Nineteenth-Century Poetry – 1 (Intro)

Shelley’s “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” (1817), as it was first published, in the pages of Leigh Hunt’s Examiner

It’s been a while since we featured (as we have been and will continue to) transcription of Allen’s Naropa classroom teaching. Today, we start off with a transcript from a class that took place on October 6 1981, the beginning of a course on “Nineteenth Century Poetry”. This initial transcript is just introductory banter, catching up, Allen has been away and his friend (University of Colorado Professor) Tom Schwartz had been taking over the class in his absence and Allen is curious. He lines up briefly what he is hoping to cover in the course and cites several essential poems (from Shelley – and Browning!) – The tape begins in media res.   More to follow.  

Student:  (… get going) and when he (Tom Schwartz) started work on, like, the symbolism of “The Four Zoas“…
AG : What part? Did he actually get any text? Did he read any of the text?
Student: We didn’t get any, but he read some of it, some … a good number of (Percy Bysshe) Shelleys poems and the excerpts from some of (William) Blakes poems, starting with Songs of Innocence and of Experience.
AG: Uh-huh. Okay. What I thought, basically, as a basic ground plan, was start with Blake, when I get my copy out.  I’ve still got to unpack. And what’s the situation about the books? (to Student) Did you find (out)? Does anybody know?
Student: There’s no … those Romantic books, collection of Romantic poetry that we’re supposed to …
AG: Yeah.
Student: …(borrow from the library), they said there wasn’t any more. They said we might get one by looking in used bookstores. They said….
AG: Who said that?
Student:…(that they’re) out of print…
AG: Who said (that)?
Student:  …out of the library, or the….
AG: George (Banks) at the library?
Student:  Well, not George, it’s the man that runs the bookstore over below the…
AG:  So he can’t get them?
Student:  That’s what he said.

AG:  Maybe that’s just as well in a way.  I’m going to look around and figure, but I think there’s a good Norton 19th century anthology that covers Romantic and Victorian.  I don’t know if we’ll get to Victorian, but there is a Norton anthology that covers Romantic and Victorian poetry.  So I’ll see.  I’ll have to check with George, because I came in last night and I haven’t had a chance to do it.  But you might get ahold of … you all have books of some kind.  Get ahold of some anthology that has some Shelley and some (John) Keats and (Samuel) Coleridge and (William) Wordsworth and Blake.  Any old book from a secondhand bookstore.  You can get them for a buck or a buck and a half, or two.  I’ll try and get one single book to recommend that we can all use because we’ve got a long way – we’ve got till December. But, temporarily, can you just pick up some old secondhand shot?  Is that a hard job?

Student:  Well, if you’ll tell us the poets that we ought to… you know, that we’re fixing to cover, it’ll make it a lot easier.

AG:  Well, I don’t know what to tell you because I know we’ll be reading some Wordsworth, some Coleridge, some Blake, Shelley, Keats, and then minor poets, too.  And then if we have more time go on to (Robert) Browning and (Algernon) Swinburne and (Alfred, Lord) Tennyson.  If we got that much time.  If we don’t get hung up working on Blake or somebody else.  I’ve never taught a class in 19th century poetry, dealing with it as a century.  And I haven’t read very much Browning and I haven’t read hardly any Tennyson since college, so one reason I set this up (is) so that I would get to read it all myself.  So it’ll be like communal reading and figuring out this stuff.  I’m not a particular expert, except in maybe some poems and some sound.

So what I was interested in is being a bunch of poets and looking at some poetry.  I assume you’ve all been to college and have had some kind of basic poetry course.  So I don’t know the history and I don’t know the background or the sociology and all that.  We’ll be just dealing with poems and texts, and sometimes reading them aloud and making use of them to write our own poems, because this is basically a writing school.  It’s for writing.  The purpose is to take off for our own writing rather than study it like a survey course in literature.  So I want to survey what’s interesting, or whatever I find interesting.  Browning especially, because I haven’t read any Browning hardly except in high school.  And Ezra Pound keeps talking about Browning as the first person to introduce vernacular idiomatic speech and real conversation.  So, according to Pound, Browning is the first modern poet.  But I always found him boring.     Has anybody read any Browning?  (to Student) You’ve read him?
Student:   I found him boring.
AG:  There must be something better
Student:   – than what?  In fact, I read Pound’s selection of Browning and it’s.. boring.

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

AG. (to Ida Spaulding):  Have you read Browning at any point in your long career, Ida?
IS:  No.  I remember (my) “My Last Duchess” experience.
AG:  Yeah, well, I had that too.  Everybody read “My Last Duchess.”  It’s in the voice of some aristocrat talking to a wife. I think he killed or something like that.  It sounds like he was a monster!   But it was a guy talking, that was the important thing.  It was a guy talking.  It was a narrative poem told by a guy talking, like a character out of Shakespeare, or something, rather than a narrative poem in the voice of the poet, or something, objective.
It was actually the influence of the novel, or something, of 19th century realism into poetry.

So I thought Browning might be interesting to actually look at, because before William Carlos Williams and modern poetry and (Jack) Kerouac actually, Browning in the lineage, apparently, made the link between big long somewhat romantic poems and a modern spirit with locomotives and steam whistles and people, characters –  actual characters.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

What Shelley did (you do)?  Was there any Shelley texts that you took over?  That Tom went through?
Student:  You mean Tom Schwartz
AG:  Tom Schwartz, yeah.
Student:  We read “Ode to the West Wind” in the other class.
AG:  Did you all read it together, or did he read it aloud?
Student:  He read aloud.  We didn’t all have the same text.
AG:  Uh-huh.  And nobody has texts now, I guess.  And….
Student:  (We’d tell you) if we we had.
AG:  Well, when we get texts.  When we get texts we’ll do it together I think.

AG: And any other Shelley?
Student:  On the Banks of..
Peter Orlovsky:  On the Banks of Lechie, or Lechay, or…. [Editorial note – the actual title is “Lines Written in the Bay of Lerici.“]
AG:  Lethe?
Peter Orlovsky:  Leaf?

AG: (to Student)  I left my notebook down there.  I had a big notebook.  Just a great big thing.  Can you get it?  No.  You know the one I mean?  Yeah, okay..

AG (returning to Peter Orlovsky): Which one is that?
Peter Orlovsky:  It’s the last poem he wrote isn’t it? Isn’t that what he read?  “On the Banks of…”?
AG:  Lethe?
Student: Lines Written on Lerici.
AG:  Oh, Lerici!
Peter Orlovsky:  Lerici, yes.  Lerici.
AG:  “Lines Written on….”
Peter Orlovsky:  L-E-R-I-C-H-E.
AG:  Okay.
Peter Orlovsky:  L-I-R…

AG:  And did you do the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”?
Student:  Yeah.
Student (2):  Yeah.
AG:  Ah.
Student (2):  He was doing a lot more talking about the context (of the poems)
AG:  Did he actually read them?
Student:  He read the poems but he was more… he’d pick out lines that were maybe revolutionary for the time or something, the way the clerics would comdemn Shelley because he wrote such and such a line about the church, or something like that.  So it was more in a context of the society he was writing in and not so much as talking about the texts.

AG:  Well, did you get any hit on the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” at all, as far as its own ecstatic sound?
Student:  We didn’t talk about the sounds much.
AG:  Did he read it aloud?
Student:  Yeah.
AG:  All through?
Student:  Yeah, but he didn’t read it very well.
AG:  Because it’s a really great thing.  What did he say about it?
Student:  More…  He said it wasn’t so much a concrete intellectual idea, he was working with a more of a spiritual…

AG:  Um-hmm.  Well, what I’d like to do is (look at) that and a couple of other things.

Did you do Mutability?  I’m interested in that because it connects with Heraclitus.  The thing that Gregory (Corso) was going to do with Heraclitus was to cover…  Has anybody read Heraclitus?  Nobody?

Student (returning from a hunt for Allen’s notebook) :  There’s a class down in there.  And they said they didn’t find anything.  They cleared off the desk and stuff
AG:  Maybe I left it in one of the offices.  I spent six bucks for it.  It’s one of those big four-part notebooks. 
Student:  What color is it?
AG:  Blank and … red, I think.  But I’ll look later on.  No point.

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding approximately eight-and-three-quarter minutes in

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