Friday, July 8, 2011

Across the Universe: Ginsberg, Shelley, Lennon

I ran across this video around the blogosphere somewhere - on Ron Silliman's blog, perhaps, or the Allen Ginsberg Project - and was really taken with it.  An all access cable show, buried deep in the Internet archive, this hasn't gotten much play and it deserves to.  This is around the time - the 90s - when Allen was very taken with song and some of these work better than others.  Some fine work here and, of course, it's Allen.

What really struck me in this show was his remarks regarding Shelley which just set off a sparkling of synapses (synapsi?), as he quoted the following lines from Ode to the West Wind:

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!

I immediately, for some reason, thought of John Lennon's remarkable song "Across the Universe."   Ginsberg's take here on shedding ambition and changing the world, on poetry's place in that world, threads these two apparently unrelated pieces together for me.  Here's how he puts it:

"I keep thinking there must be some mighty rhythm with the right words that would penetrate through all consciousness and wake earth up to its terrific non-transcendent living possibility of having a continuing destiny."

"Doesn't everybody have that?  ... I did, since I was a kid. ... Or penetrate through the world with some great song, cry, mantra, or poem like Shelley (in Ode to the West Wind)...

Here's the Shelley and Lennon, side by side.

ODE TO THE WEST WIND by: Percy Bysshe Shelley

O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the spring shall blow
Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odors plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear!
Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Mænad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge
Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might
Of vapors, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst: oh hear!
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,
Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,
All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers
Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: oh, hear!
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! if even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skyey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne'er have striven
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is;
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an extinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unwakened earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, 
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Across the Universe by John Lennon
Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind,
Possessing and caressing me.
Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
That call me on and on across the universe,
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they
Tumble blindly as they make their way
Across the universe
Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Sounds of laughter shades of earth are ringing
Through my open views inviting and inciting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a
Million suns, it calls me on and on
Across the universe
Jai guru deva om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Thanks, Allen, as always, for that incredible mind.


This week's featured poem comes from Lilliput Review, #163, July 2008.   The poem is from one Beat poet to another: Diane di Prima on Joanne Kyger:

   Poetry Reading, Santa Cruz
slats of light on Joanne's hair
don't move as she dances
reading her poem
       Diane di Prima

plum blossom scent--
through a needle's eye
the light
translated by David G. Lanoue



Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature.  Here's how.

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 108 songs


Charles Gramlich said...

Cool find. An unusual little item.

Christien Gholson said...

Thanks for that. Haven't thought about Ode to the West Wind in quite a while. Suddenly - pop - heard it! There's a site where you can download recordings of naropa U. classes (Ginsberg, Mcclure, DiPrima, etc) - since the late seventies. I recall a talk by Ginsberg about Ode to the West Wind...

It can be found at the internet archive under naropa poetics audio archive:

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Charles.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Christien. It seems Allen mentioned Shelley quite a bit in his Naropa classes. Here are the times he reads and/or talk about Shelley:

aditya said...

Hi Don

Great work- to have us hear Allen talk of Shelley and Lennon and then to at the end follow it all up with an Issa haiku !

A slight mistake there when you typed/copied de va

should be 'deva'

jai guru deva om

actually should be dev in place of deva for in Hindi we never tend to end with an extra 'a'. It is a slightly more liberal English translation of nouns/pronouns originated by the Britishers before everybody caught up.

To say for example .. we never pronounce Krishna or Rama or Deva ..etc with an 'a' at the end. But that is how I believe languages and their power structures evolve and transform.

Pardon me if I rambled.

ps-And when we had an 'a' at the end of Ganga the Brits claimed it to be Ganges!

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks very much for the correction - I removed the space but left the "a" as the English mistake.

Glad you liked the post.

I don't believe Allen was consciously referencing Lennon, I just made an intuitive leap.


Peter Greene said...

Most enjoyable! Thanks for the morning reading.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Glad you liked!