We’re continuing, picking up today, on transcription of Allen’s 1981 Naropa lectures on “Nineteenth Century Poetry” (continuing from here). This class, the second in the series, took place on October 8, 1981. It begins in media res with Allen explaining what was covered in the last class and with, first off, a little confusion about access to materials
AG: …..some idea about Heraclitus and then a couple of quotes from Heraclitus comparing him with Shelley’s idea of mutability and comparing that with Wordsworth’s idea of… What book do you have? – show me – comparing that with Wordsworth’s hit on death in the Lucy Poems Then I was just looking here, what’s in the.. what of Shelly have we got in.. in the Norton (anthology), and the Norton thing that struck me immediately was his… let me look in here (I’m using the Norton too). Does anybody lack a book or.. does anybody lack a text? – (to Student) – Can you share? Or if you want….
Student (1): Here’s a book of Shelley.
Student (2): Oh, I’ve got two.
Student (3): I don’t have an anthology.
AG: You got one? Yeah, one of these. He can borrow one for the moment.
What we need is an ashtray, too. I think I need an ashtray.
AG: What poems did you cover? Did you cover that “Stanzas Written in Dejection near Naples“?
Tom Schwartz (sic – University of Colorado professor, who had recently substituted for Allen): Yes.
AG: All through?
TS: We went through it. We read through it..
TS …but nobody had a text. I was reading from it, but it was hard to follow, so it might be helpful if….
AG: I’d like to go through it..
AG: ..see what it has to say.
TS: And the “Ode to Heaven”, that’s another one, looking at death from that side, from an alternative perspective
AG: Is that in the Norton, too? Did you do…?
TS: I had a collection of Shelley’s lyrics that I brought in..from the library..
AG: Okay, almost all those books would have the..
What I’m lacking … I guess, I’m not prepared. I’m looking for fire. You got any matches? Sorry to get started so late.
I just was in Naples about a week and a half ago, thinking about Shelley. “The Sun is warm…” “Stanzas Written in Dejection, Near Naples.” Did everybody find that?
Student (1): No, what page is it?
AG: In the Norton, it’s (page) six-ninety-one.
Student (2): What is the title?
AG: “Stanzas Written in Dejection, December 1818, near Naples.” Is that written after “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”?
AG: Eighteen seventeen. Eighteen eighteen. Yeah. Everybody got it? Anybody lacking?
Student (1): Yes, I don’t have it in this
AG: “Stanzas Written in Dejection, December 1818, near Naples.” It’s surely… I imagine it’s in that Oxford book.
AG: In the Norton, it’s page six-ninety-one. And I think it’s in there. (to Student 2) Do you have your copy?
Student (2): It’s not in there
AG: Well, isn’t yours the same as mine? Well then, share mine.
Student (2): Look, I don’t have it.
AG (to Student 1): You alright with that now?
Student (1): I don’t see it in here.
Student (2): Yeah, it’s in there. Just look up Shelley.
AG: In the Oxford book? It’s a different one.
Student (2): No, that’s the book I had. If it’s in that … if it’s in this shorter edition then it’s in the longer edition. See it’s a very big volume.
AG: He has an Oxford book, I think. See, I couldn’t get a whole thing.
Student (2): It’s probably in the longer edition, the big blue book…
AG (to Student 2): Is it in the bigger Norton that you have, sir?
Student: Yes, it is. It’s on (page) six six eight..
AG: Got it?
Student(2): If anybody else has that.
AG: I think she has one, too. You got it? Okay. If you can’t find it, you can just share somebody else’s.
“The Sun is warm, the sky is clear,/ The waves are dancing fast and bright,/Blue isles and snowy mountains wear/The purple noon’s transparent might,/The breath of the moist earth is light/Around its unexpanded buds;/Like many a voice of one delight/The winds, the birds, the Ocean-floods;/The City’s voice itself is soft, like Solitude’s..” – (Is that a city is like the other things – “The winds, the birds, the Ocean-floods”? Is the city included in “many a voice of one delight”? Sounds like it.)
AG (continues reading) : “I see the Deep’s untrampled floor/ With green and purple seaweeds strown,/I see the waves upon the shore/ Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown;/I sit upon the sands alone;/The lightning of the noontide Ocean/ Is flashing round me, and a tone/ Arises from its measured motion,/How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion./ Alas, I have nor hope nor health,/Nor peace within nor calm around,/Nor that content surpassing wealth/ The sage in meditation found,/And walked with inward glory crowned;/Nor fame nor power nor love nor leisure-/ Others I see whom these surround,/Smiling they live and call life pleasure:/To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.”
This is a Spenserian stanza, or something like that.
AG: (to Tom Schwartz) Spenserian stanza? – Did you go through that earlier?
TS: No, I didn’t go through that.
AG: It’s got a long … what is it? Six-foot line at the end. The others are five feet, this is six feet. So it’s one long line at the end.
When I was looking at Shelley I was noticing after the break-up of Augustan verse – would it be before Romantic? – he begins to write in very varying stanza forms. Mixing long and short lines. Who did that before him? That was done by (John) Donne and a lot of other people, but then everything got ironed out and measured out into blank verse and pentameter couplets in (Alexander) Pope and (John) Dryden and after that. And is Shelley responsible for the break-up? (William) Wordsworth before him.
AG: And (Samuel Taylor) Coleridge
Student: Coleridge and Blake that went back to the common measure in ballad forms
AG: Yeah. But for big long poems with complicated stanzas, did Wordsworth … Wordsworth had a very varying thing, but it wasn’t regular like that, was it? Classic and regular. So Wordsworth in the “Intimations of Immortality..“ has a lot of different big stanzas with varying length lines from two feet to I guess five or six. Coleridge probably was more regular measured, and also had variable stanzas. He broke up the stanza into shorter long lines.
But Shelley has a funny kind of perfect symmetry going back to classical models, or some idea – his idea of classics so that he’d have … what are these? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and then the ninth line – is the Spenserian verse nine lines or…?
AG: “Yet now despair itself is mild,/Even as the winds and waters are;” – (so that’s four and five) – “I could lie down like a tired child,” – (that’s four) – “And weep away the life of care” – (that’s four). “Which I have borne and yet must bear,” – (four) – “Till death like sleep might steal on me,/And I might feel in the warm air/My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea” – (So they’re mostly four). And then followed by a six – “Breathe o’er my dying brain its last monotony” (would be six – that’s alexandrine? what is alexandrine?)
Student: It’s six. Six. Six-foot line.
AG: And it comes from French. And the French doesn’t (don’t) count the feet. Or doesn’t count the accents like this.
Student: They count the vowel.
AG: They count the vowel, so…. They count syllables, don’t they?
Student: Yeah, they count syllables.
AG: And there’s a fixed number of syllables in the French, I think. And what is that? Twelve?
Student (2): Fourteen
AG: And fourteen, or what?
Student: Twelve syllables, I think.
Peter Orlovsky: What do you mean when you say “French”?
AG: The French. The Alexandrine line is a French… let’s look it up. In the back they have a (glossary).
Peter Orlovsky: But why do you say French?
AG: Because they started it. The line called the Alexandrine. And then the English I think took it over
Peter Orlovsky: In what year?
AG: French Alexandrine was used by (Jean) Racine and almost all … Molière, and the dramatists I think. So it would be Renaissance time. [Editorial note – Racine (1639-1699) Molière, original name Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, (1622-1673)]
Peter Orlovsky: So that’s a longer line, fourteen?
AG: Yeah, it’s longer than the Shakespeare line. The regular French drama line was longer than the Shakespeare drama line.
Peter Orlovsky: Shakespeare was …
Student: Roughly five feet or ten syllables, roughly.
AG: And then the French, I guess, of …
AG: … or six would be twelve. We don’t have an Alexandrine listed in here, do we?
AG: That’ll be a rough … yeah.
“Yet now despair itself is mild,/Even as the winds and waters are;/I could lie down like a tired child,/And weep away the life of care/Which I have borne and yet must bear,/Till death like sleep might steal on me,/And I might feel in the warm air/My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea/ Breathe o’er my dying brain its last monotony./ Some might lament that I were cold,/As I, when this sweet day is gone,/Which my lost heart, too soon grown old,/Insults with this untimely moan;/They might lament – for I am one/Whom men love not – and yet regret,/ Unlike this day, which, when the sun/ Shall on its stainless glory set,/Will linger, though enjoyed, like joy in memory yet.”
So this would be.. What year did he die?
AG: He published it (posthumously) in 1824 and (it was) written in 1818, December. So. probably about a year… ”twenty-two? So, three years before his death?
So that’s kind of a come-down for Shelley from the original ecstatic youthful revolutionary fervor.
And the things that struck me on it was “Breathe o’er my dying brain its last monotony”, because that’s real Frankenstein (sic) atheism in a way. Conceiving as death as “Breathe o’er my dying brain.” It’s like a brain dislocated and set out on the seashore. So that’s the despair, I guess – a feeling of an atheist universe in a way.
to be continued
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the start of the tape and concluding at approximately twelve-and-three-quarter minutes in