Shelley – Nineteenth-Century Poetry continues – (23)

Allen Ginsberg Naropa class on Percy Bysshe Shelley continues from here

“Love, hope, and self-esteem, like clouds depart..” (from “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty‘)

AG:   So – ” Love, Hope, and Self-esteem..” – So actually Shelley-ean’s self-esteem now has departed, like a ghost or a cloud. –  “Love, Hope, and Self-esteem” – (That’s interesting that he’s actually admitting this own sense of superiority and pride is actually beginning to fade on him, at the age of twenty two.  So it’s actually pretty strangely honest.

Student:  Started listening to everybody else.

AG:  Yes.  Well, and also the criticism and also the tragedies.  I think one of … some of his children died when he was in Italy so I guess he wasn’t able to take care of the kids that he did have after getting mad at the court for taking the other two kids away.  And then his wife did commit suicide after he left her.

So – ” Love, Hope, and Self-esteem, like clouds depart/And come, for some uncertain moments lent./ Man were immortal, and omnipotent,/ Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,/Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart./ Thou messenger of sympathies,/ That wax and wane in lovers’ eyes -/Thou – that to human thought art nourishment, /Like darkness to a dying flame!/   Depart not as thy shadow came,/ Depart not – lest the grave should be,/ Like life and fear, a dark reality..” – (Or a dark reality – “lest the grave should be,/… a dark reality.”  Not merely a reality but a dark reality – like life is- a dark reality,  like fear is a dark reality).

Then, but where does he get this inspiration or the idea of beauty?  So then he goes on and gives the ecstatic example that Tom was talking about.

“While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped/ Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,/ And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing/Hope of high talk with the departed dead..”

We were talking about (Arthur) Rimbaud actually earlier  –  I was talking about Rimbaud with somebody.  See, it’s actually the same fix that Rimbaud was in of trying by the alchemy of language and by a derangement of the senses to achieve high hopes and talks with the departed dead and create a magical universe, at around the same age – sixteen, seventeen, I guess.

“I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed..” – (That’s almost like, say, punk rock –   “I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;” – “Sympathy for the Devil, “I don’t like the government where I live”,  or “No hope for you, no hope for me.”

Student:  (He doesn’t do the traditional thing)
AG:  Oh, yeah, he’s not talking about punk rock, but the modern equivalent would be all these masses of kids….
Student:  What I mean is he could have been talking about God, angels, and state.
AG:  Yes.
Student:  …and …
AG:  Those could be the poisonous names.
Student:  (talking) on these things which are, once you see through them, are…
AG:  Yeah.
Student:  …the forces of lies.
AG:  Yeah.  Unless he was practicing black magic
Student:  Yeah, that’s what I saw there
AG:  No, actually you’re probably right, it was the normal state things of God and State and angels and heroes and whoever would have been the hero of that day.  Probably more the average middle class stuff.  Average middle class references, rather than demonic cabalistic, black magical references)

That’s right, you weren’t here.  I was comparing that with Rimbaud, right here.  This little spot where he says – “While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped/Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,/And starlight wood//”

Peter Orlovsky:  What is a “listening chamber”?

AG:  Well, that’s what … yeah, I was going to stop on that, because that’s a fantastic line.  Well, he’s listening in a chamber –  an echoey chamber, a little chamber full of echoes, but he lays on it “listening” – that the chamber is listening, or his skull maybe? – “a listening chamber.”  That’s a tremendous, great idea – that combination -“listening chamber.”  Did you go over that one line?

Student:  No.

AG:  It’s a funny line.  It’s one of the nicest lines in the poem, or one of the nicest phrases in the poem.

Peter Orlovsky:  Maybe he was a Peeping Tom or something?

AG:  Yes.  Well, actually, let’s see, a chamber would be an old haunted house or an old castle haunted house or a chamber in a castle, because it’s not a cave, he’s got ruins there.  So I would guess it’s a big haunted English country mansion and he’s listening.  I tried….

Student:  listening  to whoever’ whoever’s  ghost?

AG:  Yes.  In a poem called “Plutonian Ode” I used a similiar turn-around.  Dig it as a turn-around – “a listening chamber” – you understand that?  You know, usually you’d be listening in some haunted house, but here he’s saying the house is listening to you.

I had a line about Rockwell Corporation and the nuclear bomb people were making horrifying bombs, or terrible bombs. or terrifying bombs.  (William) Burroughs suggested I change it, reverse it and say “terrified bombs.”  (which was a really sharp thing, because it took off a syllable to say the same thing, and it made it like “listening chamber” – “terrified bombs” instead of “terrifying bombs.”  And his point, the logic of it as he explained it – I said, “Well, yeah, that’s an interesting way of putting it – ‘terrified bombs’ – but what sense does it make?”  And he said that they’re the product of terror and people are scared and so the bombs (were) being built out of their being terrified, and so they’re the “terrified bombs”.


Peter Orlovsky:  There’s also a pun on “fried” too – bombs you get fried -.
AG:  No.  Only in your head.  You’re the only one who ever thought of that throughout all eternity!
Student:  Bomb-fried.
Peter Orlovsky:  He’s bomb-fried on high



AG (to Student):  What’s the music?

Student:  Klaus Schulze
AG:  Huh?
Student:  Klaus Schulze.
AG:  The music.. Klaus Schulze.. what?
Student:  He’s the composer.  Klaus Schulze .The piece is his Crystal Lake
AG:  Crystal Lake   That’s 20th century.
Student:  I don’t know.
AG:  Sounds like it.
Student:  It sounds like it, yeah.



“Hope of high talk with the departed dead..”

AG:  What he’s reminding me is “hopes of high talk” –  “…with fearful steps pursuing/Hope of high talk with the departed dead./I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;/I was not heard – I saw them not..” – (So it was the same thing as Rimbaud‘s search.  Or similar) – “I was not heard – I saw them not -/When musing deeply on the lot/Of life, at that sweet time when winds are wooing/All vital things that wake to bring/News of birds and blossoming..” – (So, I guess, puberty and springtime) – “Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;/I shrieked, and clasped my hands in ecstasy!”

“I vowed that I would dedicate my powers/ To thee and thine – have I not kept the vow?/ With beating heart and streaming eyes, even now/I call the phantoms of a thousand hours/ Each from his voiceless grave: they have in visioned bowers/ Of studious zeal or love’s delight/Outwatched with me the envious night- / They know that never joy illumed my brow/ Unlinked with hope that thou wouldst free/ This world from its dark slavery,/That thou – O awful LOVELINESS,/ Wouldst give whate’er these words cannot express.”

So he forced it through and got… by describing… he couldn’t describe the thing itself so he was able to describe the effect on him – shrieking, clasping his hands in ecstasy, vowing, weeping, his heart beating.

Then it gets very majestical – “…even now/I call the phantoms of a thousand hours/Each from his voiceless grave..” – (He can do that.  He’s not calling dead ghosts  –  he’s actually (calling) the phantoms of his thoughts, he’s recollecting all his thoughts, he’s recollecting all those hours, so  “…even now/I call the phantoms of a thousand hours/Each from his voiceless grave..” – (because he didn’t at that time express it well enough in poetry so I guess you could say “voiceless” that way). Does that make sense as interpretation of what that means there?  There’s one of his phantoms.  I’m assuming they’re his own “thousand hours”, speeding with boyish delight through groves and caves  and ruins and haunted houses and listening chambers .  “And these hours know…”

tape ends here

– to be continued 

Audio for the above can he heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-six-and-three-quarter minutes in..

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