We continue with transcription of Allen Ginsberg’s 1979 Naropa class on William Blake’s The Four Zoas
AG: So, we left off on page three-thirty (of the Poetry and Prose of William Blake, Night the Fourth of The Four Zoas, and I’ll try and get through the end of this and the Fifth Night, and if we do that we’ll have broken the back of the book, be over halfway through the book, be totally into it and actually have control of the book once we get through the Fifth Book. That’s over half. And we’ll have succeeded in mounting the Four Zoas – fucking it with our minds.
So, we had finished with the description of the parody of the seven days of creation, the creation of a form for Urizen by imagination – by Los– and there’s a comment on it by the Council of God on High, who are watching over the body of Man, which Blake describes as clothed in Luvah‘s robes of blood. Well, he’s created a human body or the beginnings of a human body, so it’s robes of blood and Luvah’s robes of blood – emotion -descending over the realms of the unconscious – descending over Beulah‘s minds:
“Descending over Beulahs mild moon coverd regions/ The daughters of Beulah saw the Divine Vision they were comforted.”
Well, given the chaotic state in which creation had fallen, realizing that a form had been given to erro= to Urizen – that there was a beginning of some kind of order or visible order created by the imagination, even though at the bottom of the pit, even though in this monstrous form, even though in robes of blood, at least it was the beginning of Christ’s sacrifice – that this kind of suffering is necessary – the suffering of having a form is necessary in order to see what’s up. What’s possible and what’s impossible. And we’ll get to that very soon, (or) we’ll get to the theory of that very soon. The limitation. The limit set to error, or the limit set to imagination, or the limit set by imagination to chaos, or chaos so opaque and solidified that finally it reaches its nadir and finds a form. So the bottom of hell, in a way, beginning so far down that you can’t go any further down, so you can only go up. Or what’s the popular song?
Student: It’s Richard Farina.
AG: What’s the … how does it go?
AG: Yeah. “Been done so long it looks like up to me” would be the same idea as the limit of error.
Student: Dante‘s system works the same way.
AG: Yeah. How?
Student: Well he reaches the bottom …
Student: … he climbs out the top.
AG: And the bottom is similarly a pit of ice.
Student: He reaches the first state of pride.
So the Daughters of Beulah now enter with a new note on (Blake’s) page fifty-six, (the) bottom of page three-thirty. I seem to remember it’s the first time you hear that real tender sweet sympathetic humble limit of pride. Humble song, which Alicia Ostriker says is a paraphrase of something in the Bible to begin with.
Student: The raising of Lazarus, isn’t it?
AG: Yeah. From John 11, lines 21-22 – “Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord if thou hadst been here my brother had not died but I know that even now whatsoever though will ask of God, God will give it to thee.” So her suggestion is Albion, like Lazarus, will be raised from the dead.
“They bowd the head & worshippd & with mild voice spoke these words/ Lord..” – (But the mild voice is the first time I hear it in the poem. That mild voice of total humility, coming from the bottom of suffering) – “…Savior if thou hadst been here our brother” – (Albion, actually. I imagine “our brother” there would be Albion) – “ … if thou hadst been here our brother had not died/ And now we know that whatsoever thou wilt ask of God/ He will give it thee for we are weak women & dare not lift/ Our eyes to the Divine pavilions. therefore in mercy thou/ Appearest clothd in Luvahs garments that we may behold thee/And live.”
Therefore in mercy appearing in robes of blood. Appearing in total suffering. Taking on the total suffering, in order to take on some kind of workable form.
” Behold Eternal Death is in Beulah Behold/We perish & shall not be found unless thou grant a place/ In which we may be hidden under the Shadow wings/For if we who are but for a time & who pass away in winter/ Behold these wonders of Eternity we shall consume
It’s a kind of female speech in the sense of the mildness and sweetness.
” Such were the words of Beulah of the Feminine Emanation/ The Empyrean groand throughout All Eden was darkend/ The Corse of Albion lay on the Rock the sea of Time & Space/ Beat round the Rock in mighty waves” – (“on the rock”, in the sense of “on the rock” of the skull, or the bones, or the Rock of Ages. We had it before. He had fallen down onto the Rock of Ages. But that also means the solidification of (the) material universe)
“The Corse of Albion lay on the Rock the sea of Time & Space/Beat round the Rock in mighty waves & as a Polypus/ That vegetates beneath the Sea the limbs of Man vegetated/In monstrous forms of Death a Human polypus of Death.” – (Undifferentiated organic life, that “polypus”, according to Bloom, with the sea beating against it. With the waves of the sea beating against it – “vegetated” – I’ve used the word here paraphrasing Blake, and Blake has a specific use for that vegetable universe, or vegetative universe – everything that is mortal is vegetating, passing through death, like turnips and carrots, into the dumps, (becoming) rotten, going back into the soil, (and) new seeds growing from the loam- the humus – made. A “Human polypus of Death”, “the limbs of Man vegetated/In monstrous forms” – carrots, Negroes, Jews, Chinese. Multiple sclerosis. Cancer. The human form as a kind of cancer itself. A human polpyus. How do you say polly-puss? Pole-ip-us?
Student: I think polly-pus.
to be continued…
Audio for the above can be heard here beginning at the approximately four minutes in and concluding at approximately seven and a quarter minutes in