Ginsberg on Blake continues – 106.


Allen Ginsberg 1978 Naropa class on William Blake’s The Four Zoas continues (and concludes) from here

AG : (continuing, reciting Blake) “I went not forth. I hid myself in black clouds of my wrath/I calld the stars around my feet in the night of councils dark..” – (The stars are thoughts – thought forms.  Intellect.  “The night of councils dark” could be the fight of Urizen versus Luvah over the possession of man, or the fight of England and France over the possession of man’s history).

“The stars threw down their spears..” – (They lost the revolution.  The English King lost the revolution. The Tories threw down their muskets)  – “The stars threw down their spears & fled naked away/We fell. I siezd thee dark Urthona In my left hand falling..” – (“The stars threw down their spears,” like Vietnam, actually – more literally, like Vietnam.  The Americans lost the war in Vietnam.  All that Pentagon-ic, Urizen-ic, Nakhon Phanom, IBM 135-35 computers in the middle of Indo-China, the biggest computer-room in the world trying to control the entire Mekong line and that long path – it didn’t work).

“The stars threw down their spears & fled naked away/We fell. I siezd thee dark Urthona In my left hand falling/ I siezd thee beauteous Luvah thou art faded like a flower/And like a lilly is thy wife Vala witherd by winds/ When thou didst bear the golden cup at the immortal tables..” – (“Immortal”  –  “the golden cup” would be the vintner – that would Luvah, emotions) – “Love/.Thy children smote their fiery wings crownd with the gold of heaven.”

Erdman, in (Prophet Against Empire) has a really good paraphrase of this in political terms which I’ll read.  Okay, that covers it, and I’d like to get that Erdman thing.
Page one-ninety-four of Prophet Against Empire   His interpretation of this passage is really terrific and brings it into the political cadences of his day:

“The creeping Urizen is supplied with a long soliloquy in a passage of Night Five of “The Four Zoas”  which is worth taking up here for the light it casts back upon “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and “A Song of Liberty – and “The Tyger” –   (“When the stars threw down their spears and watered heaven with their tears.”) – “The fatal error of the jealous king” – (you could say Nixon, George III, whoever)  – “is that his fixing of the horizon ultimately limits himself more than it does the energy of the people.  Royalty can keep its crimson robes, Orleans warned,” – (in the book America by Blake) – “only if it stops trying to measure of each man ‘the circle that he shall run’. Soliloquizing as he crawls in the denor narrow circle of his own ideas, the fallen Urizen of Night Five laments too late his imperial mistakes –  his choice of war instead of peace, his failure to accept the opportunity to be an enlightened despot when the ‘mild & holy voice’ of divine freedom said, ‘O light, spring up & shine’ and ‘gave to me a silver sceptre & crownd me with a golden crown’ to ‘Go forth & guide’ the people.  ‘I went not forth,’ he laments, “I hid myself in black clouds of my wrath, I called the stars around my feet in the night of councils dark’.  Thus George (III)  assembled his council in 1774.” –  (George III?  Yes. “George (III)  assembled his council in 1774 to combat the American Revolution, “thus ‘Louis the King of France, prepared his ‘starry hosts’ in 1789 and let the spark of humanity in his bosom be ‘quench’d in clouds’ by ‘the Nobles of France, and dark mists.’  Each time, in the event, at Yorktown and again at Valmy, ‘The stars threw down their spears & fled naked away”. We fell.  Too late Urizen is sorry he refused to use his ‘Steeds of Light’ -(“Steeds of Light”).  The language of the soliloquy is doubly revealing.  On the level of practice it is clear that ‘The stars threw down their spears’ means –  the armies of counterrevolution were defeated.” –  (Nixon’s armies were defeated) – “On the level of theory it is clear that Reason, when it refuses to assist but attempts to hinder Energy, is overthrown.  Denied the peaceful accommodation of the Steeds of Light, the just man siezes the Tigers of Wrath. Vetoed by a stubborn monarch, the French people became, as the London Times of January 7, 1792, put it, ‘loose from all restraints, and, in many instances, more ferocious than wolves and tigers'” – (I guess Blake was reading the papers just like we do.)  And, “as Blake put it in “Fayette”, the French grew bloodthirsty and would ‘not submit to the gibbet & halter.” If we take the tiger and horse” – (steeds) -“as symbols of untamed Energy and domesticated Reason” – (tiger untamed energy, steed domesticated Reason) – “then it is obvious which of these contraries is more vital in days of revolution.”  And then there’s the phrase –  “the tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.”
That really puts it into an interesting historical context.

Student:  I was reading that book and getting  an explanation in it for on line fifteen….
AG:  Line fifteen, where?
Student:  Line fifteen, on page three-thirty-seven.
AG:  Yes.  “O did I close….”
Student:  Yeah.  “I close my treasuries …
AG:  Right.
Student:  “… with roofs….”  That’s about … refers to some Raphael paintings that used to be on display but the King put them back in the Treasury .. and (they were) closed them off to the public…and there were big debates in the government about having the art public …
AG:  Right.
Student:  ..rather than just having it confined to a palace.. (so that people could) study it.

AG:  Yeah, it’s really interesting how the specific information of that time is transformed by a kind of symbolic hyperbole, or exaggeration of the symbol, or taking the elements of the natural objects and making them into symbols and then abstracting them and making them into hyperbole.  You get tremendous poems out of it.  He starts that in The French Revolution.  The book The French Revolution really takes the political facts and exaggerates them into beautiful monstrous images.  And I found it a useful way of dealing with politics for my own poetry, so most of my political poetry is based on French Revolution  and that hypebole – “The bones of John Foster Dulles raises his thigh bones above his skull. He grinds his arms in dreams of war.” Those were poems that I wrote that were taken from that kind of exaggeration.

So, the end of this, if we have another minute.  What does Urizen do?

“I will arise Explore these dens & find that deep pulsation_ – (Orc’s revolution screams) – “A deep pulsation/That shakes my caverns with strong shudders. perhaps this is  the night/ Of Prophecy & Luvah hath burst his way from Enitharmon/When Thought is closd in Caves. Then love shall shew its  root in deepest Hell” – (So that’s the proof of the wisdom and the ecstasy of his having found the limit of contraction and the limit of opacity.  “When Thought is closd in Caves. Then love shall shew its root in deepest Hell.”  U.S.A. in the 1980s – “When Thought is closd in Caves. Then love shall shew its root in deepest Hell.”)

So we’ve ended the Fifth Night.  This hellish form of love, of course. So that would relate…  Ostriker says, closed intellect rejects divine love, closed in caves, and Reason now begins exploring its world, the world that it is contracted to, and in the process of exploration will find its limits, find its forms.  Reason will find the forms of the actual world it’s in and thus be able to relate to the error and transcend the error.

So we’re having a…  we’ll meet to look at pictures of Reason and Love and Energy and Rebellion (at) two-thirty?
Student:  Two thirty.
AG:  … Sunday afternoon at Gerta Norvig‘s house.  Maybe we should bring some cookies?  Bring maybe some little tea stuff, if everybody can have it. I’ll bring something.

tape and class end here 

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately one-hundred-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape.

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