Nineteenth-Century Poetry – 9 (Shelley)

Shelley’s guitar – in the collection of the Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Allen Ginsberg on Shelley continues from here

AG: There’s a very famous little tiny thing (by Shelley)

“Music, when soft voices, die/ Vibrates in the memory – /Odors, when the sweet violets sicken,/ Live within the sense they quicken./Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,/Are heaped for the beloved’s bed;/And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,/Love itself shall slumber on.”

It sounds pretty good but what it finally comes down to, I don’t know.  But love is asleep forever, or something?

You’ve heard of this poem ever?  It’s one of his most pretty little tiny lyrics that … for music, probably, actually.  I think he had a guitar.  Shelley played guitar too?  Just like John Lennon And wrote great lyrics.

But it’s a little confusing to me what he means – “Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,/Are heaped for the beloved’s bed.”  Well, that’s simple enough.
Peter Orlovsky:  The rose leaves are dead?
AG:  No, when someone’s sleeping you just heap it on their bed.  Maybe dead.
Peter Orlovsky:  Oh, if someone’s dead you would bury them in….
AG:  You could bury roses, but even living.  You take a bride and you bring rose petals all over the bridal bed.

“And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,/Love itself shall slumber on.”  “Thy thoughts of love shall slumber on when thou art gone”? –  Meaning, I think, dream on  – keep dreaming.  Your thoughts of love will keep on dreaming on.  The dream will go on.  The beat goes on.  The dream goes on without you, even when you’re dead.

Peter Orlovsky:  Is Catullus‘ mutability’s idea to dust?

AG:  Catullus I think is “Nox est una perpetua dormienda– “Night is a perpetual sleep.”  It’s over with.  Catullus is a Latin poet who had a good take on mutability also as it applies to passion and what to do with it.  What to do when you’re alive.  He was the author of that basic idea of Gather ye roses while ye may,/Old time he is aflying. Or the basic idea which runs all through English poetry of make the most of existence while you’re here because once you’re dead night is a perpetual sleep – “Nox est una dormienda perpetua.” “Nox est una perpetua dormienda.”  And there are lots of English poets who picked up on that one line and taken it.  (Andrew) Marvell had a version of it as “But at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;/And yonder all before us lie/ Deserts of vast eternity” in “To His Coy Mistress,” saying she ought to make out now while she can.  And he was paraphrasing, or he was taking that same idea from Catullus.

It’s amazing how a couple of very simple ideas, or takes, especially from Catullus or Horace, a couple of Greek or Roman writers, influenced the whole course of English poetry, especially on the poets that knew Greek and Latin and read the originals.  And they were these real striking ideas like that night is a perpetual sleep by Catullus.  And then Shakespeare has a little version of it and (Sir Phillip) Sidney has a version of it and (Lord) Byron has a version of it, Shelley has a little version of it, too.  Just a basic human idea that night is forever; once you’re dead, you’re dead, so you might as well seize the light.

Peter Orlovsky:  I think Catullus has the word “dust” – you know, when you die you turn to dust.
AG:  Yeah.
Peter Orlovsky:  Does Blake?  Does Shelley have that too?  No.
AG:  I think he probably has some dust lying around. In some epic or other.  Some human dust.

Student:  Does that mean that mutability stops at that point then?  I mean, if we’re all changing, then it reaches the point where…
AG:  Well, if there’s nothing there, then….
Student: …it stops changing.
AG:  If you’re dead and there’s nothing there, there’s nothing to change.
Student:  So you reach the point of emptiness then it doesn’t change.
AG:  Yeah.  But you wouldn’t know it.
Student:  Right.

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-five minutes in

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