Iko! Iko!

Iko! Iko!

Two poems today. One a book poem, one a song lyric poem. One from American John Brandi, who I’ve never met, which is strange as we’ve known a few folks in common for many years, and have passed through a few of the same spaces. The other poem (song lyric) from Foy Vance from Northern Ireland (Ulster, UK), who I only just recently learned of.

As this designation of April as National Poetry Month is an American (US) thang, I thought I’d try to keep my related posts this month somewhat (not entirely!) weighted toward American poets with poems focused perhaps mostly on American subjects/settings. We’ll see how far I get with that…

Anyway, John throws a famously-Canadian Canadian artist into his poem. “America” as more than the US. Vance references many Americans in his lyric, but adds also a few other folks. As for me, I very often don’t even think about such distinctions, as I’m sure is true for John and Foy and many folks who live in a planetary geo-bio-cultural milieu. But regional distinctions/uniqueries can be lovely as well. Within our planetary family context. But ____k political/military nationalism(s)! The republic of poetry knows no borders, extends to, and includes, the farthest stars, and beyond….

 

THE AMERICAN GRAIN

Arthur Dove caught it,

so did Emily Carr: eddies of force,

sunspots talking, ridgelines buzzing.

Shimmer and Shakti of sky meeting earth;

fountains of moisture

from willow and spruce.

Charles Burchfield got it,

so did Georgia O’Keeffe: aura,

reverberation, seedheads exploding,

flecks of mica quivering

in the Swallowtail’s flight.

Eric Dolphy heard it:

highwire boogie of mockingbird,

slow descending notes

of canyon wren.

Weightless flow of wind

rendered VISIBLE.

Color of an echo

—sound

of the wild rose.

 

— John Brandi

from The World, the World (2013)

White Pine Press, Buffalo, New York

All rights reserved. This work, or portions thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the publisher.

I’ll let you, dear Reader, do you’re own online legwork to hunt down the references in Brandi’s poem, with one leading clue: poet William Carlos Williams’ book, In the American Grain. Now, if you don’t know each and every reference, look ’em up! Go, seek thou, and learn.

https://books.google.com/books/about/In_the_American_Grain.html?id=y27z85NaPnMC

http://www.johnbrandi.com/

 

NOAM CHOMSKY IS A SOFT REVOLUTION

Carl Perkins for the rock n roll
Dr. John for the Jock-A-Mo
Little Richard for a Saturday night
James Brown if you’re feelin outtasight
Willie Nelson if you’re feelin low
Aretha Franklin if you need some soul

Play ’em loud.

But if you’re quiet and you’re brooding, baby
Noam Chomsky is a soft revolution
Jean-Paul Sartre if it’s all just so
Dostoyevsky if you’re in the know
A bit of scripture for a little light, baby

Che Guevara for a full on bar fight
Alexander if you’re feeling Great
Charlie Darwin if you’re thinking ‘bout apes

If you’re quiet and you’re looking for solution, baby
Noam Chomsky is a soft revolution
Old Joe Lewis gonna wear you down
Ali Muhammad gonna do it loud
Marciano got a granite chin, baby

Go get a Rocket for a 147
Gotta Bolt when you’re feeling lightning
And that Macgregor good lord he’s frightenin’

If your quiet and you’re sick of institution, baby
Noam Chomsky is a soft revolution

 

— Foy Vance

from The Wild Swan (2016)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/what-to-listen-to/foy-vance-performs-noam-chomsky-is-a-soft-revolution-in-exclusiv/

https://genius.com/Foy-vance-noam-chomsky-is-a-soft-revolution-lyrics
Carl Perkins for the rock n roll
Dr. John for the Jock-A-Mo
Little Richard for a Saturday night
James Brown if you’re feelin outtasight
Willie Nelson if you’re feelin low
Aretha Franklin if you need some soul

Play ’em loud. But if you’re quiet and you’re brooding, baby
Noam Chomsky is a soft revolution
Jean-Paul Sartre if it’s all just so
Dostoyevsky if you’re in the know
A bit of scripture for a little light
Baby Che Guevara for a full on bar fight
Alexander if you’re feeling great
Charlie Darwin if you’re thinking ‘bout apes

If you’re quiet and you’re looking for solution baby
Noam Chomsky is a soft revolution
Old Joe Lewis gonna wear you down
Ali Muhammad gonna do it loud
Marciano got a granite chin
Baby go get a rocket for a 147
Gotta bolt when you’re feeling lightning
And that McGregor good lord he’s frightenin’

If your quiet and you’re sick of institution baby
Noam Chomsky is a soft revolution

Carl Perkins: “Rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins lent a helping hand when the two currents that defined Southern music at mid-century – rhythm & blues and country & western – came together as rock and roll.”

Dr. John: Dr. John, ‘The Night-Tripper’ (Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, born 1940)

(Reference to Dr. John’s cover of the New Orleans song about two “tribes” of Mardi Gras “Indians” and their confrontation.

The song, under the original title “Jock-A-Mo”, was written in 1953 by Sugar Boy and his Cane Cutters but first became popular in 1965 by the female pop group The Dixie Cups. In 1972, Dr. John had a minor hit with his version of “Iko Iko”.

The most successful charting version in the UK was recorded by Scottish singer Natasha England who took her 1982 version into the top 10. “Iko Iko” became an international hit again twice more, the first being the Belle Stars in the 1980s and again with Captain Jack in 2001.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iko_Iko

 

Little Richard: References the opening line to Little Richard’s 1956 track, “Rip it Up”:

Well, it’s Saturday night and I just got paid,
Fool about my money, don’t try to save,
My heart says go go, have a time,
Saturday night and I’m feelin’ fine,

James Brown: This refers to the James Brown song released in 1964 under the pseudonym Ted Wright. This song is believed to be an important step in the evolution of funk music.

Willie Nelson: While Willie Nelson was known for writing songs about being sad or feeling low, this song likely is referencing the song, “You Just Can’t Play a Sad Song on a Banjo”.

Now we all know the violin plays sweetly
And the steel guitar thrills all the world completely
But for all around good fun there’s really only one
And it’s round and firm and fully packed and puts the blues on the run

And you just can’t play a sad song on the banjo
A banjo tune will have to make you smile
And when you’re feeling low and melancholy
Just pick up the ol’ banjo by Golly
‘Cause you just can’t play a sad song on the banjo

Now bad news just won’t hang around the banjo
Old dismal gloom will have to disappear
A sad song can’t be played so please don’t be afraid
‘Cause you just can’t play a sad song on the banjo
Willie Nelson – You Just Can’t Play A Sad Song On A Banjo

Aretha Franklin: is a female vocalist who has garnered the title “The Queen of Soul”.

Foy is prefacing the chorus with the fact that if you want to feel something powerful that isn’t necessarily non-violent then listen to his examples at high volume to match whatever mood you’re in.

However, if you’re feeling subdued or without energy there is another option.

A soft revolution is another term for a non-violent revolution. Noam Chomsky is an American professor of linguistics, anarchist, human rights activist, socialist and political analyst.

He is also a proponent of nonviolence to bring forth change.

In an interview with Francine Stock on BBC FOUR in January of 2003 he answered the question of when it is right to intervene in the affairs of another nation:

I think there are conditions under which that would be possible. One basic condition is that nonviolent – you mean violent intervention? – that nonviolent means have been exhausted. That’s one condition. A second condition is that the people of the country in which you’re intervening support the intervention. Under those conditions – and you can think of others – intervention would be justified. However, we don’t ever apply those conditions.

The Legitimacy of Violence as a Political Act?

Scripture: A simple reference to the Holy Bible. Light is often used as a symbol in scripture to describe God and faith in God, e.g. John 8:12, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

This line cleverly references naturalist Charles Darwin’s contributions to the study of evolution and his idea that humans descended from apes. The iconic image “March of Progress” depicts this theory, showing 25 million years of human evolution in which apes developed gradually into human beings.

Rocket: This line references Ronnie O’Sullivan, a professional snooker and pool player whose nickname is “The Rocket.” O’Sullivan is regarded as the world’s best snooker player, and 147 refers to the sport’s maximum break, a break being the shots (in the correct order) that make up a player’s turn at the table. O’Sullivan holds the world record for competitive maximum breaks.

Bolt: Usain Bolt, (born 1986) is a Jamaican sprinter. He is the first person to hold both the 100 metres and 200 metres world records since fully automatic time became mandatory. He also holds the world record as a part of the 4 × 100 metres relay. He is the reigning world and Olympic champion in these three events. Due to his unprecedented dominance and achievements in sprint competition, he is widely considered to be the greatest sprinter of all time.

Macgregor: Probably (?) Donald Forbes Macgregor (born 23 July 1939) is a Scottish long-distance runner, teacher and politician. He competed in the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, representing Great Britain in the men’s marathon event, in which he finished in seventh position in 2:16:34.[1] He also competed for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in 1970 in Edinburgh and 1974 in Christchurch. He had a personal best of 2:14:15.4.[2]

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Reconstituting the Whole Universe…

April is national poetry month (USA).

Today, April 5, 2017, is the 20th anniversary of the death of Allen Ginsberg.

Here is a selection of some of his haiku collectively titled “Haiku (Never Published)”, from 1955:
https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/haiku-never-published/

Haiku (Never Published)

 

The moon over the roof,
worms in the garden.
I rent this house.

My old desk:
the first thing I looked for
in my house.

My early journal:
the first thing I found
in my old desk.

My mother’s ghost:
the first thing I found
in the living room.

The first thing I looked for
in my old garden was
The Cherry Tree.

Looking over my shoulder
my behind was covered
with cherry blossoms.

Winter Haiku
I didn’t know the names
of the flowers—now
my garden is gone.

Reading haiku
I am unhappy,
longing for the Nameless.

On the porch
in my shorts;
auto lights in the rain.

Drinking my tea
Without sugar—
No difference.

Another year
has past—the world
is no different.

[Haiku composed in the backyard cottage at 1624
Milvia Street, Berkeley 1955, while reading R.H.
Blyth’s 4 volumes, “Haiku.”]

Allen Ginsberg

from An Interview with Allen Ginsberg, 1966:

From an interview with Allen Ginsberg by Tom Clark, published in The Paris Review (Issue 37, Spring 1966). Tom Clark is still very busily active, writing poetry, non-fiction, and other things. You can take a look at some of his current work over at his amazing blog-site, Tom Clark – Beyond The Pale. But be advised: many of the war photographs he posts there are not for the faint of heart.

http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.com

https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4389/allen-ginsberg-the-art-of-poetry-no-8-allen-ginsberg
INTERVIEWER

You once mentioned something you had found in Cézanne—a remark about the reconstitution of the petites sensations of experience, in his own painting—and you compared this with the method of your poetry.

GINSBERG

I got all hung up on Cézanne around 1949 in my last year at Columbia, studying with Meyer Schapiro. I don’t know how it led into it—I think it was about the same time that I was having these Blake visions. So. The thing I understood from Blake was that it was possible to transmit a message through time that could reach the enlightened, that poetry had a definite effect, it wasn’t just pretty, or just beautiful, as I had understood pretty beauty before—it was something basic to human existence, or it reached something, it reached the bottom of human existence. But anyway the impression I got was that it was like a kind of time machine through which he could transmit—Blake could transmit—his basic consciousness and communicate it to somebody else after he was dead; in other words build a time machine.

Now just about that time I was looking at Cézanne and I suddenly got a strange shuddering impression looking at his canvases, partly the effect when someone pulls a venetian blind, reverses the venetian—there’s a sudden shift, a flashing that you see in Cézanne canvases. Partly it’s when the canvas opens up into three dimensions and looks like wooden objects, like solid space objects, in three dimensions rather than flat. Partly it’s the enormous spaces that open up in Cézanne’s landscapes. And it’s partly that mysterious quality around his figures, like of his wife or the card players or the postman or whoever, the local Aix characters. They look like great huge 3-d wooden dolls, sometimes. Very uncanny thing, like a very mysterious thing, in other words there’s a strange sensation that one gets, looking at his canvases, which I began to associate with the extraordinary sensation—cosmic sensation, in fact—that I had experienced catalyzed by Blake’s Sunflower and Sick Rose and a few other poems. So I began studiously investigating Cézanne’s intentions and method, and looking at all the canvases of his that I could find in New York, and all the reproductions I could find, and I was writing at the time a paper on him, for Schapiro at Columbia in the Fine Arts course.

And the whole thing opened up, two ways: First, I read a book on Cézanne’s composition by Erle Loran, who showed photographs, analyses, and photographs of the original motifs, side by side with the actual canvases—and years later I actually went to Aix, with all the postcards, and stood in the spots, and tried to find the places where he painted Mont Sainte-Victoire from, and got in his studio and saw some of the motifs he used like his big black hat and his cloak. Well, first of all I began to see that Cézanne had all sorts of literary symbolism in him, on and off. I was preoccupied with Plotinian terminology, of time and eternity, and I saw it in Cézanne paintings, an early painting of a clock on a shelf that I associated with time and eternity, and I began to think he was a big secret mystic. And I saw a photograph of his studio in Loran’s book and it was like an alchemist’s studio, because he had a skull, and he had a long black coat, and he had this big black hat. So I began thinking of him as, you know, like a magic character. Like the original version I had thought of him was like this austere dullard from Aix. So I began getting really interested in him as a hermetic type, and then I symbolically read into his canvases things that probably weren’t there, like there’s a painting of a winding road which turns off, and I saw that as the mystical path: it turns off into a village and the end of the path is hidden. Something he painted I guess when he went out painting with Bernard. Then there was an account of a very fantastic conversation that he had had. It’s quoted in Loran’s book: there’s a long, long, long paragraph where he says, “By means of squares, cubes, triangles, I try to reconstitute the impression that I have from nature: The means that I use to reconstitute the impression of solidity that I think-feel-see when I am looking at a motif like Victoire, is to reduce it to some kind of pictorial language, so I use these squares, cubes, and triangles, but I try to build them together so interknit” [Ginsberg interlocks his fingers] “so that no light gets through.” And I was mystified by that, but it seemed to make sense in terms of the grid of paint strokes that he had on his canvas, so that he produced a solid two-dimensional surface that, when you looked into it, maybe from a slight distance with your eyes either unfocused or your eyelids lowered slightly, you could see a great three-dimensional opening, mysterious, stereoscopic, like going into a stereopticon. And I began discovering in The Card Players all sorts of sinister symbols, like there’s one guy leaning against the wall with a stolid expression on his face, that he doesn’t want to get involved; and then there’s two guys who are peasants, who are looking as if they’ve just been dealt Death cards; and then the dealer you look at and he turns out to be a city slicker with a big blue cloak and almost rouge doll-like cheeks and a fat-faced Kafkian-agent impression about him, like he’s a cardsharp, he’s a cosmic cardsharp dealing out Fate to all these people. This looks like a great big hermetic Rembrandtian portrait in Aix! That’s why it has that funny monumentality—aside from the quote plastic values unquote.

Then, I smoked a lot of marijuana and went to the basement of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and looked at his watercolors and that’s where I began really turning on to space in Cézanne and the way he built it up. Particularly there’s one of rocks, I guess Rocks at Garonne, and you look at them for a while, and after a while they seem like they’re rocks, just the rock parts, you don’t know where they are, whether they’re on the ground or in the air or on top of a cliff, but then they seem to be floating in space like clouds, and then they seem to be also a bit like they’re amorphous, like kneecaps or cockheads or faces without eyes. And it has a very mysterious impression. Well, that may have been the result of the pot. But it’s a definite thing that I got from that. Then he did some very odd studies after classical statues, Renaissance statues, and they’re great gigantesque herculean figures with little tiny pinheads … so that apparently was his comment on them!

And then … the things were endless to find in Cézanne. Finally I was reading his letters and I discovered this phrase again, mes petites sensations—“I’m an old man and my passions are not, my senses are not coarsened by passions like some other old men I know, and I have worked for years trying to,” I guess it was the phrase, “reconstitute the petites sensations that I get from nature, and I could stand on a hill and merely by moving my head half an inch the composition of the landscape was totally changed.” So apparently he’d refined his optical perception to such a point where it’s a real contemplation of optical phenomena in an almost yogic way, where he’s standing there, from a specific point studying the optical field, the depth in the optical field, looking, actually looking at his own eyeballs in a sense. The attempting to reconstitute the sensation in his own eyeballs. And what does he say finally—in a very weird statement that one would not expect of the austere old workman, he said, “And this petite sensation is nothing other than pater omnipotens aeterna deus.”

So that was, I felt, the key to Cézanne’s hermetic method … Everybody knows his workmanlike, artisanlike, prettified-like painting method that is so great, but the really romanticistic motif behind it is absolutely marvelous, so you realize that he’s really a saint! Working on his form of yoga, all that time, in obvious saintly circumstances of retirement in a small village, leading a relatively nonsociable life, going through the motions of going to church or not, but really containing in his skull these supernatural phenomena, and observations… You know, and it’s very humble actually, because he didn’t know if he was crazy or not—that is a flash of the physical, miracle dimensions of existence, trying to reduce that to canvas in two dimensions, and then trying to do it in such a way as it would look if the observer looked at it long enough it would look like as much three dimension as the actual world of optical phenomena when one looks through one’s eyes. Actually he’s reconstituted the whole fucking universe in his canvases—it’s like a fantastic thing!—or at least the appearance of the universe.

So. I used a lot of this material in the references in the last part of the first section of Howl: “sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus.” The last part of “Howl” was really an homage to art but also in specific terms an homage to Cézanne’s method, in a sense I adapted what I could to writing; but that’s a very complicated matter to explain. Except, putting it very simply, that just as Cézanne doesn’t use perspective lines to create space, but it’s a juxtaposition of one color against another color (that’s one element of his space), so, I had the idea, perhaps overrefined, that by the unexplainable, unexplained nonperspective line, that is, juxtaposition of one word against another, a gap between the two words—like the space gap in the canvas—there’d be a gap between the two words that the mind would fill in with the sensation of existence. In other words when I say, oh … when Shakespeare says, In the dread vast and middle of the night, something happens between “dread vast” and “middle.” That creates like a whole space of—spaciness of black night. How it gets that is very odd, those words put together. Or in the haiku, you have two distinct images, set side by side without drawing a connection, without drawing a logical connection between them: the mind fills in this … this space. Like
O ant
crawl up Mount Fujiyama,
but slowly, slowly.

Now you have the small ant and you have Mount Fujiyama and you have the slowly, slowly, and what happens is that you feel almost like …  […] You feel this enormous space—universe, it’s almost a tactile thing. Well anyway, it’s a phenomenon-sensation, phenomenon hyphen sensation, that’s created by this little haiku of Issa, for instance.

So, I was trying to do similar things with juxtapositions like “hydrogen jukebox.” Or … “winter midnight smalltown streetlight rain.” Instead of cubes and squares and triangles. Cézanne is reconstituting by means of triangles, cubes, and colors—I have to reconstitute by means of words, rhythms of course, and all that—but say it’s words, phrasings. So. The problem is then to reach the different parts of the mind, that are existing simultaneously, the different associations which are going on simultaneously, choosing elements from both, like jazz, jukebox, and all that, and we have the jukebox from that; politics, hydrogen bomb, and we have the hydrogen of that—you see “hydrogen jukebox.” And that actually compresses in one instant like a whole series of things. Or the end of Sunflower with “cunts of wheelbarrows,” whatever that all meant, or “rubber dollar bills”—“skin of machinery”; see, and actually in the moment of composition I don’t necessarily know what it means, but it comes to mean something later, after a year or two, I realize that it meant something clear, unconsciously. Which takes on meaning in time, like a photograph developing slowly. Because we’re not really always conscious of the entire depth of our minds, in other words we just know a lot more than we’re able to be aware of, normally—though at moments we’re completely aware, I guess.

There’s some other element of Cézanne that was interesting … oh, his patience, of course. In recording the optical phenomena. Has something to do with Blake: with not through the eye—You’re led to believe a lie when you see with not through the eye. He’s seeing through his eye. One can see through his canvas to God, really, is the way it boils down. Or to Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus. I could imagine someone not prepared, in a peculiar chemical physiological state, peculiar mental state, psychic state, someone not prepared who had no experience of eternal ecstasy, passing in front of a Cézanne canvas, distracted and without noticing it, his eye traveling in, to, through the canvas into the space and suddenly stopping with his hair standing on end, dead in his tracks seeing a whole universe. And I think that’s what Cézanne really does, to a lot of people.

Where were we now. Yeah, the idea that I had was that gaps in space and time through images juxtaposed, just as in the haiku you get two images that the mind connects in a flash, and so that flash is the petite sensation; or the satori, perhaps, that the Zen haikuists would speak of—if they speak of it like that. So, the poetic experience that Housman talks about, the hair standing on end or the hackles rising whatever it is, visceral thing. The interesting thing would be to know if certain combinations of words and rhythms actually had an electrochemical reaction on the body, which could catalyze specific states of consciousness. I think that’s what probably happened to me with Blake. I’m sure it’s what happens on a perhaps lower level with Poe’s Bells or Raven, or even Vachel Lindsay’s Congo: that there is a hypnotic rhythm there, which when you introduce it into your nervous system, causes all sorts of electronic changes—permanently alters it. There’s a statement by Artaud on that subject, that certain music when introduced into the nervous system changes the molecular composition of the nerve cells or something like that, it permanently alters the being that has experience of this. Well, anyway, this is certainly true. In other words any experience we have is recorded in the brain and goes through neural patterns and whatnot, so I suppose brain recordings are done by means of shifting around of little electrons—so there is actually an electrochemical effect caused by art.

So … the problem is what is the maximum electrochemical effect in the desired direction. That is what I was taking Blake as having done to me. And what I take as one of the optimal possibilities of art. But this is all putting it in a kind of bullshit abstract way. But it’s an interesting … toy. To play with. That idea.

___________________________

Allen Ginsberg argues with W.H. Auden

April – National Poetry Month  Day 4

Tomorrow, April 5, is the 20th anniversary of the death of my friend, American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926- April 5, 1997).  I thought Allen deserves more than one day of celebration during America’s national poetry month, so before posting a poem or two of Allen’s tomorrow, I give you one of his letters to his father, poet and poetry teacher Louis Ginsberg. 

Allen Ginsberg to Louis Ginsberg

Ischia (Italy)

September 1, 1957

Dear Louis:

By the time you get this I’ll be back in Venice, probably preparing to start off for Paris, via Vienna- stop off there a few days. Not seen any mail for over a week, since I been traveling. As I think I wrote, Time mag. called up for an interview from Rome, and as they were summer vacation short-handed they readily agreed to my proposition that they pay my way down there & they gave me two days living expenses (35 dollars) as well as plane ticket round trip. I’ve stretched the money out for ten days already and came down further to Naples — went to museums, saw large collection of Pompeilian [sic] art in the Naples museum, including a whole roomful of interesting & sometimes beautiful Pompeilian pornography. Also walked a lot around Naples which is a beautifully situated city — slums honeycombed onto steep hills that come down to high waterfront rich boulevards and a great blue wide bay overlooking Capri a few miles out, and overlooked by vast slope of Mr. Vesuvius. The second day here I climbed up Vesuvius & spent an hour looking at steam coming out of the rocks in the walls of the great crater on top; and then slid & walked down the side thru pulverized lava sand & down lava fields into beautiful grape growing country (picking & eating delicious blue grapes along the road) and down further to the Bay of Naples and the ruins of Pompeii — spent the end of the afternoon walking thru those deserted & strange streets. Still quite a bit of statuary and painting left there including a lot of naked Venuses & satyrs & drunken Bacchuses, mythological figures all over the walls, including a set of priapic illustrations in a ruined ancient bordello. I stayed over in Naples at the youth hostel, very cheap & charming collection of traveling young Germans & South Africans & 2 motorcycling Vietnamese. Then took boat to Capri & spent day walking around steep cliffs overlooking azure sea and also went swimming. Stayed overnight, in hostel, very cheap, & drank fresh milk & made cheese & salami sandwiches & ate tomatoes so I dropped very little money there, tho hostel & restaurant prices are high. Then took early morning boat back to Naples & railroad for an hour up the coast & by foot for 4 miles into the country by more grapefields & lakes, to the ruins of Cuma — site of the Caves of Cumaen Sybil — one of the most beautiful and least visited of the local archeological sites — high dark echoey caves underground stairways and passages, a whole hill honeycombed with dark prophetic rooms, and on top of the hill a calm shady broken temple where I ate picnic lunch alone & took a nap. Then returned to a small town near Bay of Baia (“Lulled by the crystalline streams of Baia’s bay” – Ode to West Wind?) called Pozzuoli and took another cheap fisher ferry boat thru Baia Bay to Isle of Ischia, where Auden has settled every summer for past l0 years. It’s a big (15 miles circumference) island with several cities, blue Mediterranean sky & clear bright sun showering on the translucent azure-type water. Found a hostel here, spent last evening arguing furiously & angrily with Auden on the merits of Whitman at a cafe table in “Marie’s Bar” in town of Forio, outdoors under grapevines drank a lot of wine, woke this morning, had breakfast (huge peach, half quart of milk & large sugarbun) and went swimming. Yesterday also took buses around the island and climbed Mt. Epomeo, which is in the center of it, a high rough craggy mount, ex volcano, with white spurs of wind worn rock jutting out crazily on top. More German tourists all over, afoot & on donkeys. This island very interesting, since it has great variety of landscape, mountain-scape, seascape, & cliffs, little peninsular mountains, and every type of civilization from grape-peasants living in caves to hut dwellers, fishermen & strange English high society types wandering around in red shorts & sunglasses. Mostly it is an Italian resort island, contrasting with Capri which is famously international. I’ll leave here tomorrow morning (Monday) on 5AM boat, catch Naples-Rome train, be in Rome by noon, catch plane that afternoon and arrive in Venice early tomorrow evening. Now sitting in the afternoon, relaxing with lemonade in shady cafe table, writing letters, everything very slow & calm — I’ve been on my feet most of the time till today, tramping, strolling & climbing.

Auden stays in all day & comes out to cafe in evening & sits with a tablefull of dull chatty literary old fairies & they seem to vie with each other in making deprecatory home-made sophisticated small talk. I tackled the whole table on the Whitman issue & wound up tipsy calling them a bunch of shits — Auden seems to have a longwinded rationalistic approach to his opinions — I doubt if he respects his own feelings anymore — I think his long sexual history has been relatively unfortunate and made him very orthodox and conservative and merciless in an offhand way — he sounds like an intelligent Time magazine talking. [Alan] Ansen has the same peculiarity — approaching such questions as capital punishment and literary censorship as if they were complicated bureaucratic problems in which they have no right to have private feelings but only series of factual logical considerations — a sort of fetish of objectivity — which strikes me as no objectivity at all but a sort of abject distrust of people & their own lives. I quoted the first line of Whitman, “I celebrate myself,” etc., and Auden said, “O but my dear! that’s so wrong and so shameless, it’s an utterly bad line — when I hear that I feel I must say please don’t include me” (re — “what I shall assume you shall assume”) — said that he was an orthodox Englishman, not a democrat (in this context).  It all boils down to some sort of reactionary mystique of original sin. Auden is a great poet but he seems old in vain if he’s learned no wildness from life — sort of a Wordsworthian camp. Said he “immensely disliked” Shelley. He thought my own book was “full of the author feeling sorry for himself” and saw no vitality or beauty beyond that as far as I could see. All this gives me the conviction, or strengthens the conviction I have had, that the republic of poetry needs a full-scale revolution and upsetting of “values” (and a return to a kind of imagination of life in Whitman’s Democratic Vistas that I’ve been reading in Venice). In all this scene, with the great names like Auden & Marianne Moore trying to be conservative, and Eliot ambiguous & Pound partly nuts, [William Carlos] Williams stands out as the only beautiful soul among the great poets who has tearfully clung to his humanity and has survived as a man to bequeath in America some semblance of the heritage of spiritual democracy in indestructible individuality — heritage established and handed down by Whitman & perhaps Emerson, I don’t know I never read him. Hart Crane seems like the only other live soul — he too generally described by academicians [as] improper, sloppy, or immature. But I think they struggled toward freedom with great knowledge & in great solitude. Auden thought Whitman “dishonest” for writing an anonymous review of his own work. I think it wd. improve Auden’s present lax poetry if he had to return to such anonymity. Well, I’ve filled out four pages & so will close & mail this. Wrote p.card from Capri.

Love

Allen

from Family Business: Selected Letters Between a Father and a Son. Allen and Louis Ginsberg.

Edited and with an introduction by Michael Schumacher (2001) Bloomsbury: New York & London.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the Publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Bloomsbury, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

http://www.ebookshell.com/Ginsberg,%20Allen%20-%20Family%20Business%20(Bloomsbury,%202001).pdf

“Enough! or Too much” –William Blake

Day 3 —  National Poetry Month

 

Back in grade school, I first came upon this Tennyson poem:

 

Flower in the Crannied Wall

FLOWER in the crannied wall,

I pluck you out of the crannies,

I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,

Little flower—but if I could understand

What you are, root and all, and all in all,

I should know what God and man is.

— Alfred, 1st Baron Lord Tennyson (1809–1892),

from A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895 (1895),

ed. Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908).

Not bad! Especially for grade school. But I was already a fan of William Blake (1757-1827), so Tennyson was a bit drab by comparison! I mean, come on now, who can compare with Blake (at his best)? Here’s Blake’s more finely-cut superior little gem:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour

from “Auguries of Innocence” (1803)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auguries_of_Innocence

Tennyson may not have had any awareness of Blake’s earlier more precisely cut jewel (few people knew of Blake’s words until the 20th century), though reading the two poems side by side it’s almost impossible for me to think so. Yet, it does seem rather as if it would be just like the stuffy Victorian aristocrat, national poet laureate and lyric champion of Empire (the thin red line and all that, onward into the valley of death, their’s is not to reason why but to do or die! Fight on fight on for Queen and country, and all that rot), perhaps just like him, not to have heard of Blake and seen his poetry. Yet still, I wonder…. In any case, here are some even earlier similar lines from Blake:

If you trap the moment before its ripe…”

If you trap the moment before it’s ripe
The tears of repentance you’ll certainly wipe
But if once you let the ripe moment go
You can never wipe off the tears of woe

from Notebook 42

Eternity

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise

from Notebook 43

Blake certainly had some cosmic insights he wished to share, even if he sometimes purposely chose to word them in a manner he seemed to imagine a child might use, and for a reading/listening audience of children, — of all ages, and every degree of Innocence (and/or Experience). But when he wanted to elaborate in some detail upon aspects of his own abiding experience of Infinity, he could speak to book-reading adults as a book-learned man:

THE NATURE of Infinity is this: That every thing has its

Own Vortex; and when once a traveller thro’ Eternity

Has pass’d that Vortex, he perceives it roll backward behind

His path, into a Globe itself enfolding, like a sun,

Or like a moon, or like a universe of starry majesty,

While he keeps onwards in his wondrous journey on the Earth,

Or like a human form, a friend with whom he liv’d benevolent.

As the eye of man views both the East and West, encompassing

Its vortex, and the North and South with all their starry host,

Also the rising sun and setting moon he views, surrounding

His corn-fields and his valleys of five hundred acres square.

Thus is the Earth one infinite plane, and not as apparent

To the weak traveller confin’d beneath the moony shade.

Thus is the Heaven a Vortex pass’d already, and the Earth

A Vortex not yet pass’d by the traveller thro’ Eternity.

— from Milton (f. 14, ll. 21–35. [The Nature of Infinity] )

But when such detailed and descriptive verbiage doubtless grew wearisome at times even for Blake himself, the poet-seer could cut right to the quick and the crisp, and instead of expatiating upon the experiential texture of Eternal Delight as enjoyed through all the senses as well as the intellect and emotions, he would state simply once again the bald truth of the Whole Existential Enchilada:

If the doors of perception were cleansed

every thing would appear to man as it is:

Infinite.

For man has closed himself up, till he sees

all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.[33]

from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell  (1790-93)

This brings us to a later poem by another poet of the same era, a younger contemporary of Blake, George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824). Again, I don’t know if Byron was lucky enough to have read any of the then obscure works of Blake. Yet it would certainly seem possible when one reads these lines from Byron’s closet drama verse, Cain, A Mystery (1821). Byron’s lines below are spoken by Lucifer concerning God’s angels:

With us acts are exempt from time, and we

Can crowd eternity into an hour,

Or stretch an hour to eternity:

We breathe not by a mortal measurement —

But that’s a mystery.

Of course, the seeming overlap here with Blake’s “Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour” may certainly just be simple co-incidence, and may be accounted for in part by the fact that the younger Byron shared with Blake a love-hate interest in the works of John Milton (1608-1674), and the Bible, for that matter. While working, from his deathbed, on his own illustrations to Milton’s Paradise Lost, Blake said of Milton, “He sees demons everywhere, whereas I see everywhere hosts of glorious Angels.” One is tempted to think that, for Byron, the contrast with Milton was otherwise. Though Byron elsewhere gives slight indication of perhaps some episodic experience of boundless Transcendental consciousness, I tend to doubt he enjoyed celestial perception of angelic planes of existence.

Interestingly, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), an even younger contemporary to Blake and Byron and Tennyson, quotes Byron’s couplet from Cain (1821) in his own monumental essay, “The Over-Soul” (1841). Had Emerson then known Blake’s work, I think he would have quoted the mystic elder instead of Byron at this juncture, or perhaps instead would have shrunk away somewhat from writing on such wonderful matters until gaining even further direct experiential clarity. Still, Emerson’s own insights about the nature of higher consciousness are very thorough. Here is an extensive passage from his essay, followed by one last poem for today:

 

We know that all spiritual being is in man. A wise old proverb says, “God comes to see us without bell” [my note: ie, without a bell-jar, a glass dome used for protecting delicate objects; in a laboratory, typically used for enclosing samples; thus also, an environment in which someone is protected or cut off from the outside world]; that is, as there is no screen or ceiling between our heads and the infinite heavens, so is there no bar or wall in the soul where man, the effect, ceases, and God, the cause, begins. The walls are taken away. We lie open on one side to the deeps of spiritual nature, to the attributes of God. Justice we see and know, Love, Freedom, Power. These natures no man ever got above, but they tower over us, and most in the moment when our interests tempt us to wound them.

The sovereignty of this nature whereof we speak is made known by its independency of those limitations which circumscribe us on every hand. The soul circumscribes all things. As I have said, it contradicts all experience. In like manner it abolishes time and space. The influence of the senses has, in most men, overpowered the mind to that degree, that the walls of time and space have come to look real and insurmountable; and to speak with levity of these limits is, in the world, the sign of insanity. Yet time and space are but inverse measures of the force of the soul. The spirit sports with time, —

“Can crowd eternity into an hour,
Or stretch an hour to eternity.”

We are often made to feel that there is another youth and age than that which is measured from the year of our natural birth. Some thoughts always find us young, and keep us so. Such a thought is the love of the universal and eternal beauty. Every man parts from that contemplation with the feeling that it rather belongs to ages than to mortal life. The least activity of the intellectual powers redeems us in a degree from the conditions of time. In sickness, in languor, give us a strain of poetry, or a profound sentence, and we are refreshed; or produce a volume of Plato, or Shakspeare, or remind us of their names, and instantly we come into a feeling of longevity. See how the deep, divine thought reduces centuries, and millenniums, and makes itself present through all ages. Is the teaching of Christ less effective now than it was when first his mouth was opened? The emphasis of facts and persons in my thought has nothing to do with time. And so, always, the soul’s scale is one; the scale of the senses and the understanding is another. Before the revelations of the soul, Time, Space, and Nature shrink away. In common speech, we refer all things to time, as we habitually refer the immensely sundered stars to one concave sphere. And so we say that the Judgment is distant or near, that the Millennium approaches, that a day of certain political, moral, social reforms is at hand, and the like, when we mean, that, in the nature of things, one of the facts we contemplate is external and fugitive, and the other is permanent and connate with the soul. The things we now esteem fixed shall, one by one, detach themselves, like ripe fruit, from our experience, and fall. The wind shall blow them none knows whither. The landscape, the figures, Boston, London, are facts as fugitive as any institution past, or any whiff of mist or smoke, and so is society, and so is the world. The soul looketh steadily forwards, creating a world before her, leaving worlds behind her. She has no dates, nor rites, nor persons, nor specialties, nor men. The soul knows only the soul; the web of events is the flowing robe in which she is clothed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) from “The Over-Soul” (1841) in Essays

Finally, a poem often wrongly attributed to Shakespeare. It was actually written by a younger American contemporary of Emerson. And it brings Blake’s flying Eternal-Now Moment, along with his fleeting Immortal Flower, right into the 20th century:

Hours fly,

Flowers die

New days,

New ways,

Pass by.

Love stays.

——

Time is

Too slow for those who Wait,

Too swift for those who Fear,

Too long for those who Grieve,

Too short for those who Rejoice;

But for those who Love,

Time is not.

—Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933), “For Katrina’s Sun-Dial In Her Garden of Yaddo,” Poems (1921).

A poem in the hand is two birds in a book

April is (U.S.) National Poetry Month.  Day 2 – paired poems by :

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Albert Fairchild Saijo.

 

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in you hand
Ah, what then?

― Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), The Complete Poems

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Taylor_Coleridge

 

A SYLLOGISM NO DOUBT

I COULDN’T BRING IT BACK — I WAS AT AN ODD

PLACE WHERE THE WAKING STATE SLEEP & THE

DREAMSTATE MET & A POEM OR APHORISM OR

CALL IT WHAT YOU WILL CAME TO ME — I SET IT

OUT IN PERFECT DICTION WITH JUST THE RIGHT

WORDS — THE FEELING & IDEA WERE EXPRESSED

COMPLETELY IN 3 SHORT SENTENCES — NOW I

SAID I’LL WAKE UP AND WRITE IT DOWN — BUT

ON THE JOURNEY FROM THERE BACK TO THE

WAKING STATE I LOST IT THE POEM OR APHORISM

OR CALL IT WHAT YOU WILL — I EVEN WENT

BACK TO THE PLACE WHERE IT CAME TO ME & I

EVEN FOUND IT AGAIN BUT BRINGING IT BACK I

LOST IT AGAIN — YOU WOULD NEVER BELIEVE

HOW BEAUTIFUL IT WAS

 

— Albert Saijo (1926-2011), OUTSPEAKS: A RHAPSODY  (1997)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Saijo

 

Snyder once said, and said it best, “I’m happy to confess Albert’s an ancient friend.”

I am happy to have called poet Albert Fairchild Saijo (1926-2011) and his brother, artist Gompers Saijo (1922-2003) friends since the days when we attended weekly meditations together at the LA hotel room floating zendo of elder teacher Nyogen Senzaki.

I was just a kid then and Senzaki Sensei (born c.1876?) seemed truly ancient as a family mentor, friend, and adopted “uncle” who was older than my grandparents. The brothers Saijo were the same age as my young parents, but they treated me as a fellow traveler, a child to be sure, but one they regarded as an actual person nonetheless, not as a miniature and incomplete human-to-be.

As teens during World War 2, Albert and Gompers had been sent with their family to a Wyoming relocation camp for Japanese Americans where Zen master Senzaki (a US citizen since 1905) was also incarcerated. From the camp, Albert volunteered for the Army and was shipped out to the European front. Gompers resisted the draft and remained imprisoned in Wyoming as a conscientious objector. Later, after the war, both become deeply influential members of the San Francisco beat scene, Albert as a poet, and Gompers as a painter, illustrator and poster-artist.

In my own teen years, Albert and Gompers were among my favorite local poetic and artistic countercultural exemplars and boho elder “brothers.” When I helped organize and conduct a network branch aiding war resisters, draftees, regretful recruits and their young families escape the carnage of Vietnam for freedom in Canada and beyond, the Saijo brothers were helpful supporters and loyal fellow underground railroad workers. It was good work and, though highly dangerous at times, often as much fun as the poetry and the art-and-poster-making, and the rest of life in the counterculture of California.

Many phases of life and growth blossomed & came to fruition, and finally, a million years later, in 1997, Albert’s first major collection of poems emerged. It instantly became & has remained one of my favorite poetry manifestos. A long-awaited second volume, published posthumously, came to light in 2015. Samuel T and the other Lake Poet Johnnies ain’t got nothin’ on Al Fairchild.   “…EVERY SEEMING MOMENT IS HAPPENING FOREVER.”

_______

Albert Saijo has the great vision most poets & painters never had.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

At long last, Albert Fairchild Saijo has let loose his poems upon the world. Whether you read them in amazement, read them in a attitude of reverence, or read ’em and weep, they are not to ignore — the collection eschews the lower case entirely. The beat generation writers with whom he hobnobbed have marked him indelibly, or was it Saijo who influenced them? If your taste is for Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, here is vigorous verse in the same vain.

Hisaye Yamamoto DeSoto

Albert Saijo’s works are powerful reply to the culture that surrounds us. At the same time he wants to abandon his attack and forgive everybody for killing him as in his poem “To Irish Heroes.” He seems to want to take up the program of King Ubu who wants to take all the money, kill all the people and go away without being interested in getting money or in killing people. It is only too clear to him that there is no “away” for anyone. Even so the wish remains for the invention of some painkiller that will really work. The ironies and apparent contradictions in these works are in the great tradition of the prophetical and visionary poetry of Blake and Whitman.

Philip Whalen

Here’s what happens when you really speak from the heart. Comic, serious, proposing a poetics of immanence and a call for language “that all animals understand” — looks both ways and then goes straight ahead. These poems, rhapsodes, expand outward toward their limits even as you read them. Science gets amazingly redefined and desire become ecstatic detachment. All cap and dashes, Albert Saijo’s poem is a great life’s strong song. I have to confess Albert’s an ancient friend, and I’m totally partial; but if I just came on these writings cold I’d still say whoa. Here’s a wild man who’s totally refined.

Gary Snyder

Albert Saijo’s glints of wry wisdom in the grass await the weary traveler like drops of rain water on a parched path. The reader will leave refreshed.

Alan Chong Lau

“…EVERY SEEMING MOMENT IS HAPPENING FOREVER.” Albert Saijo has always been one of my favorite writers.

Astute, yet simple he writes with such sharp recognitions— “LET US GIVE UP THE IDEA THAT WHATEVER IS HAPPENING TO US BELONGS TO US.”

We are so fortunate to have this new book, his voice so alive on the page. “IS EARTH LIFE A SHORT BURST OF QUAIL FLIGHT?”

—Joanne Kyger

Woodrat Flat presents wonders of home and earth against the terrors of modern civilization. Saijo’s writing provides a shelter made to crumble back into the loam—in potent evocations of storm clouds dragging into the trees, the clear nothing of water, and the mercy of plants who scatter themselves—but this is a sharp-edged ramble, pointed against the choppers of poisonous regimes, and its cuts are equally deep. The miracle of this book is its at once heightened and plain speaking: this is strange majesty and brute clarity, and its particular incantations will linger.

—Josephine Park

 

______________________________________________

Show me that I’m Everywhere, and get me home for tea….

April is National Poetry Month here in the USA. Check out this fabulous  page (linked below) of paired poems found over at the blogsite of Brett Vogelsinger, ninth grade English teacher in Doylestown, Bucks County, PA.

I once stayed in Doylestown while participating in a months-long State-wide educational team project teaching Transcendental Meditation and the TM-Sidhis Program throughout Pennsylvania. My hosting teammates assured me “Bucks County PA is God’s country!” Only years later did I learn that a couple of my 17th century Scottish Quaker ancestral grandparents were among the first white settlers to live in peace among the Native Americans of what is now Bucks County.  I’ve since grown used to such serendipitous connections. Anyway, Brett’s page is really great. Check it out.

https://www.edutopia.org/article/poetry-across-curriculum-brett-vogelsinger?gclid=CJ6U96ffgtMCFQyAfgodq08B4A

I hope to post some of my personal favorite poems every day in April to celebrate National Poetry Month. I’d already been thinking about posting paired poems each day this month when I stumbled upon Brett’s page this morning. Poetic minds oft think alike (?) ! Or not!  Here is my paired offering for April 1st:  “Dining-Room Tea” by Rupert Brooke (1911), and “It’s All Too Much” by George Harrison (1967).

Dining-Room Tea

When you were there, and you, and you,
Happiness crowned the night; I too,
Laughing and looking, one of all,
I watched the quivering lamplight fall
On plate and flowers and pouring tea
And cup and cloth; and they and we
Flung all the dancing moments by
With jest and glitter. Lip and eye
Flashed on the glory, shone and cried,
Improvident, unmemoried;
And fitfully and like a flame
The light of laughter went and came.
Proud in their careless transience moved
The changing faces that I loved.

Till suddenly, and otherwhence,
I looked upon your innocence.
For lifted clear and still and strange
From the dark woven flow of change
Under a vast and starless sky
I saw the immortal moment lie.
One Instant I, an instant, knew
As God knows all. And it and you
I, above Time, oh, blind! could see
In witless immortality.

I saw the marble cup; the tea,
Hung on the air, an amber stream;
I saw the fire’s unglittering gleam,
The painted flame, the frozen smoke.
No more the flooding lamplight broke
On flying eyes and lips and hair;
But lay, but slept unbroken there,
On stiller flesh, and body breathless,
And lips and laughter stayed and deathless,
And words on which no silence grew.
Light was more alive than you.

For suddenly, and otherwhence,
I looked on your magnificence.
I saw the stillness and the light,
And you, august, immortal, white,
Holy and strange; and every glint
Posture and jest and thought and tint
Freed from the mask of transiency,
Triumphant in eternity,
Immote, immortal.

Dazed at length
Human eyes grew, mortal strength
Wearied; and Time began to creep.
Change closed about me like a sleep.
Light glinted on the eyes I loved.
The cup was filled. The bodies moved.
The drifting petal came to ground.
The laughter chimed its perfect round.
The broken syllable was ended.
And I, so certain and so friended,
How could I cloud, or how distress,
The heaven of your unconsciousness?
Or shake at Time’s sufficient spell,
Stammering of lights unutterable?
The eternal holiness of you,
The timeless end, you never knew,
The peace that lay, the light that shone.
You never knew that I had gone
A million miles away, and stayed
A million years. The laughter played
Unbroken round me; and the jest
Flashed on. And we that knew the best
Down wonderful hours grew happier yet.
I sang at heart, and talked, and eat, *
And lived from laugh to laugh, I too,
When you were there, and you, and you.

~~Rupert Brooke  (3 August 1887 – 23 April 1915)

[from wiki: Rupert Chawner Brooke (middle name sometimes given as “Chaucer”) …was an English poet known for his idealistic war sonnets written during the First World War, especially “The Soldier” [he would die in that war]. He was also known for his boyish good looks, which were said to have prompted the Irish poet W. B. Yeats to describe him as “the handsomest young man in England”.]

* eat –  here pronounced “et” (rhymes with yet), is proper high-toned British English usage for “ate”, past tense of “(to) eat” – pronounced “eet” (rhymes with heat).

The unspeakably awful recitation (below) with utterly miscomprehending tone and phrasing and timing, and one misread word (mark for mask!!) is the least terrible I’ve found. An immeasurably superior recitation could have been/should have been or be recorded by (a younger!) Rupert Everett, or (a younger) Hugh Grant, or — perhaps best of all — Daniel Day-Lewis.  Alas.

It’s All Too Much 

It’s all too much!
All too much!

When I look into your eyes
Your love is there for me
And the more I go inside
The more there is to see.

It’s all too much for me to take
The love that’s shining all around you.
Everywhere it’s what you make, for us to take it’s all too much.

Floating down the stream of time
From life to life with me
Makes no difference where you are, or where you’d like to be.

It’s all too much for me to take
The love that’s shining all around here.
All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece but not too much.

Sail me on a silver sun
Where I know that I’m free
Show me that I’m everywhere and get me home for tea.

It’s all too much for me to see
The love that’s shining all around here.
The more I learn, the less I know
And what I do is all too much

It’s all too much for me to take,

The love that’s shining all around you
Everywhere it’s what you make, for us to take it’s all too much.
It’s too much, it’s too much.

…With your long blond hair and your eyes of blue, with your long blond hair and your eyes of blue,

You’re Too much, (unintelligible words) , Ahh, too much

~~George Harrison (25 February 1943 – 29 November 2001)

There are two main recorded versions of this poem, written as a song-lyric. The earliest version was recorded during multiple sessions in May and June of 1967, but not released until January 1969. The second, considerably truncated version, nevertheless containing lines that had been cut from the earlier version, was edited down and for contractual reasons included in the animated film, Yellow Submarine, released in July 1968.  The extra lines in that film version are:

“Nice to have the time to take this opportunity / Time for me to look at you, and you to look at me.”

Between the recording sessions of May and June 1967 and the full song’s release in January 1969, Harrison and the other Beatles had met His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (c1917-2008). This occurred following their attendance at an August 1967 public lecture in London during the Himalayan master’s tenth annual world teaching tour.  They had been invited to the lecture by George’s wife, Patti Boyd Harrison, who some months before had been initiated into Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation program. Following the lecture, the Beatles and their wives / girlfriends attended a retreat in Wales where they were initiated by His Holiness into the ancient Vedic practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM).

In January 1968, the four musicians and their women partners attended part of a TM teacher training course in India conducted by Maharishi. While at the retreat course at Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh, the Beatles wrote most of the songs later recorded on the “White” album. They also entertained Maharishi and the other retreatants by singing and playing other new and old songs along with Donovan, members of the Beach Boys, and other musicians in attendance, sometimes improvising lyrics to suit the occasion. Some of these impromptu sessions included “It’s All Too Much”. The lines “with your long blonde hair and your eyes of blue”, originally written for Patti Boyd Harrison, were improvised as “with your long dark hair and your eyes so deep” (alternate: “…and your  eyes so true”, etc. ) in tribute to His Holiness. The refrain “Too much, too much!” was sometimes altered to “TM, TM!” The unintelligible line toward the end of the original recording of the song was altered to “Jai Guru Deva!”, a traditional phrase of gratitude to one’s guru which Maharishi so often invoked & evoked, referring to his own late beloved Master, known as (Shri) Guru Dev(a).

The first thing I thought of when I first heard George’s song/poem almost 50 years ago was the Rupert Brooke poem, “Dining-Room Tea.” The key was the Harrison couplet, “Show me that I’m everywhere/ And get me home for tea.” It perfectly apostrophes/ encapsulates the entire domestic-mystical Brooke poem in all it’s lovely length in just those two direct, simple, cosmic lines. I’m not certain that when Harrison composed his own poetic mystical love lyric in 1967, he was consciously remembering Brooke’s poem describing a mystical “Eternal-Now moment” experienced while taking tea with his beloved and their friends in 1911; but George was a devoted and knowledgeable fan of Rupert’s love poetry, so it seems very likely to have been reveberant in his  awareness, though quite possibly only subconsciously at the time of compositional inspiration.

Brooke wrote his (featured) poem when he was 24. Harrison was also 24 when he wrote his own (featured) poem and when, a few weeks later, he met and was initiated by his beloved meditation teacher Maharishi.

I can’t find a good complete online version of George’s song-poem recorded by himself and the other Beatles, but here he is enjoying a musical picnic tea with Maharishi and friends on the banks of the Ganges, Shankaracharya Nagar, Rishikesh, Himalayan foothills, India, March, 1968.

In the following video, you can hear (somewhat muffled) the original (complete) studio version of the song, sung by George in May-June 1967. This video was made so that the person shown loudly overplaying the guitar part can demonstrate how the instrument was played by George.

A large number of other artists have recorded covers of this mystical cosmic love poem-song, including the Grateful Dead, who also received initiation and instruction in  Transcendental Meditation from Maharishi in 1967.  Perhaps one of the best cover versions (depending on personal taste!) was recorded by Steve Hillage. Below is his live performance from 1977, ten years after George first recorded his song with the other Beatles.

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