Dharma Poetics – 12

James Shirley (1596- 1666)

Allen Ginsberg on Dharma Poetics continues from here

Student:  (You’ve been concentrating here (mostly) on older poets)
AG:  Yeah.
Student: (Can we (perhaps) look at more modern authors?)
AG:  Pardon me?
Student:  (Can we look at more modern authors?)
AG:  I can’t hear the (question).
Student:  (Can we look at more modern authors?)

AG:  Maybe not.  I don’t think I’ll have time.  My first lecture (sic) was more or less modern, but I was more interested in the older stuff.  And we have a little (William Carlos) Williams and (John) Ashbery around if I ever get a chance to (get to it).  But I don’t think most of the people here know the classic ones.  That’s something I found at Naropa, that, although there is a great respect for tradition (imperial tradition, or musical tradition),  there is actually not very much direct practical knowledge of the classics of Western civilization, (which are, in some respects, parallel, if not equivalent, to the insights that are derived from the study of Buddhist theory).  I don’t think the West has as coherent, a non-theistic appreciation of the floating world. But there are breakthroughs of awareness in Western culture that are so definite and clear and intelligent and witty and appreciative that they actually would enrich the study of dharma if they were absorbed.  So that was my purpose in setting up this little “anthology” (of representative poems) for the evening, and covering some of the points covered in parallel discourses on dharmic themes.

James Shirley‘s “The glories of our blood and state,/Are shadows, not substantial things,/ There is no armour against fate,/Death lays his icy hand on Kings,/ Scepter and crown,/ Must tumble down,/ And in the dust be equal made,/ With the poor crooked sithe and spade.”/   Some men with swords may reap the field,/And plant fresh laurels where they kill,/ But their strong nerves at last must yield,/They tame but one another still;/ Early or late,/ They stoop to fate,/And must give up their murmuring breath,/When they pale Captives creep to death./  The Garlands wither on your brow,/Then boast no more your mighty deeds,/ Upon Deaths purple Altar now,/ See where the Victor-victim bleeds,/ Your heads must come,/ To the cool Tomb,/Onely the actions of the just/ Smell sweet, and blossom in their dust”

Then, from Shakespeare, a little appreciation of change in Sonnet 73, which is both happy and sad.  The vision of mortality in Western poets is what gives them the awareness of simultaneous happiness and sadness…[Allen is momentarily distracted] – Is that a bird?
Student:  No, it’s a moth.
Peter Orlovsky:  A big moth.
AG:  A big moth.  That’s a Western death symbol.
This was Kerouac’s favorite Shakespeare sonnet
Student:  (What was?)
AG:  Number 73.

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/ Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,/Bare (ruin’d) choirs where late the sweet birds sang./ In me thou seest the twilight of such day/As after sunset fadeth in the west,/ Which by and by black night doth take away/ Death’s second self, that seals up all the rest./ In me thou seest the glowing of such fire/ That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,/As the death-bed whereon it must expire,/Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by./This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,/To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.”

And that’s I think in a nutshell one of the best aphorisms in which the notion of complete awareness of transitoriness leads to vulnerable heart, openness and appreciation of immediate presence –  “This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,/To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.” –   I think that’s the commonest nostalgia of all gurus – from Shakespeare to the present.

to be continued

 

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