Allen Ginsberg on William Blake continues from here
AG: So, anyway, he (Blake’s)’s writing (to Thomas Butts) He’s going back now:
“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 the Persons & Machinery entirely new to the Inhabitants of Earth (some of the Persons Excepted) I have written this Poem from immediate Dictation twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time without Premeditation & even against my Will. the Time it has taken in writing was thus renderd Non Existent. & an immense Poem Exists which seems to be the Labour of a long Life all producd without Labour or Study. I mention this to shew you what I think the Grand Reason of my being brought down here.
“I have a thousand & ten thousand things to say to you. My heart is full of futurity. I perceive that the sore travel which has been given me these three years leads to Glory & Honour. I rejoice & I tremble ‘I am fearfully & wonderfully made’. I had been reading the – …what..? 139th Psalm? “C” (is) 100. One-hundred and thirty-ninth (CXXXIX) Psalm a little before your Letter arrived. I take your advice. I see the face of my Heavenly Father he lays his Hand upon my Head & gives a blessing to all my works why should I be troubled why should my heart & flesh cry out. I will go on in the Strength of the Lord through Hell will I sing forth his Praises. that the Dragons of the Deep may praise him & that those who dwell in darkness & on the Sea coasts may be gatherd into his Kingdom. Excuse my perhaps too great Enthusiasm. Please to accept of & give our Loves to Mrs. Butts & your amiable Family. & believe me to be be – Ever Yours Affectionately – Will. Blake.”
So that’s his conception of how it (Vala) was written. He practiced a good deal of consideration of speech, or song, because he’d already written Songs of Innocence and Experience. Those, syllable-by-syllable, are only understandable if you pronounce them as if they made sense.
Student: That’s a real shift, though, isn’t it? The value from what on (page) one-four-four where he says every word and every letter is studied and put into its fit place. It seems to be happening on a much grander scale now than letters and syllables.
AG: Well, this is the…
Student (2): There’s another factor involved there, and that is that this letter is written to a specific audience – the man who was a very pious type and who was a benefactor of Blake’s – bought all his paintings – and so if he hadn’t had Butts he wouldn’t have been able to survive. And all his letters are geared towards the recipient to some degree. That doesn’t mean that he tells an untruth, but he elaborates to his audience.
AG: So, before going on to the actual lines, let’s see what he (has) to say.
The (piece on page) one-four-four is … well, (it’s) 1804, presumably. It’s much later, at any rate, than the composition of the first book of The Four Zoas, because by then he’s gone through the Four Zoas, he’s studied through Milton (that is, the verses of Milton) – and studied the verses of Jerusalem. And now he’s putting a “Preface” onto the book which is composed.
The line, the “Monotonous Cadence like that used by Milton & Shakspeare & all writers of English Blank Verse” – (that’s a five-beat, basically iambic line) – “derived from the modern bondage of Rhyming, to be a necessary and indispensible part of Verse.” – (People thought that you had to rhyme and it had to be five beats, and it had to be some development out of (William) Shakespeare, (John) Milton, (Alexander) Pope, (John) Dryden) – “But I soon found that in the mouth of a true Orator..” – (So he is talking about talking, see?) – “in the mouth of a true Orator.” – And that’s one of the key lines in Blake for me for poetics, that he does speak of it as oratory, as if the book or the verses were meant for actual speaking. And he takes the word “oratory”, borrowing it from Milton, (who in the “Preface” to “Paradise Lost” also spoke of oratory).
AG: Milton did, yeah. In his “Preface”, his little few forward words to “Paradise Lost”, he spoke of it as oratory. Oration. Of course, there’s a pun there on prayer. But, at any rate, vocalization of some sort.
“In the mouth of a true Orator such monotony was not only awkward, but as much a bondage as rhyme itself.” – (The monotony of a strict five-beat line. Two strictly measured lines. He wanted to loosen it up) – .”I (therefore) have produced a variety in every line.” – (So you could have a variety in every line, which is not too far from, (or) is the beginning of, the steps leading towards the American William Carlos Williams’s variable foot – a variety in every line. Pretty nice. I once asked Williams, what kind of measure would you need for an American epic?
Student: Is the difference that….
AG: Anyone want to hear the answer? – Maybe it’s not important. Anyway, I did ask him, what is necessary, what is the meter, for an American (epic)? Measure, what kind of measure for an epic work, a large work? And he said, Oh, it would have to be variable, in the sense that different shapes and measures for different parts of the poem. It needn’t necessarily have the same line all the way through, as he didn’t have in Paterson (nor did Pound have in the Cantos, nor does (Charles) Olson in Maximus). He’s saying different parts….
Student: Different measures for different….
AG: Well, different measures for different parts of a long poem. You could have an epic poem that wouldn’t have the same (measure) in every line. It wouldn’t be the same measure for every verse. You could have short lines, long lines. You could have prose, you could have statistical tables, you could have banknotes, you could have quotations from letters. A modern epic poem (could) involve some element of collage and an Einstein-ian relative mind, where a different metrical or prosadaic take might occur for every sitting of writing. You might have a different conception of the verse form every time you sat down. So Williams’s answer was different varieties of meters.
Student: Is the only difference between you and what Blake’s saying here is that Williams was just looking at the pulse and the accent and not working so much on the syllables?
AG: No, no, Blake has still got the idea of a line, like that. Still got the idea of a line. Then maybe (Walt) Whitman extends it further – the line can run on for two or three lines and approximate prose, or almost. And then by the time you get through Pound to Williams, you could start the line in the middle of the page, and it could be only two or three words. And then the next line could be twelve words. Or the measure would be completely different, the basis of measure would be completely different. But the way it would look on the page would be.. it could look like that -(Allen points to Williams) – this is Williams). Or it could look like a whole combination of all three of them on the same page.
Student: What was the principle of unity, then, in Williams’s line? I mean, what did he see … if you have so much variation, what holds it together?
AG: The mindfulness of it as speech. Appropriation of rhythms of natural speech, mindfully, into short forms which reproduce, or imitate, or extrapolate, from speech rhythms, and are like speech rhythms in certain poems. In other poems, it might be dividing it up to three parts on the page as a triadic line, and balancing one part on another of the three, in various ways. Sometimes with iambic count in mind, sometimes a division of thoughts, sometimes division by breath, sometimes division by heartbeat, sometimes division by syntax (like you diagram a sentence), sometimes to pivot two thick statements on a conjunction (like “or” for the middle line), sometimes for fun, sometimes sheer play, sometimes totally arbitrary (or) gratuitous, sometimes because he hears it that way, sometimes because he thinks it that way and it falls into those divisions, sometimes because that’s the way it came out when he wrote it in a little doctor’s prescription pad and (he) didn’t have any more room to go on to the end so he had to start a new line, accidents of the size of the page.
Peter Orlovsky: Sometimes because he had….
AG: ..hiccups in the middle of the line and forgot what he was going to say! But, mainly, mindfulness of either the movement of the mind, as ideas come, or mindfulness of the mouthing of speech or breath stop.
I have actually a little one-page essay on the various considerations of mindfulness in arrangement of free verse on the page in the style of Williams, so maybe I’ll bring that in.
Student: It’d be nice if you read that one.
AG: Well, I’ll just bring that in. I just went through half of it. But that’s a little off.
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-one-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately eighty-and-a-quarter minutes in