William Blake (Metrics – 15)

Allen’s Naropa class on the metrics in William Blake’s The Four Zoas continues from here

Allen continues to debate with a particularly insistent student, finally giving up and moving on

Student:  Now, just for the fun of arguing with you, I’ll quote you from yourself …
AG:  Okay.
Student:  … because you wrote  (I forget where it was, in Improvised Poetics, or just whatever), I remember that you wrote that you felt that you had to have something, writing “Howl”, and have a dramatical thing occur so that you felt, writing “Howl” … am I misquoting what you wrote years ago?
AG:  What?
Student:   – that you felt that you had to have something to go back to so that you weren’t sure if it was poetry (and that I guess the “Sunflower Sutra” or whatever, came after that), that you felt that you could … that there was a movement from “Howl” ….which was going somewhere but still had some kind of measure to it that you could count.
AG:  It wasn’t the measure in relation to accents.
Student:  No, no.
AG:  It was the syntactical thing of going back to the word “Who” –  going back to the word “Who”, yeah.
Student: …and then that you felt that after that…
AG:  (It) didn’t have to have the litany form, yeah.
Student:  …you didn’t have to have… but that there was… an intermediate phase where you kept…you were really free but you still felt, “well, I need this”, and then you felt, “well, now I don’t need that”.
AG: So?
Student:  So.
AG:  So you’re saying that … go on.
Student:  I’m thinking that you felt yourself that you needed a septenary line and then….
AG:  I think this is idiotic, frankly.
Student:  Okay, well….
AG:  To continue it so….
Student:  I’ve said….
AG:  Okay, your point is there.  The class has heard you.
Student:  Yeah.

AG:  My own opinion is that unfettering the blank verse means just loosening it up and you’ll have in your ear all sorts of verses and there will be all sorts of verse puns.  “And then they wandered far away she sought for them in vain” — and you’re contradicted in the next line.  But it’s a matter of improvisation out of speech rhythms and out of the mental procession of words, the subconscious babble, in that he just simply tried to open up the line and that any transitional dependence on septenary as a conscious idea on his part, I think is foolish.

Student (2):  But didn’t he do it with….He didn’t do what Whitman did and he didn’t do what William Carlos Williams did.  He didn’t have two syllable lines. He did have a long line…He kept something.
AG:  Yes.
Student:  There is some sort of sense.
AG:  The Bible, if anything.
Student:  Okay.
AG:  The Bible, which is not septenary.
Student:  (but in) English.
AG:  But it’s not septenary.  It’s more the Bible than septenary.
Student:  The verse part about it is in syntactical….
AG:  Yes.
Student:  (but in Blake it) comes through.
AG:  Yes, but not septenary.  The rhetorical model is more the Bible or Ossian.  He’s trained:  His nerves are trained in rhythm and a contributing element is what he’s learned from the ballads and what he’s learned from Shakespeare and what he’s learned from Milton, but I don’t think those are the psychological reference points or the physiological reference points for his breathing and for his line there.  Once in a while they recur.

I’m interested because after reading through a lot of Blake I then wrote a big long poem using some similar line, without even counting the number – “The Contest of Bards”  – but didn’t count a septenary, just fell into whatever imitation or extension of that I heard.  I could hear.

Student:  But he does have to come back to it, now and then.
AG:  Yes.
Student:  To establish the fact that he is unfettering it.
AG:  Yes.
Student:  So that first line that we quoted, on page one, hearing this march of long resounding strong heroic verse, that’s almost parody of heroic …
AG:  Yes.
Student:  … pentameter.  And then he’ll vary it.  And again, in here, I think he sets it up –  “And then they wandered far away she sought for them in vain” –  so that you have a sense of the iambic…
AG:  Yes.
Student:  …and then he begins to move away from that.  Until you get to this, look at that –  “Rehumanizing from the Spectre” … … you have to have the accent on “hu” and then “Spectre” – that’s a lot of syllables in between them.  No accents.
AG:  Well, let’s see where the accents are in these.
Student:  But there’s still….

AG:  “And then they wandered..”  – Let’s get back to the text, because I think theory is generally a curse if you stray too far from the text.  We haven’t even looked at the text and all this talk has taken place  (except you did look at the text for the first line).

Where are we?  Where did we leave off?  It was on page nine. So we’ve got to go back to what goes before it.

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard  here beginning at.approximately ninety-six-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately one-hundred-and-three-quarter minutes in. 

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