Nineteenth-Century Poetry – 16

from William Blake’s illustrations to Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”

Peter Orlovsky:  Thomas Schwartz also read a poem by I think Thomas Gray
AG:  Yeah.
Peter Orlovsky:  … about Gray going to a cemetery …
AG:  “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”  Did he read that?
Peter Orlovsky:  Yes, he read that.
AG:  Yeah.  Blake illustrated that, by the way.
Peter Orlovsky:  It’s a different take on death, is that?
AG:  Well, it’s more of a sentimental thing.  It’s actually pretty profound because it’s kind of a sweet lamentation of impossibility.  How this young Jimmy Dean conquered the world, but there he is in the country churchyard and nobody ever heard of him.  And that line:  “Mute in glorious militancy.”  Did he read the whole thing?
Peter Orlovsky:  Yeah.
AG:  “Full many a flower is born.. To waste.. born to something.. “waste its sweetness on the desert air. (“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen/ And waste its sweetness on the desert air”) It’s a basic thought.  That’s another basic take on death, too.  The idea of a luminous person that never got to be Napoleon or Beethoven or Gray – never got to express himself permanently so never got heard from, but some luminous person that the poet knows that’s just as good as the poet or better – more luminous than the poet  – and so the poet writes an elegy saying, “Alas, this girl whose star burned in the boarding house never shined in Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood”  I’ve used that.  It’s a common theme.  Let’s see.  In “Howl” I had the line, “and their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion”  meaning people that I knew that I thought were great geniuses whose heads shall be crowned in oblivion – nowhere.  Nobody knows them.  Nobody’ll ever hear of them.  It’s also another major poetic shot – that one.  And they’re all basic ideas that everybody’s (had).  We’ve all (had them).  Have you all had these ideas at one time or another, either out of reading poems or out of your own existence?  You should have.

Well, it’s almost nine o’clock.

What I would like to do is could you get a book of Shelley?  I’ll find a great big book that’ll cover everything.  But get some Shelley.  You should read Shelley anyway.  Maybe a little paperback.  Or a paperback anthology.  Or a whole Shelley in a little paperback from a second-hand bookstore – you know, $1.35 worth of Shelley.  And read the major odes like “..Skylark, and “..Intellectual Beauty, and Adonais.”  What I’d like to do, as I’ve done before in this kind of class, is read the “Ode to the West Wind as a choral chant aloud so we get the sound of it, because it’s great breathing.  So you might practice up on it.

I’ll figure out what kind of giant text we should get.  I think there is a Norton anthology which covers everything, or a Norton anthology that covers the whole 19th century.

We’ll go through Shelley, maybe compare a little with (John) Keats, and then I want to go back to William Blake and maybe I’ll xerox it and pass it out – the seventh book, the seventh night of the prophetic book, ValaThe reason that I’m doing that is I’ve taught a series of courses in Blake’s prophetic books since 1975 here.  And I’ve taught everything of Blake up to middle of this book The Four Zoas   and I’m just creeping forward, covering all of Blake line-by-line.  So just to step in the middle of things – in medias res –  in the middle of things, pick up on that real obscure corner of Blake and explore the whole book, which is five pages long:  “Night the Seventh of  Vala, or the Four Zoas,” explain his system in simple terms that are easy to understand.

I think I heard Tom (sic) was a little difficult with that?  He didn’t make it very clear, or did make it clear, I don’t know.  Did he try and explain Blake’s system?

Student:  He tried to.  I (couldn’t get anything out of it)

AG:  Did anybody get anything out of it?  Well.  I can do it again in five minutes I think.

And then try to interpret that one little fragment of Blake.  And if we can go through that, that’ll crack open Blake’s prophetic works for you.  You can go back any time and read anywhere in Blake and figure (it) out.  It’ll equip you to understand Blake (or) Blake’s more obscure works.

And then we’ll invent the course as we go along.  Or we’ll get one big text and we’ll go on.  Mainly I just want to look at things and figure out the different shots.  Sometimes go into prosody, sometimes go into the sound, sometimes go into the rhythm, sometimes go into the idea, sometimes go into the character.


Audio for the above can be heard here beginning at approximately seventy-four-and-quarter  minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape

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