Student: In the writing of this….
AG: Can you see from there?
Student: Yeah. In the writing of this long line, is the impulse for accent now shifting subtly from speech to thought, because you’re dismissing the idea of a long line of thought zapping … through the head. What I want to …
Student: … get around to is what’s your feeling about where you go from working with syllables in Blake to where you go with working with long breaths?
AG: I don’t know, actually. This particular work he never printed up. He was still working on it when he died – what exists is a handscript. He probably read it to friends. What exists is more his mental creation through the hand, down the nerves of his arm. He probably talked to himself a little when he was doing it. He had a fantastic ear and a lot of it for speech, too.
Student(2): He got it twenty lines at a time from dictation from the angels.
AG: Yeah. Actually, the answer to that might be given by Blake himself in your book on page … in a letter section of your book, in a letter to Thomas Butts, April 25, 1803, page 697 of your Erdman text. He’s writing to his friend Butts from Felpham, southern England, where he had settled down in the country, and he’s planning to go back to London and he says, in the middle of (page) 697, – “But none can know the Spiritual Acts of my three years Slumber on the banks of the Ocean unless he has seen them in the Spirit or unless he should read My long Poem descriptive of those Acts for I have in these three years composed an immense number of verses on One Grand Theme Similar to Homer’s Iliad or Milton’s Paradise Lost“.. – he still hasn’t punctuated it. So that’s written to be read, I guess, with the eye, but it’d be funny how he would pronounce it. He’s talking about this poem.
Student (2): Well.
AG: Is he not?
Student (2): Maybe. Or maybe also Milton
AG: Well, let’s see, 1803.
Student (2): He started this in 1795.
Student (2): And continued it. But he was also….
AG: And started Milton by then also.
Student (2): Yeah, right. He may have conceived of them as one poem at that time.
AG: Damon refers this particular letter passage to this poem, but obviously it could be anything written in that time.
Peter Orlovsky: What does he mean, “my three years” of “Slumber on the banks of the Ocean”?
AG: He had been taking it easy, rusticating. He’d gone down, left London and was living in Felpham, in southern England – or south-eastern England, is that?
Student (2): South-eastern, yeah.
Peter Orlovsky: Seventy-Ninety-Five.
Student (2): Well, he left in 1800.
AG: Eighteen-hundred to 1803.
Student (2): He stayed from 1800 to 1803.
AG: And now he’s preparing to go back.
Student(2): By slumber he doesn’t mean he’s just taking it easy, he means being spiritually dead.
Student (2): Because he felt he was oppressed by his patron.
AG: (William) Hayley.
Student (2): And not able to be free and creative, which is one of the reasons he went back to London.
AG: Or social slumber. He wasn’t that active socially, I guess.
Student (2): Well, I guess that, too.
Peter Orlovsky: Poverty might mean economic slumber.
AG: No, he wasn’t … when he was in London he was carrying on, but he used to be part of the revolutionary circle. Kind of bankrupted mentally, I think, by the French Revolution turning on itself and then the emergence of Robespierre and everybody chopping each other’s head off. Then poverty. And then his friend, Hayley, who had a kind of fix on him, (or his wife, he thought), invited him to move out to some land or a cottage near Hayley, in the country, near the ocean.
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixty-six-and-a-half minutes in and continuing till approximately seventy-one-and-a-quarter minutes in