William Blake’s Naropa class on metrics in William Blake’s “The Four Zoas” continues from here
(Allen confronted by a particularly insistent student)
AG: Yeah, that’s true, there is that… you’re right, there is that ballad….
Student: I find that… (the) practical use of taking a … (to) get back to the argument we had before, that was only superficially an argument – I read the line the same way you do, but I read it against…
AG: The ballad meter.
Student: …the virtual meter, and you don’t.
AG: Well, I think, again, it would be a mistake. Would you say…
Student: Well, what would you say is the virtual meter? What other use has that system of stresses and non-stresses other than to indicate the sound of the language? Because, well, a lot of people have thought, (and I think, and I think I know that Shakespeare thought), that you started out with..”From jigging veins of rhyming mother wits/, And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,/ We’ll lead you to the stately tent of war…”
AG: Well, wait a minute, I can hear your hands (beating the rhythms) but I can’t hear the actual verse fitting it. I can’t hear the verse fitting it.
Student: …then there would be no argument – that when something’s familiar to people, see?, that‘s what they expect to hear. They expect to hear duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah. And then you give them something that’s enough like it that they can hear it echoed and they can hear the virtual-ness of the base, but you say something quite different. “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” against (the) “duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah.” And what you say.. what you say, is the physical speech. And it’s like (more or less, depending on the quote, but it’s got to be), like some real physical speech. (And)what I’m saying is that.. that… that what a lot of us hear, and I’m sure.. I mean, the virtual-ness of that, of that, of that line, (“You had to have those goddamn drinks, and now you made a mess!”), I learned without paying attention to it.. … but when I spoke to my kids, I said a (septenary)! Because I learned it from reading that.
AG: But would that be a balladic septenary. What my question is, are you saying that the basis of the.. what we begin with saying (is), he’s breaking away from Shakespeare, from Dryden, from the verse of his time, in the early century.
Student: Well, he broke away from their verses..
Student: ..but he never did come near..
Student (2): He uses couplets in the songs a lot. But not, not….
Student (3): Not heroics.
Student: Very few, very few hendecasyllabic couplets. It’s almost all song forms.
AG: Actually his song forms.. well, it’s very complicated. All his song forms are mainly Isaac Watts and the hymns, the Wesleyan hymns.
Student: And those were way back.
AG: He’s familiar with Shakespeare and he’s familiar with Chaucer, and most of all he’s influenced by this time by Milton.
AG: He is himself saying he’s breaking away from Milton and Shakespeare.
Student: Well, what I would (say)..
AG: Here (in his letter to Thomas Butts) he’s saying he’s breaking away from Milton and Shakespeare.
Student: He says, “I consider the Monotonous Cadence like that used by Milton & Shakespeare & all writers of English Blank Verse.”
Student: He doesn’t say he was going to use blank verse.
AG: No, he considers it. I’m sorry, the end of the sentence, he considers it…
Student: I’m.. I’m supposing that, aren’t we… don’t we…?
AG: No, at the beginning, he considered it to be necessary and indispensible, that blank verse. That’s what he said.
Student: No, That’s at the beginning of Jerusalem, so that must look back, then, to the Four Zoas..
AG: Yes. Yes.
Student: ..which Blake presumably wrote …
Student …before Jerusalem. So I think that the septenary, which is an epic derivation of the ballad measure, was the cadence that he considered using for Jerusalem (but) that he decided that he would not respect, right?
AG: No, I don’t think so. Not. That doesn’t make sense.
Student: Why not?
AG: If I understood you, he.. that, in breaking away from the.. What you’re saying is that in breaking away from Milton and Shakespeare, the first shift he thought of was to a ballad meter? Is that what you’re saying?
AG: Or are you saying he was influenced by the ballad meter? I thought that’s what you’re saying.
Student: He’s breaking away from the iambic pentameter blank verse …
Student: … and I don’t think….
AG: And going to a ballad meter as a basis?
Student: He says he thought about using a monotonous cadence “like that used by Milton & Shakespeare & all writers of English Blank Verse.” Now that could mean that he thought of using blank verse – or it could mean he thought of using some other cadence in the way that they used blank verse.
AG: Not likely, no. See, I think that’s what you’re saying – that he considered using the ballad septenary, (naturally, he knows the ballad septenary), but he wasn’t considering a shift from one rigidity to another. He simply unfettered that stream of verse that went up to Milton. He says here, I have “produced a variety…both of cadences and number of syllables.” Starting with the blank verse, (he) just opened it up and unfettered it.
Student: That’s in Jerusalem .
AG: Yes. Well, the same thing in the.., the same ear as operating, the same background and ear.
Student: Well, I guess….
Student (4): I think that what he’s saying is that he just overlaid a different rhythm on it, the way a jazz improvisation…
Student(4): … is overlaid upon a (melody)….
AG: Perhaps overlaid the ballad septenary?
Student (4): ….so that you can still hear…
Student (4): …sometimes hear, the virtual tune behind what the… is what the guy is (trying to do, maybe)…
Student: Yeah, thank you very much.
Student (4): like Charlie Parker plays duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah. And that’s embracing (the tune)…
AG: Yeah, my own experience with writing that kind of verse is that I think you’re just thinking up the wrong alley, from this point of view that the difficulty in proceeding from the Miltonic line is a thing of extending a line out to include more prosaic speech and variety of actual speech. And to go in the direction, the artist faced with this problem would not likely try and solve it by going in the direction of a strict ballad meter..breaking that.
Tape ends here but then continues
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at eighty-four-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding approximately ninety-and-a-half minutes in