Ginsberg-Blake continuing – 15

The body of Edward I of England on his tomb in Westminster Abbey, sketched by the young William Blake c.1774

Allen Ginsberg on William Blake’s America (continues and concludes from here)

“They slow advances to shut the five gates of their law-built Heaven/ Filled with blasting fancies and mildews of despair,/With fierce disease and lust, unable to stem the fires of Orc/. But the five gates were consum’d..” – “(T)he five gates were consum’d” –  (So that’s his prophecy.  The gates of the senses that closed us in from eternal perception were consumed by this political-spiritual liberation/revolution) – “” … their bolts and hinges melted/And the fierce flames burnt round the heavens, & round the abodes of men,” – (So he brings it back down from having burnt up heaven, the false heaven of Jehovah-Urizen.  The flames are now spreading to the abodes of men.

And we have a couple (of) little funny cancelled plates (on) the next page, if you’ll notice.  He didn’t use (them).  You can find them in the back of the book.  (The) cancelled plates to America  (are on) pages two-nine-two, two-nine-three.  There are a couple of lines in there that are interesting –  “Where George the third holds council..” – “Where George the third holds council..”  (line nine). “& his Lords & Commons meet..” – (I’m reading from page fifty-seven of the Erdman text.  (This is from) cancelled plate B.)

“Shut out from mortal sight the Angel came; the vale was dark/With clouds of smoke from the Atlantic, that in volumes roll’d/ Between the mountains, dismal visions mope around the house.” – (“(D)ismal visions mope around the house”)

AG; (to Students) : Has anybody tried writing a prophetic book this week? ” – ((D)ismal visions mope around the house.”)

Okay, now – “On chairs of iron, canopied with mystic ornaments/Of life/[C]anopied with mystic ornaments/Of life….  … by magic power condens’d…” – “((M)ystic ornaments/Of life by magic power condens’d.”)

” … infernal forms art-bound/ The council sat..” – (Now, that’s really weird.  He’s calling it all some form of art? Or he’s so solidified his imagination of the drama of the council, just as we had this big drama with the French Revolution with the councillors of the King coming with their babes made out of fire rolling out of their sleeves to visit King Louis.)

Here, “infernal forms (are) art-bound/The council sat..” ..”…all rose before the aged apparition..” – ( There is a commentary by David Erdman that makes a little more sense of that on a more literal level.  I immediately read it as Blake rejoicing in his own artisanship, having taken the cast of characters of the American Revolution, all these infernal forms, and bound them into his art.  He may have felt it was too overt a boast. But there is another thing, which is Erdman on page fifty-four

“The familiar Gothic statuary of Westminster Abbey (“forms art-bound”) … George the third holds council, & his Lords & Commons meet: … “dismal visions mope around the house”. ” On chairs of iron, canopied with mystic ornaments/Of life by magic power condensed; infernal forms art-bound….” ). If Blake had imagined the statues of Plantagenets and Tudors in the Abbey coming to life in response, at last, to the stone angels who hold moldering trumpets of judgment above their heads, he might have described them thus. The dwarfish statuettes such as the small busts of Edward I and Edward III, on the marble canopies, are indeed life ‘condens’d’ into mystic ornaments by the magic power of art.  And the effigies too are infernal forms art-bound.  Yet Blake is not describing (Westminster) Abbey but the nearly House of Lords, which he must have known was actually barren of statuary.  The living rulers are the ‘dismal visions’ and the ‘infernal forms’ alluded to in this passage.

“It is not simply that Blake sees the present in images of the antigue..”  Well, so forth…

Well, this is kind of interesting. “It is rather that he seems to be saying to king, lords, and commons:  You war-makers are not living in the spirit of the present. You are reenacting the oppressions and aggressions of ancient times.  You are the ghosts of warriors long since relegated to inferno or bound down in miracles of art by the sculptor and the bard.  I must bind down your infernal forms once more, for I too can prostrate tyrants with my art.  You, George the Third, however young you may seem, are really a snowy bearded old man; your ‘eyes Reveal the dragon thro’ the human’; you are an apparition out of the feudal past.”

So that’s Erdman’s commentary on this passage, and you’ve got to bear in mind that Blake, as an apprentice engraver, spent two years inside Westminster Abbey copying these forms; copying the effigies of the dead, the sculptured dark forms there, the little busts.

And those of you who are checking through Blake’s illustrated works?  Who has got some of those?  Has anybody looked at any of that?  Come on.[to Student]  You did.  There probably are some.  Do you know of any such drawings from Westminster Abbey?.

Student: No.

AG: Actually you (can) see one. There is one here in the back of the book, I think.  Let me see if I can find it fast.  Yeah, Page three-ninety  in the Erdman illustration book on your left, (these) particular things are imitations of those sculpted forms of Westminster Abbey.  And Blake practiced as an apprentice kid drawing these, making copies of these for books of illustrations to be engraved by (James) Basire, the printer, who sent him out there as an apprentice engraver, (or) an apprentice drawer, or apprentice artisan, to copy them.  So Blake was there for years and years in the gloom of Westmister Abbey, drawing these.

Have people been to Westminster Abbey? Do you know what I’m talking about?  It’s the effigies of the kings that lie in state. Big stone six-feet long, seven-feet long….

Peter Orlovsky Marble.  Is it marble?

AG: Yeah, some marble, some stone. You’ll see them also there. A number of them are exhibited in the Louvre, (the) French ones. All throughout Europe in the Middle Ages kings were buried in church with effigies of them.

So it’s a funny passage, I thought. From our point of view, as poets, it’s a really interesting notion by Blake, that  “… dismal visions mope around the house./  On chairs of iron, canopied with mystic ornaments/ Of life by magic power condensed; infernal forms art-                  bound…”  – (So this is a “mystic ornament”.  This book is like a a mystic ornament “of life by magic power condensed; infernal forms art-bound.”  – Pretty good!).

There are another couple (of)  nice lines in here (that) one would (be inclined to) cast (this page aside), not being part of (the final version of America) ) (But) there is, at the bottom of Plate C  – “Infinite Londons awful spires cast a dreadful cold/Even on rational things beneath, and from the palace walls/ Around Saint James’s chill & heavy, even to the city gate.”

That’s kind of nice:  “Infinite Londons awful spires cast a dreadful cold.”  Sounds like Henry Miller talking about Brooklyn, 1933. There’s a great line in Tropic of Capricorn talking about Sunday in Wall Street and from the closed bronze glass gates of the bank emerges such unutterably horrible music as would shake the soul of … I’ve forgotten how he ends the sentence.  But it’s some image of unutterably horrible music emerging from the closed Sunday bank doors.

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-three-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-three minutes in

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