Dharma Poetics – 5

Allen Ginsberg’s 1982 Naropa lecture on Dharma Poetics continues from here

AG:  As language is one of the, let us say, continuum that one appreciates, a little deeper to that and parallel to meditation is the awareness that poetry is vocal speech,  or language, of course, but language also rides out on breath. That for language, breath is the vehicle for language.  That breath is basic to poetry and to awareness of poetry and to basic poetry practice.  And, I should say, an awareness of breath is as basic to genius poetic practice as awareness of breath is basic to meditation practice.  And the highest subject of poetry has always been breath.  Or one of the central subjects.  And, in disguised form, one of the central subjects of poetry has always been actually breath and breathing.  If you remember that spiritus, Latin, means breathing.  And spirit means breath.  And that inspiration, which is a famous poetic buzzword,  (inspiration,  means the in-breathing).. The state of poetic inspiration is a state of unobstructed breath.  This I say from practical experience as well as from reading and research and conversation.  But the state of body and mind that is known as poetic inspiration does seem to have some characteristic of unimpeded, unobstructed breath, wherein the body is, so to speak, hollow.  And the thought is unobstructed, riding outward on the breath in spontaneous composition.  In deliberate composition very often the subject itself is the attainment of awareness of breath.  And so I should probably give you a few examples of that.  We’ve already had the sacred breath, so to speak, of William Carlos Williams‘ poem “Thursday” that I mentioned as part of the ground.  And I would like to read a curious little Elizabethan poem:

What is beauty but a breath, fancy’s twin at birth and death, the color of a damask rose, that fadeth when the north wind blows, tis such that though all sorts do crave it they know not what it is to have it.  A thing that sometimes stoops not to a king and yet most open to the commonest thing.  For she that is most fair is open to the air.”

That’s almost as good as the Williams and almost as direct.  But just the first line is a great slogan.  It’s an anonymous song.  Actually it was a song.  So it was not only poetry but song that was referential to, (or) that referred to, the central spiritual or inspirational motif.  The music was by Thomas Greaves, published in  Songs of Sundry Kinds (1604), and collected in the Auden-Kallman-Greenberg’s Elizabethan Song Book

to be continued

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