Dharma Poetics – 10

Chidiock Tichborn (1563-1586) – (alleged portrait of CT by Hans Elworth, but inscribed 1559, so more likely another member of the family)

Allen Ginsberg on Dharma Poetics continues from here

AG: Chidiock Tichborn (is) actually a minor poet but a very, very accurate ear, (and) has also a classic statement of transitoriness from experience.  It’s written with his own hand in the Tower of London before his execution, so it’s poignant for that reason, but it’s a clear glimpse –  “My prime of youth is but a frost of cares..” – ( This is not only transitoriness but also seeing through disillusion with the phenomenal world like not being fooled) -”

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,/My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,/My crop of corn is but a field of tares,/And all my good is but vain hope of gain;/The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,/And now I live, and now my life is done./   My tale was heard and yet it was not told,/My fruit is fallen and yet my leaves are green,/My youth is spent and yet I am not old,/I saw the world and yet I was not seen;/My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,/ And now I live, and now my life is done./  I sought my death and found it in my womb,/I looked for life and saw it was a shade,/I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,/And now I die, and now I was but made;/ My glass is full, and now my glass is run,/And now I live, and now my life is done”.

That’s a very clear statement.   –   Pardon me?
Student:  Who is that?
AG:  It’s Chidiock Tichborne, died 1586.  T-I-C-H-B-O-R-N-E.  “Tichborne’s Elegy.”  Most of these, unless otherwise spoken, are from The Norton Anthology.  This is page one-three-two, if you want it.

There are a lot of very great poems, very familiar poems, that are on the subject.  My favorite actually and I think one of the greatest poems in the language, even beyond or including Shakespeare, is this – “Litany in Time of Plague”Thomas Nashe.  It’s.. 1567-1601.  So also perception sharpened by practice or direct experience


Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)

“Adieu, farewell, earth’s bliss;/ This world uncertain is;/ Fond are life’s lustful joys;/ Death proves them all but toys;/ None from his darts can fly;/ I am sick, I must die./ Lord, have mercy on us! – (I think the original refrain is “Timor Mortis conturbat me.) – “Rich men, trust not in wealth,/ Gold cannot buy you health;/ Physic himself must fade./ All things to end are made,/ The plague full swift goes by;/ I am sick, I must die./ Lord, have mercy on us!/ Beauty is but a flower/ Which wrinkles will devour;/ Brightness falls from the air;/ Queens have died young and fair;/ Dust hath closed Helen’s eye./ I am sick, I must die./ Lord, have mercy on us!/ Strength stoops onto the grave,/ Worms feed on Hector brave;/ Swords may not fight with fate,/ Earth still holds ope her gate./ “Come, come!” the bells do cry./ I am sick, I must die./ Lord, have mercy on us./ With with his wantonness/  Tasteth death’s bitterness;/ Hell’s executioner/ Hath no ears for to hear/ What vain art can reply./ I am sick, I must die./ Lord, have mercy on us./ Haste, therefore, each degree,/ To welcome destiny; / Heaven is our heritage,/ Earth but a player’s stage;/ Mount we unto the sky./  I am sick, I must die./ Lord have mercy on us.”

The part I thought was the most direct and ethereal and magical was:

“Beauty is but a flower/ Which wrinkles will devour;/Brightness falls from the air..”

which I think is maybe the most beautiful line in English –  “Brightness falls from the air.”  It’s totally abstract.  What falls from the air we don’t know.  Is it the sun’s brightness falling from the air?  Is it brightness of persons falling down into this…?  But it’s just a very strange phrase –   “Brightness falls from the air.”  That might mean that night comes on, actually.  Fails.

Then “Queens have died” – the cadence and sound here are so exact and deliberate that in themselves they’re like the bubble that stood on the flood.  “Beauty is but a flower/Which wrinkles will devour;” – halt – “Brightness falls from the air;”- gap, sound gap – “Queens have died young and fair;/ Dust hath closed Helen’s eye.”  There’s a delicate caesura between each statement.  It’s made for singing, actually.  So there’s a little delicate caesura which is an ear so precise and accurate that the intelligence and perception is manifested in the silences between the phrasing.  If you have a subtle ear or are interested in that aspect of precision.

to be continued


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