Nineteenth-Century Poetry continues – (30) (Two Writing Assignments)

Percy Bysshe Shelley – “The Triumph of Life” (fair copy –  Bodleian Library, Oxford, manuscript collection, University of Oxford

AG: One thing I thought I’d like to look at actually is “The Triumph of Life – has anybody read that ever?  Actually I assigned it last time, I mentioned it.

Student:  Yeah.

AG:  It’s (page) 765.  It’s his last poem, I think.

Student:  What’s the name of it?

AG:  “The Triumph of Life.”  No, last long poem.  It says 1822.  Wait a minute.  He was working on it.  I have (page) 765, “The Triumph of Life,” Shelley.  This is one Shelley that people don’t actually read through very often and actually get.  This is kind of long, but it’s his long philosophical statement and it’s kind of a conclusive statement.

(to Tom Schwartz, sitting in on the class).  Do you know it well, Tom, at all?  It’s amazing how few people know that.  And the only reason I know is that Gregory Corso kept insisting on it, that it was the key statement in Shelley and the great poem.    “Triumph of Life” is not in the big book?

Student:  Oh, no, it’s not.

AG:  It’s not in the regular … you’re sure.  It’s just in the Norton (anthology).  Well, good for the Norton.

It’s too long to read aloud right now, because we’ve only got ten minutes after all.  So what I suggest is that you get ahold of it one way or the other.  I’ll put one or two of these books in the library, which have a copy.  And there’s copies of Shelley in the library, which I’ll include, but read it for the next time, because actually it’s four minutes of…  Read “Triumph of Life” for the next time, and then read through….

I think after we’re done with this Shelley I’d like, now that we’re more settled, or I’m more settled, I’d like to go back to the Blake that I left unfinished.  You touched on some of the Blake.  What I wanted to do was I’ve been teaching a series of courses in Blake from the beginning to the end.  And I’ve gotten as far in the sequence over several terms up to “Night the Seventh” of Vala of “The Four Zoas”  – Vala or the Four Zoas , a prophetic book –  a long labyrinthine complicated maze (or) complicated book (in) which Blake tried to write out a whole systematic philosophy of life, and it’s full of symbolism, a lot of which I understand.

So what I’d like to do is go over one of these nights or books, which is only four or five pages, and decipher it line-by-line.  So what we’ll do next time is Shelley’s “Triumph of Life” and “Night the Seventh” of Blake’s Vala or the Four Zoas.  And there’s a number of copies of that in the library.  Okay?  So that’s the assignment.

And the poetry writing assignment is to write a two-to-three-page poem with some kind of regular form.  It doesn’t have to rhyme, but some kind of form, whether you count syllables or feet or if you want to rhyme it.  But irregular lines but like Shelley ( that is to say, all the lines not of the same length – varying-length lines, (with) different stanzas).  You following me?

Student:  Hmm.

AG:  A poem like Shelley but it doesn’t have to rhyme because that may be too hard.  But with regular stanzas, but the regular stanzas (should) not have lines of all the same length.  It’s like we were talking about before – various line-lengths.  Putting forth your own ultimate philosophy of existence and the universe.  Okay?  As of right now.  Where you stand right now.  Your ultimate philosophy.  I want you to express your ultimate philosophy of existence and of the universe as it stands in your mind right now as you see it.  The deepest insight you have into the universe.  And it should be, say, two pages at least. –  Yeah?  What?

Student:  What … what about the  other death thing you’re supposed to?
AG:  What did I say?  I’ve forgotten.
Student:  We were to do a long poem on death, you know.  Our experiences….
AG:  Has anybody done it?
Student (2):  Someone who died on us..
AG:  Oh, yeah.
Student (2):  I started..
AG:  Has anybody done it?
Student (2):  I’ve started it.
AG:  Okay.  Well, complete that and continue on with the life thing and I’ll take up some of the poetry after the next meeting.

Student:  Are we … are we going … are we to turn it in then?  So we should….
AG:  It might be useful to turn it in and I can read through it.
So that’s two writing assignments  – one was the effect of death, one is your ultimate philosophy of life.  The ultimate philosophy of life should be a longer, ode-like, poem, like an expanded poem,  at least two pages, in some kind of regular stanza-form.  Is that too much?
Student:  No.
AG:  This is a writing school so we’re supposed to get inspired to write out of this stuff.

Student:  (I don’t have any) invented philosophy…
AG:  Well, you must have had some inklings.  I mean, you may have to go back to pre-adolescent estimations of the size of the universe.
Student:  Uh-huh.
AG:  or what time is.  But as it stands now.   But you can also, in other words, take your original adolescent fantasies and then, like Shelley, take a disillusioned look at them later on..
Student:  Yeah ..
AG:  ..or a realistic look at them later on.  Or you can present what you thought when you were seven and what you think now that you’re twelve, fifteen.

The assignments are to be completed, not the next …
Student:  Monday.
AG:  … meeting.
Student:  Not Tuesday.
AG:  Not the next Tuesday, but handed in on Thursday.  Okay?

tape ends here

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-five-and-three-quarter minutes win and concluding at the end of the tape

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