten to the point of, in extremis, saying that we’ve got to have this revolution, we’ve got to have death, we’ve got to have fury, there’s no way out. And so he’s prophesying the revolution to continue from the American and the French Revolution, it’s now 1793. He’s still pro-Jacobin (that is to say, pro-Populist), even though there have been Stalin-oid reversals, Robespierre has killed.. (well, I think, 1793 was the year that King Louis had his head cut off). And there’s a picture of that, by the way. Louis, with his head cut off, if you’ll notice, is in (Plate 5).. the one with the serpent and the vortex – (Plate 5n) “The top figure”… There are three kids in judgement, apparently, at the top – “three naked youths up in the heavens … with fiery sword and scales of” judgement.
And there’s a central figure of the central kid – do you see him? – with a body, carrying a body.. On the top, center top, standing on a cloud. See him?
AG: Anybody not see him? He’s got the King in his hand and he’s tossing him down to the serpent – revolution, Leviathan. Remember “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell ? From the Tory point of view, the Tory Angel point of view, the revolution was seen as a horrible serpent (with a) blood-mottled forehead. So if you’ll notice there’s a headless naked body tossed down to the serpent – that’s King Louis, who had his head chopped off with a guillotine, according to certain commentators.
It says here (Erdman, again),” At the top the King, bound, is tried and found wanting … then sent hurtling to the bottom where his possibly decapitated (body) is encircled by a blood-red serpent with human face but forked tongue….The King and Queen of France had recently been guillotined, January 1793″ – (same year this poem was put out).
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-eight minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in