The Four Zoas – Ginsberg on Blake continues  – 9.  


Luvah – Plate 22 – William Blake – The Book of Urizen – copy in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art

Allen Ginsberg’s 1979 Naropa class on William Blake’s The Four Zoas continues from here

AG.   ” Luvah and Vala woke & flew up from the Human Heart/ Into the Brain; from thence upon the pillow Vala slumber’d”

Now Alicia Ostriker interprets this as virtue triumphant over spirit.  Take that as you will –  Vala sleeping on the pillow where the head should be.  “And Luvah..”

Now here, Roberta (sic), here’s where the problem rose – ‘And Luvah siez’d the Horses of Light..” – ( The Horses of Light would be Urizen‘s instruments, Urizen’s horses). – “… Luvah siez’d the Horses of Light, & rose into the Chariot of Day/ Sweet laughter seiz’d me in my sleep!” – (that’s Enitharmon‘s funny song , Song of Death) – “Sweet laughter seiz’d me in my sleep!”  – (Because she saw the emotions trying to ride the horses of reason –  passions and attachments and vagaries of instant lust trying to drive the horses of reason.  Well, that’s going to create a catastrophe.  And the traditional comparison there is that Blake is making use of the myth (of) Phaeton who seized Apollo‘s chariot and tried to drive the horses of the sun and got too close to the sun and so the whole thing fell down, causing chaos.  So she thinks it’s funny).

Enitharmon – “Sweet laughter seiz’d me in my sleep! silent & close I  laughed/ For in the visions of Vala I walkd with the mighty Fallen One/ I heard his voice among the branches, & among sweet flowers” – (It may be that this is the cause of the Fall, also, some say) – “And  Luvah seized the Horses of the light..” – (“the Horses of Light”) – “& rose into the Chariot of Day” –  that may have been when emotion usurped the regulating Sweet Science of Reason”)

So this is, in terms of political commentary  –  if this were a commentary on (the) French Revolution or on the revolutions of his day – by the time that one revolutionary (would) be more revolutionary then the other (and he) began chopping the other revolutionaries heads off (and then) Robespierre was finally running the scene, until Robespierre got his head chopped off. That would be the emotions of revolution seizing “the Horses of Light” of the revolution.  And, if anybody’s a classicist, the footnotes say that you’ll find the story of Phaeton and his chariots in Book II of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, if you want to go back to the original)

Then he answers – ““Why is the light of Enitharmon darken’d in dewy morn/ Why is the silence of Enitharmon a terror & her smile a  whirlwind/ Uttering this darkness in my halls, in the pillars of my Holy-one/ Why dost thou weep as Vala? & wet thy veil” – (Vala the veil.  Vala and her veil) – “..& wet thy veil with dewy tears,/ In slumbers of my night-repose, infusing a false morning?” – (“A false morning” would be this false creation –  The Fall) – ” Driving the Female Emanations all away from Los/I have refus’d to look upon the Universal Vision/And wilt thou slay with death him who devotes himself to thee/ Once born for the sport & amusement of Man now born to drink up all his Powers..”

I think Ostriker here points out that he’s now complaining to his wife that she’s drinking up his energy.  He is devoted to her.  She’s going to slay him to death.  Once she was born for his “sport & amusement,” now she is born to “drink up all his powers”.  So either she’s not fucking him, or. she’s denying him her erotic favors, or it’s just all abstract sex at this point.

Student:  Or she is.
AG:  Or she is drinking up his powers.
Student:  She’s drinking up all his powers sexually.
AG: Well, there’s some sex problem between them in their incestuous marriage.
Student:  It’s like “dewy tears” is some suggestion that he’s making her….
AG:  Oh, yeah, “& wet thy veil with dewy tears.”  Right.  Her cum.
Student:  Right.
AG:  Yeah. .. Wet the veil of nature with dewy cum.
Student:  Right.
Student (2):  In other words, she just … she starts telling a story and then we go back to their relationship again, right?  This is…

AG:  Well, her story is a prophecy of what the whole scene is and how the Fall came about and she’s laughing about … actually (in) some of the commentary she is saying that it is Vala slumbered on the pillow.  So that there is some indication, just like parallel with the original Garden of Eden story, she’s boasting, it is said by some commentators, that the female has usurped the powers here and has taken over and has castrated the masculine.  And thus created a fall and she’s laughing about it. So she’s mocking him with this story.

Student:  Seems like … so Vala might have begged on Luvah to take the horse.
AG:  Pardon me?
Student:  Vala might have begged Luvah into, Go and take the horse.
AG:  Yeah, right.
Student:  Right, because they were sleeping together.  They woke together…
AG:  Yeah.

AG:  And then she went and slumbered on the pillow.

Well, at any rate a key conception has been proposed here, that Luvah – the emotions – has taken over the function of the reason.  And that will be worked out.  And once you’ve got that straight, then things work out more and more clearly as this confusing plot unrolls through the next ten books or so.

We’re doing this very slowly because I would like to establish some basis of understanding of the plot in Book One. We’ll never be able to cover the whole thing this way, though I’d originally thought maybe line-by-line we’d go through every single image.  But anyway let’s take all the time we need to get the first book down, and then we’ll skip over the highlights. (I’ll be reading ahead and skipping over the highlights of the following books, both the rhetorical poetical highlights and the plot highlights).


Student:  The second book’s a lot easier to read I’ve found.
AG:  Yeah.
Student:  (…a lot more) comprehensible.
AG:  Yeah, once you get into this first thing and untangle all the symbols, you (have) some basis to work on.

See, you’ve got to remember over half this class has not read any Blake before, much.  Has not read the prophetic books. And then some people in this class with me have gone through the prophetic books from the beginning and traced out the elements. (They) know who Urizen is already, though new people are being introduced like Vala, and Tharmas in his full activity.  And a lot of characters have been dropped and forgotten.  Rintrah hasn’t been around for a while.  Leutha was mentioned and then passed.

Okay.  Page eleven..

to be continued

Audio for there above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-two-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately eighty minutes in.

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