Allen Ginsberg 1979 class on William Blake’s The Four Zoas continues from here
AG: That’d be a good place to stop and check out the meter – “Plied/ the wingd/ shuttle/ piping/ shrill/ thro’ all/ the/ list’ning threads.” – Well…
Student: That numbers eight?
AG: “Plied..” Yeah, he’s contracted. He’s made all these contractions, like “wingd” “thro'” and “list’ning”, so that he doesn’t run over plus on his septenary – (“all” you would probably not emphasize too much, if you wanted it to be seven, so you’d have “PLIED the WINGD SHUT-tle PIP-ing SHRILL thro’ all the LIST’ning THREADS”, I would guess, if you’re going to count seven basic beats).
Student: But that was eight.
AG: Well, yes, if you want to count “all” – but I’m saying, if you were Blake and wanted to reduce it to seven, and(wanted to figure out which syllable you’re not going to really count, I’d say “all” would be the one you wouldn’t want to really count.
Student: It’s “shrill” and “list’ning” that…
AG: It’s…. yes…
Student (2): ..and “shrill” and “list’ning” have the same vowel-sounds, so they sort of…
Student: ..seem like a…
Student (2): …(blend for) seven stresses.
AG: “Plied the wingd shuttle piping shrill/ thro’ all the list’ning threads,” I guess, if you’re going to try to emphasize it. It’s a great line.
I want to point out (that) the reason for use of this particular text is that at least it’s correct to Blake’s spelling, and “winged” is “W-I-N-G-D” and “through” is “thro'” and “listening”- “L-I-S-T-N-I-N-G” – “List’ning” – so that you don’t get three syllables – Lis-ten-ing – you get “list’ning” – two syllables out of it. It’s a real ear there. Yeah, and I don’t know… Does anybody have the (Geoffrey) Keynes edition on them?
Peter Orlovsky (sitting-in on the class): Yeah, I do.
AG: Do you.. do you know that line? Can you… Can I see?
Peter Orlovsky: Alright
AG (borrowing Peter Orlovsky’s book): Okay. Let’s see how Keynes did it..
Student(2): (It’s very hard to align) Keynes’ page numbers, and….
AG: Now let’s see.
Student: (Here the..)
AG: What line would that be, now? (Allen continues searching)
AG: I see where you are, Peter. You weren’t even following the text!
Peter Orlovsky: I’ve been reading hard!
AG: Ah, no fair! While I’m trying to be so perfect about…
Yeah, I got it! – Okay. No, (Keynes has) it. (Keynes is the editor of the Oxford Blake Complete Writings – So, the way he did it is interesting, just to take a little side(track)):
“Plied the wingd” – he’s got an apostrophe between “g” and “d” in “wing’d” – Blake apparently didn’t put one in. He just said “wingd”. “Plied the wingd shuttle” – then he’s put in a comma after “shuttle” – “Plied the wingd shuttle” comma – as if you wanted to stop it there, make the caesura there, or the rest; “piping shrill” is the same; “thro’ all the list’ning threads.” Everything else is the same except he (follows) “threads” (with a) semi-colon. He ends that line with a semi-colon. Throws in a semi-colon for nothing, just so you’ll know what it’s all about and you’ll know where to stop and you don’t have to figure it out for yourself and go both ways at once. But it’s really a lot prettier without the semi-colon. That really is a Urizenic punctuation. (It) really is, because it limits the sense a little bit and it limits the ear a little bit and cuts too short.
Student (2): That comma in there does the same thing, too.
Student (2): It stops (things)
AG: See, it would actually be …
Student(2): Yeah, it does because it stops…
AG: … it doesn’t make sense.
Student (2): Yeah.
AG: What is…. “the wingd shuttle” is “piping shrill” …
Student (2): Right.
AG: … I assume. But (with) a comma, who would be piping shrill? The spider and worm? – no – Because there’s no comma after them. So actually it’s like Urizen, in attempting to create order, (created) a syntactical chaos where you no longer know where the piping (is), or who the subject of “piping” (is), or (what) the verb (of) “piping shrill” is. It was perfectly clear in Blake that “… there the Spider & Worm/Plied the wingd shuttle piping shrill thro’ all the list’ning threads.”
But you still have to figure out now what are “list’ning threads”? It’s a great image for the skin of creation, actually, the actual sentience – the sentient living nature. The “list’ning threads” would be living sentient fabric, or, as you look out the window it’s all organic.. leaves and birds, trees – in other words, living beasts – “list’ning” beasts.
Student (2): Sure, because what else could listen except “threads”, so to speak.
Student (2): How would we know it was “piping shrill” unless something other to it …
… could respond to it, and so …
Student (2): … it’s a mutual.. responding.. creating itself…
AG: It’s a great line, actually, because it goes both ways, as you pointed out. There’s a piper and there’s a listener, and it’s all one integument, or one skin.
“Beneath the Caverns roll the weights of lead & spindles of iron/The enormous warp & woof rage direful in the affrighted deep/While far into the fast unknown, the strong wing’d Eagles bend/Their venturous flight…” – (So we’ve got the Eagle in again)…
Let’s see. What’s next? At the bottom of the page…
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixty-four-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy minutes in