William Blake’s Tyger – 2

William Blake – Complete Writings (with Variant Readings) – edited by Geoffrey Keynes, Oxford University Press

Ginsberg on Blake continues 

AG: Let’s see, where is “Songs of Experience” in here?  And then in these editions that I have here (sic), the spelling is totally all wrong.

Peter Orlovsky:  Does this have the punctuation?

AG:  This one, for instance, the Dell (sic) , begins “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/In the forests of the night.”

Student:  That’s how it starts?

AG:  Yes.  They repunctuated it totally.  “Tyger! Tyger!” – with exclamation point, exclamation point.  And they made no distinction between the “Tyger Tyger, burning bright” and the “Tyger, Tyger, burning bright” of the last.  It’s exactly the same.  So they’ve evened it out, mechanized it, and taken away all the delicacy of indication that Blake had given so that you could begin “Tyger Tyger, burning bright” and could end, “Tyger, Tyger, burning bright.”  You know, all the variation, the variability, the subtlety and funniness of the breath is taken away in this.

You (might) want to take a look at this to see how vulgar they (were).  I think they must have taken it from Keynes, actually.  (Let’s see,)  “The Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience”,  Yeah.  It was Keynes that did it.  Keynes himself in this elegant Oxford (publication).

Peter Orlovsky:  Was that one before this one?

AG:  No, this is later.  Yeah, yeah.  The Keynes was the first text put together.  So with all the elegance and critical apparatus of the Oxford University Press and Keynes, he fucked it up.  And really fucked it up if you want to try (and be) actually serious about finding the subtle measure (and) trying to measure the line for your own use.

Student:  They didn’t have any connection with, like, singing it at that time, did they?

AG:  No, see, at the time this was being put together, they didn’t conceive of singing it, although, famously, in the early biographies, it is said that Blake sang these, and that’s why they’re called “songs.”  And it’s an indication of the degeneration of the understanding of poetics that when the time Keynes and the 19th century people came along, even though it said “songs”, they didn’t take it literally and they thought that just meant poems, rather than actual singing-songs.

Student:  They took all the middle punctuation out.

AG:  Yeah.

Student:  Yeah.

AG:  Oh, they did.  They didn’t….

Student (2):  All the way through.

Student:  Yeah.

AG:  When I started putting it to music I found, after awhile, that I had to find out what his punctuation was to know where to breathe.  Fortunately just around that time they put out  The Illuminated Blake , (and), Songs of Innocence and Experience  in color plate.  Do you know that exists, real cheap?

Student:  I haven’t seen it.

AG:  Oh, it’s cheap, yeah.  You can get it in paperback.  Five or six bucks.

Student:  Like the others?

AG:  Yeah.  Like The Marriage of Heaven and Hell  one.  Same company [Dover Books}  We have it in the library.  All color plate illustrations.  Color plate of “The (Sick) Rose” and everything.

But there you can actually read Blake’s notations, which are even more variable than these, because he might use a dot instead of a comma or exclamation (point).  He can use anything you want  –  he could put a leaf there to make a caesura, or something.  He can make other kind of indications besides American-ese dictionary punctuation.  And if you look at it, it becomes more and more obvious that he’s so completely into the poem that he’s got all sorts of different kinds of indications how to pronounce it.  And all different interpretations from book to book in how he draws the tiger.  Sometimes he draws the tiger as being a little funny meek toy tiger, like a five-and-ten cent tiger for kiddies, with a smile and round button eyes, sometimes it’s a wrathful tiger, spotted. Sometimes, a tiger with green and orange on the forehead, like (the) Leviathan in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, sometimes a pretty kitty-kat tiger.

to be continued

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