Allen Ginsberg on Shelley continues from here
AG: When I read a lot of this I think through Gregory (Corso)‘s mind from the point of view of what was Shelley’s take on mutability, what was Shelley’s … what is it? “Shot”. What was Shelley’s shot on mutability, what was Blake’s shot on Adam and Eve and mutability and permanence? It’s an interesting way of thinking about poetry – that is to actually look at the writer as a real person, just like your friends or yourself, who has a shot or a take or an idea that he wants to lay out or he’s got a little perception, and we all have perceptions about the same thing, everybody has perceptions about what was it like before you were born, what [are] the basics of existence, how big is the universe, you know – a shot on love, shot on sex, shot on death, shot on marriage, politics. So everybody’s got his own personal angle, as they say. And interesting people have interesting angles, and interesting people are aware of it as an angle, or a shot, or a take, and are aware that other people had glimpses of … not glimpses of anything eternal but just their own personal visions or their personal thoughts about it, their personal formulation. And those formulations change from youth-time to age very often. And it’s so it’s interesting to watch the different takes that Shelley, or any poet, might have on death, or life, or birth, or marriage, or money, gardens. To watch them, to see them as a shot – when you take a shot at a pool game, when you get up at bat to see what you do with that particular ball. That’s Gregory’s view of poetry, which is kind of interesting – the way he reads poems. “Let’s see Shelley’s shot on this. Now let’s compare Keats‘s take on this. Now let’s see what (William) Shakespeare‘s shot on eternal life would be. Or the great shot of the Sibyl at Cumae.” (She) had a great take which was she given eternal life, except they didn’t give her eternal youth so in the end she’s a pile of dust in a bottle and when Tiresias comes to visit her he asks her, “Oh, Sibyl, what do you want?” And she says, “I want to die.” To get out of this. It’s a little footnote in T.S. Eliot’s “Waste Land, that trip to the Sibyl at Cumae (“Nam Sibyllam quidem…“) Which is outside of Naples, incidentally. Outside the Bay of Naples that Shelley is always writing about.
Student: There’s a part in Gulliver’s Travels, I think, about that too, an island where there’s…
Student: … there’s a race that never.. they grow old, but never die.
AG: Yeah. What are they named in Gulliver, do you know? The land?
Student: I can’t think of it. It wasn’t everybody on the island, though – I remember there were certain people born with a mark on their forehead or something (Editorial note – “Struldbruggs”, with a red dot above the eye) and they were destined to live forever, and there was always great mourning whenever they were born.
AG: Yeah, because they realized what a drag that would be.
There’s another … let’s see now, Tennyson has a take on this one or a shot on “Tithonus” -he’s got a poem called “Tithonus” about, I guess, a Greek mythological figure who had eternal life without eternal youth. And then (William) Burroughs, taking from Tennyson, has a phrase in his early part of Naked Lunch about the Interzone where there’s black marketeers of viruses, dormant in the black dust of ruined cities, sellers of Tithonian … black marketeers of Tithonian longevity serum (“…liquids to induce Latah, Tithonian longevity serums, black marketeers of World War III..”) – Tithonian longevity serum. That is, you get a shot and you live forever, except you don’t have youth. So black marketeers of Tithonian longevity serum, which he gets from Tennyson.
Well, this view, that way of looking at poetry, is real interesting. It’s not the only way I look at it but it’s one of the most interesting ways I think. Like Gregory’s language is interesting — “Let’s check out Tennyson’s shot on eternal life.” Or “Let’s check out Blake’s shot on eternal life.” “Let’s check out Shakespeare’s,” or “Let’s check out Shelley’s.” “Check out Shelley on mutability and see whether it’s really sharp or not, whether it’s smart or not.”
I would say his (Shelley’s) shot on mutability is not that smart. It’s a young guy’s shot in a sense that, as I was just saying, one – he’s got, at least until the “Ode to the West Wind”, always a moon, or a sun, or a beauty, or an eternal, or a star, that’s permanent, although the clouds of mortality are impermanent. So the humans are impermanent, but there is somebody that is .. something, someone, somewhere that’s really there. And also he’s disappointed that the flower fades, that flowers fade.
But it seems to me, being fifty-five now, like a waste of tears or a wasted illness or a wasted disappointment. If they didn’t fade there’d just be nothing but flowers around. If people didn’t die there’d be an awful pile-up of bodies in the subway. Or on earth. Or if everything were solid and stable and nothing changed then one could be beautiful forever and not one atom moved in the eyeball or in the cheek, in the rosy cheek, then we’d just be sitting here motionless forever without moving, like under glass, like those flowers they have under glass that don’t move, that never fade. “As roses might, in magic amber laid.” – (“As roses might, in magic amber laid,/Red overwrought with orange and all made/One substance and one colour/Braving time“) – That’s a line of (Ezra) Pound I just thought of. “As roses might, in magic amber laid.” You know amber? – sometimes you find a fly or a blossom in amber and it’s preserved forever. But it doesn’t move, so it doesn’t really live. If it doesn’t move none of the cells in the brain move and you wouldn’t have a thought – you wouldn’t even know you were there, you’d just be frozen solid. So you can’t stop time. But there was that….
Tape ends here but then continues
AG: … well, it’s there. I’m sad. That’s what makes life so sweet in a way, that kind of sadness.
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here beginning at approximately forty-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in