Ginsberg on Blake continues – 32 (Ossian -1)

AG: The other thing that I wondered if you could read is, remember we were talking about Blake’s rhetoric and his style coming out of Ossian?  And Dick (sic)  has found and xeroxed some Ossian from the library.  So maybe we can get a sample of that.  What’s the title page of it?

Student:  Of this?
AG:  Yeah.  Of the book.
Student:  No, I made that..
AG:  No, I meant the original sort of provence.
Student:  Well.
AG:  Do you remember?

Student:  Sure.  Ossian was a mythical poet who was a follower of King Fingal from the second  or third Century A.D.  And there were, in the eighteenth century, Gaelic bards in the Hebrides and Highlands of Scotland who did tell, or sing, stories about Fingal, Conlath and Cuthona, Oithona (which sounds like “Woe-thon(a)”)…  these romantic-sounding, mystic-sounding, Celtic names.  And these stories of war and love that took place between these heroes in the dim past.

(James) Macpherson was a young man, a young poet, who knew Gaelic and did go up in the islands of the Hebrides.  But so  Ossian what he wrote is based on traditional material\ but it’s not what he claimed it was.  He claimed that he had a manuscript from the very poet Ossian himself and that this was the long-awaited Celtic-British authentic native epic which would… which is what people wanted.  It was like Roots of Alex Haley‘s – “These are my roots.”  And there was a certain amount of evidence that Alex Haley made a few things up, too, as a matter of fact.

But this Macpherson published this book which was received with great acclaim as the long-awaited, long-hoped-for thing – real, British epic.  And then almost all that you read about Ossian …has to do with this controversy that came up. A lot of people didn’t believe it was real and Dr. (Samuel) Johnson said, If there is a translation, there must be an original.  Why can’t you produce that?  And Macpherson’s papers. He was trying to back-trace it from what he’d written himself out of his imagination and his gathered knowledge into a complicated metrical scheme in Gaelic.  The original epic … but he didn’t get that done before he died.  And it’s more or less neglected now as a work of 18th century literature because that’s all people talk about is whether it was really what he said it was or not.  I think that as a work of the imagination I find it pretty wonderful, with … based as it is on traditional materials, but changing it, shaping it, according to the volitions of a romantic mind in the 18th century.

I’ll read a little just for the sound of it.
AG:  Have you read that through, ever?
Student(2):  Which one is that that you have there?
Student: This is just something I xeroxed out of this book called Carric-Thura
Student(2):  Alright.
AG:  What is it?
Student: Carric-Thura
AG:  How do you spell that?
Student:  C-A-R-R-I-C hyphen T-H-U-R-A

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately ten-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately fourteen-and-a-quarter minute in

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