The Allen Ginsberg Project has been, for some now, providing annotated transcripts to some of Allen Ginsberg's extraordinary Naropa lectures. So we continue - taking off from where we left off - Allen's January 7 1980 "Basic Poetics" class . These first two segments are (somewhat untypical?) caught up in matters of pronunciation (and resultant metrics) - technical matters ("It'll come up over and over again, so you might as well get it straight" is Allen's justification)
Following some preliminary business (the list for books to be ordered - "either put your name on (the list) or not.."), the class begins;
AG: "I syng of a mayden.."
I sing of a maiden
That is makeles
King of alle kinges
To here sone che ches.
He cam also stille
Ther his moder was,
As dew in Aprille
That fallith on the gras
He cam also stille
To his moderes bower,
As dew in Aprille
That fallith on the flower,
He cam also stille
There his moder lay
As dew in Aprille
That fallith on the spray
Moder and maiden
Was never non but che,
Wel may swich a lady
Godes moder be
"I sing of a maiden.." It's sort of an endless (shot). As you may have noticed, I was uncertain what the actual rhythm is. Did anybody notice? - I was uncertain, actually, as to how you pronounced it because it's actually Old English and Medieval English. So I looked it up in some other books, and, in the first place, the spelling in our book (the Norton Anthology) is way off. It makes it difficult. But one thing I noticed that I hadn't… (if you turn, in the Norton (Anthology), to page 1306 - the original poem that we were looking at is on page 57 - "I syng of a mayden.." ), and you turn to page 1306, (and) they have.. they actually do have it analyzed, metrically . However, they've got different spelling, and the angle is (that) the "e" is actually pronounced (so that gives it an extra syllable in all those lines) so that changes it quite a bit, but it makes it a lot more..obvious what it should be -
"I syng of a maiden that is mak-e-les" (the "e" is pronounced - "mak-e-les" (as you see, they've got a little cusp, little cup over it - that's the unaccented syllable - "makeles") - "I syng of a maiden/that is makeles/king of alle kinges (so the "e" in "alle", A-L-L-E) - "king of alle kinges - "king of alle king-es" - " "I syng of a maiden/that is makeles/king of alle kinges/To here sone che ches" (so that fits into place)
So then I found also in the.. I checked it out in the Oxford Book of English Poetry (an older edition, when people were more scholarly- 1935) - "I syng" (S-Y-N-G) (if you want to notate it, incidentally, for fun, if you've got a pencil) - "I sing" (S-Y-N-G) - "I syng of a maiden" (M-A-Y-D-E-N) - "I syng of a mayden that is makeles" ("makeles", incidentally, I said "matchless" - but "matchless" means "mate-less", "without a mate", in other words, without a copulater (a virgin, without a copulater) - "I syng of a mayden that is "mate-less" (makeles) - she never got "made" by anyone! - "I syng of a mayden that is makeles" - "king of alle kinges" (all the "i"s are "y"s apparently -(K-Y-N-G)) - "king of alle kinges - (A-L-L-E) - "To here sone che ches" (and, as you notice, by the way, she also says.."to" means "for" here). So, the "king of alle kinges" she chose for her son. She chose the king of kings for her son ("king of alle kinges/To" ( - or for) her son she chose) - Actually, I'd never figured it out, I'd never realized what it all meant. I'd been bullshitting about it. I hadn't, you know.. It's been sticking in my mind and (I've been) running through it over and over again. I keep looking at it and finding it more and more clear metrically and more and more clear as far as what it's talking about (which is generally what happens with poetry - you get involved in some sugar-coating (the rhythm or a phrase, an interesting phrase, like "as dew in April fall upon the spray" ("As dew in Aprille/That fallith on the spray"), and as you begin contemplating it more and more, hearing it more and more in your ear, there are all sorts of unresolved kinks, like "what does it mean?" or "how do we really say it?" - or "To here sone che ches"? - you know, I never figured that out. It was some (well, it is) archaic way of saying "for her son she chose king of all kings" ("king of all kings she chose for her son").This is a little more complicated because we've got a slightly different language here to deal with
So what would it be, I think, is, as far as sound - " "I syng of a mayden that is makeles" - "I syng of a mayden that is makeles" - maker-less? macer-less? - macer-less? - [to Student] - How do we know that? Did you hear that from.. you.. you can read some of the.. what is it? Middle English?
AG: So . The "a'''s are short.
Student: That's right (and) a little long "e"
AG: Pardon me?
Student: A long "e" - Continental pronunciation - "makeles"
Student: The long "e" in "makeles", long vowels
AG: Yes, "Mayden" is "maiden"
Student: Except that they give it a Cockney pronunciation.
AG: My-den? - "I syng of a Myden that is Makeles? - Right! - M-A-Y - No wonder. Of course - "I syng of a mayden that is makeles" - That, again, sounds better and better
- "I syng of a mayden that is makeles" - And then what? - "King of all king-es"?
Student(s): (I think you.. No - alla (alle) - I guess the "all" as in "alle")
AG: Yes, Ok, "king of alle.." but what about the kings? - K-I-N-G-E-S?
Student: ("Kinges" has that hard "g' sound - hard "g" in "king")
AG: "Kinges"? So then it would be (that) - "King of all kinges" ("King of alle King-es") "King of all of the King-es" - Okay - "I syng of a maiden/that is makeles/king of alle kinges/To here sone che ches" . But now, am I doing something wrong with "To here sone che ches"? - "To here sone che.." - " ..King of alle kinges/To her son che ches", I guess.
Student: (Ches is like the seat of his pants)
AG: "Ches"? - [to Student] - How do you know that?
Student: I don't!
AG: Ches? What, like Prez? - Chez?
Student: (That) sounds good
AG: Do you know? (or not) - Okay..
Peter Orlovsky; What does "ches" mean?
AG: Chose, choose. She chose. She ches? (She chez?) - "King of alle kinges/To her son che ches". Okay, but the principle.. once we've established what the language is pronounced like, it's also, "what is the rhythm going to be?, or what word is going to be accented. I was talking about that a lot with (Cohen (sic?)) the other day - how do you figure out really what rhythm to say and I would say (that) you'd have to follow it as if you were making sense out of the line, as if you were talking to somebody and really saying something for real - So "the king of all kings for her son she chose" or "the king of all kings for her son she chose" (you know, like a soap opera), so how would that be?
Student : In the back (of the book) it says that "sonne" and "ches" have a strong (relation)..
AG: Oh, Well, lets see what they say - (Well lets see what they say) - "King of all.." - "King of alle kinges for her son she chose" - "King of alle kinges for her son she chose"? - It could be, but, you know, you can't really trust them. Here's a problem. Let's dwell on this for a while. It'll come up over and over again, so you might as well get it straight. It's real interesting. Unless you have a really good ear, unless you know the organic principle of poetry, unless you write it or unless you're fresh-minded to it (there is, although there is much subtlety and study by people who write such books as these, or ourselves), you can make big mistakes in accenting, because you.. There really is very often a difference between the formal accent (what it might be according to the rules) and (then) the way you would pronounce it if you were pronouncing it to make sense). I think there is an example of that on page 1305 (I was just noticing this point) - the quotation from (William) Shakespeare - "All this the world well knows; yet none knows well"….
to be continued
[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and continuing to approximately ten-and-a-quarter minutes in]