Allen Ginsberg on William Blake (letter to Thomas Butts) continues from here
AG: But, anyway, so Blake is saying, “I have therefore produced a variety in every line, both of cadences” – (a variety of cadences? What would that mean? A variety of pulsations or measurements. Is iambic a cadence and anapestic a cadence? So a variety of cadences, so that’s what cadence means). – And a variety of “number of syllables.” Did (Alexander) Pope have a fixed number of syllables?
Student: Usually ten or eleven.
AG: Pardon me?
Student: It’s usually ten syllables.
AG: For Pope.
Student: Syllables (multiple) syllables?
AG: Syllables? Is that so?
AG: For Pope? I don’t think so. You could make it up with almost monosyllabic iambics. In other words, duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah. Just monosyllables.
Student: It’s the heroic couplet with ten iambs.
AG: Five iambics.
Student: You’ve got five iambics you’ve got ten syllables.
AG: Yeah, that’s true. Gee.
Student: But that was the genius of Pope, that he was able to….
AG: Yeah, that’s right. You would have to have just ten syllables if it’s only got … if it’s strict iambic and it’s only five iambs to a line.
Student: … pretty strict.
AG: Okay. So he said, I’ve “produced a variety in every line, both of cadences and number of syllables.” So you can see they all thought he was crazy. He broke the (rules). You don’t write in ten syllables. What’s the matter with you, don’t you have any discipline?
So, “Every word and every letter is studied and put into its fit place: the terrific numbers are reserved for the terrific parts – and mild & gentle, for the mild & gentle parts, and the prosaic, for inferior parts: all are necessary to each other.” – (That would actually be a good formula that William Carlos Williams would use – Certain “terrific numbers”, terrific kinds of lines for terrific parts, prosaic for prosaic and for inferior parts – In Paterson,Williams has a page of a table – I think a water table in Paterson, or a geologic table – showing what’s strata are under what strata and what rocks is under what rock, for a depth of a hundred feet or so around the falls. And he also has old newspaper advertisements).
So the collage. This tends towards (or) leads toward the loosening of the mind of the twentieth century and the acceptance of a lot of variable meter, variable data.
[Allen continues with Blake]
“Poetry Fetter’d, Fetters the Human Race! Nations are Destroy’d or Flourish, in proportion as Their Poetry Painting and Music, are Destroy’d or Flourish! The Primeval State of Man, was Wisdom, Art, and Science.” That’s nice. “Poetry, Fetter’d, Fetters the Human Race!”
So here’s an unfettered line, or an unfettered from the Shakespeare line, unfettered from … when is Dryden and Pope? When is Pope?
Student: Pope is 1719, something like that. [Editorial note – Alexander Pope (1688-1744)]
Student: Or Seventeen-fifty. Is that right?
AG: Seventeen-twenty. So Pope…
Student: The first half of the 18th century.
AG: Yeah, okay, and Blake is second half. As we are now coming off the dominance of (T.S.) Eliot and Wallace Stevens to some extent in the academies, he was coming off the dominance of Pope, and that very strict line. It’s the basic English bread-and-butter line that was hard to break.
to be continued…
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighty-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately eighty-four-and-three-quarters minutes in.