Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Basic Poetics - Ballads - (Sir Patrick Spens)
Allen Ginsberg on the Ballad tradition continues
"Sir Patrick Spens" is the one that has the fast jump-cut, fast freeze-frames and jump-cuts - "The King sits in Dunfermline town/Drinking the blood-red wine'/"O where will I get a good sailor/To sail this ship of mine?/ Up and spake an elder knight/Sat at the King's right knee: "Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor/That sails upon the sea"./ The King has written a braid letter,/And signed it with his hand/And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens/Was walking on the sand" [Editorial note - Allen misreads the poem here, the actual line was "Was walking on the strand"] - So from castle to the sea coast in one stanza. I mean, the camera moves, or the mind's eye, from castle to sea-coast in one fast stanza. "The King has written a braid letter and signed it with his hand/And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens/Was walking on the sand" - "Was walking on the sand" [sic] - just as fast as that - "The first line that Sir Patrick read/ A loud laugh laughed he/The next line that Sir Patrick read/A tear blinded his ee/ "Who is this hath done this deed,/ This ill deed done to me,/To send me ot this time o' the year/ To sail upon the sea!/Make haste…"
So, the..without further explanation as to why the trip, or what the conditions, you get all the information directly and instantly from the… from what Sir Patrick says and what his reaction is. The laugh is fantastic. The first line is "Sir Patrick read a loud laugh laughed he". You know, what did he laugh at? - what does it say? - "Dear Sir Patrick Spens, I am the King and now I'm talking to you. I'm writing you a letter and now I'm the King,and so.." - "Ah, from the King? - Good!", Well, if he wants me to go out to my death, wants me to go out on a boat that I'm obviously going to die in?" "The next line that Sir Patrick read/A tear blinded his ee".
So who has done this deed?, this ill deed done to me this time of year to sail out upon the sea?- "Make haste, make haste, my merry men all/Our good ship sails the morn"/"O say not so, my master dear, for I fear the deadly storm./ Late, late, yestereen, I saw the new Moon/With the old Moon in her arm/I fear, I fear, my dear Master/That we will come to harm" - What is "the new Moon/With the old Moon in her arm"? - The only visualization of that I could get was a New Moon..
Student: It might be a ring around the moon?
AG: Well, the Old Moon, but you can also see the rest of the circle…you can see the rest of the circle, the dark circle, so I guess "the new Moon/With the old Moon in her arm", but does anybody know if there's any other traditional sense to that?. I thought maybe there was, besides just the obvious mind's-eye image you might get.
"Late, late, yestereen, I saw the new Moon/With the old Moon in her arm" - That's like, also, one of the great classic images out of ballad, and then, (Samuel Taylor) Coleridge will pick that up with "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", or that kind of imagery, that real crystal-sharp moon out of the sky, he'll put in his book - "O our Scots nobels were richt laith/To weet their cork-heeled shoon/But lang or 'a the play were played/Their hats they swam aboon" - (That was fast! - They didn't want to go in, but, next thing they know, their hats were swimming above them. So that was also a fast jump-cut) - "O our Scots nobels were richt laith/To weet their cork-heeled shoon/But lang or 'a the play were played/Their hats they swam aboon" - "O our Scots nobels were richt laith/To weet their cork-heeled shoon/But lang or 'a the play were played/Their hats they swam aboon/O lang, lang may the ladies sit/Wi' their fans into their hand,/ Or ere they see Sir Patrick Spens/Come sailing to the land/ O lang lang may the ladies stand/Wi' their gold kems in their hair,/ Waiting for their own dear lords/For they'll see them no more./ Half owre half owre to Aberdur/It's fifty fadom deep/And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens/Wi' the Scots lords at his feet."
So, this poem, this ballad, is celebrated throught the intelletual Buddha-fields of ballad-dom for..for the sharpness of the imagery and for the swiftness of the cut, for the swiftness of the jump of the mind from one place to another, and that's spoken of, at any rate, as characteristic of the best in ballads, where you get these fast freeze-frames like - "O lang, lang may the ladies sit/Wi' their fans into their hand","O lang lang may the ladies stand/Wi' their gold kems in their hair" - I mean, it's just like.. you get a still of them. "..lang, lang may the ladies sit/Wi' their fans into their hand", which is actually, like, an eternal picture put in your mind and just sits there forever (as it has sat there in this ballad forever - those ladies have been sitting there forever)…Sir Patrick Spens..Those hats, those hats have been floating above their heads.. It's just a very sparse, spare imagery. I mean, it's just few facts, few details - "But lang or 'a the play were played/Their hats they swam aboon" ..adorned, prettied-up, waiting. Then you have this awful absence, that goes on forever, (like this eternal absence, that's never going to be over). And then (the) last shot is, like in the movies, under the ocean, half way over to Aberdeen, "fifty fadom deep" (fifty fathoms deep), "there lies good Sir Patrick Spens/Wi' the Scots lords at his feet." - another freeze-frame, forever. It's funny how those fixed, how the picture fixed in the mind, and stays in the mind, sort of stops and stays there,and it's always there when you want to go back and read it. because it's almost magical, the swiftness of it.
[The audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-one minutes in, and continuing until approximately forty-seven-and-three-quarter minutes in]