Z-siteA Companion to the Works of Louis Zukofsky
Bible Notes – Preface
Transcript of Notes on the Bible
This transcript consists of nine pages of notes Zukofsky made on the end pages of his copy of the King James Version of The Holy Bible. These are organizational notes, rather than reflections on his reading, notes intended as guides through the Biblical texts and possibly for potential use in his own writing, but not, it would appear, in preparation for any specific work.
There are two clear sequences of notes: a chronology of the historical context of the events in the Bible (pages 2-3) and notes on the major books of the Old Testament (pages 5-8). In addition and sometimes intermixed with the two major groups are notes on authorship and textual transmission (page 4), on Babylonian mythology (pages 1 & 5) and miscellaneous notes on the New Testament (page 8-9). The group of notes on the Old Testament were written backwards, starting in the middle of page 8 and finishing on the lower part of page 5, but they follow the standard order of the books (Genesis – Jeremiah).
It is uncertain when Zukofsky took these notes, although Paul Zukofsky remembers that this copy of the Bible was around since at least his childhood. Presumably the notes were made earlier than and are distinct from those he made in his working notebooks in preparation for “A”-22 & -23—“A”-23 is the only work in which he drew extensively on the Bible, particularly the Old Testament prophets. The notebooks for the latter, now in the Harry Ransom Research Center at the University of Texas, include more extensive lists of verses from which Zukofsky chose for reworking into his poem, as well as indicate he was consulting Hebrew texts from which he generated homophonic renditions. Although sparse, the present notes do evidence some of the correlations Zukofsky was in the habit of making and working into his poetry—such as scattered references to Shakespeare, Homer and Plato. In the notes on Isaiah (page 5), Zukofsky notes a correlation with Robert Herrick’s “To Keep a True Lent” because he understood this poem to be a reworking of chapter 58. This explains why Herrick’s poem is quoted for eight lines in the second Isaiah section of “A”-23 (548-549), rather than in the seventeenth century section as one might initially expect given the chronological organization of that poem. These types of correlations—recurrences or counter-points—are what Zukofsky habitually penciled into the margins of his reading, and hopefully samples of his marginalia will eventually be made available.
The information gathered in these notes is the type available in any general introduction to the Bible, and it is likely Zukofsky is drawing on the information appended to his edition of the Bible and other basic sources, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica from which he evidently drew some of the information on Babylonian mythology. The notes indicate his interest in historical context and at times he notes parts of the Bible that are or are not historically reliable. A related interest is in the complexities of authorship and textual transmission, which is also evident in Bottom, where Zukofsky sometimes polemically engages with past editors of Shakespeare. This is not surprising in a poet who primarily composed by self-consciously reworking prior textual materials.
As one would expect from a poet who was fond of reading the classic works of Western culture, there are scattered allusions to and uses of Biblical material throughout his writings, although on the whole these are quite modest until late. The story of David appears prominently in Thanks to the Dictionary (1932-1934) and the poem “‘Nor did the prophet’” (1953), concerned with Ezra Pound, draws substantially on Old Testament passages, but it was not until the 1960s that Biblical materials and references appear more regularly. With the Catullus project Zukofsky became fascinated with the possibilities of homophonic transmutations, and it is in such forms that he found the Bible most interesting. At this time he acquired a number of books with parallel Hebrew texts resulting in the brief passages worked from Psalms in “A”-14 (316), the Job opening of “A”-15 (359-369) and then extensive half-homophonic workings from the full range of Old Testament prophets in “A”-23 (544-540).
These notes were initially transcribed by Benoît Turquety and further checked and added to by myself—I am responsible for their final presentation. Two pages of the original notes (the first and last) are reproduced with Paul Zukofsky’s short article on “Louis Zukofsky’s Marginalia” in the Chicago Review 50:2-4 (Winter 2004/5): 100-103. The scans of the notes from which the transcription has been made are imperfect, but it is unlikely anything of great significance is missing and Zukofsky’s general intentions are clear. Zukofsky’s small and hasty handwriting does not make for easy reading, although these notes are not as cramped, over-written and crossed out as is often the case in his working notebooks. Some words remain indecipherable and scrawled numbers in particular can be misread, but this transcript should be reasonably reliable.
Little effort has been made to editorially augment these notes, whose abbreviations and references are usually clear enough. Misspellings of names have not been corrected or indicated because the romanization of Biblical and related names is variable and in any case it is not difficult to figure out who or what Zukofsky is naming. A very few notes have been added at the bottom of pages to identify less obvious abbreviations or some of the sources Zukofsky was using. The abbreviated bibliography that appears in the upper part of page 8 is given more fully at the end, but there is little reason to assume Zukofsky consulted many of these works, although A.C. Bouquet’s Comparative Religion and Frazer’s The Golden Bough were in the Zukofsky library.
Within reason an effort has been made to reproduce the overall look of the notes on the pages, although when Zukofsky continues vertically along the left margin and along the top, this text has been put at the end with their placement noted. Editorial intrusions are hopefully commonsensical and always indicated by square brackets. Indecipherable words are indicated [x?]; uncertain readings of a word are immediately followed by [?]; words and phrases added by Zukofsky are placed within angle brackets <>; if such additions are substantial and added between lines they appear within angle brackets with an up or down arrow to indicate where they are interpolated <↓>; later additions in either the left or right margins are boxed and often Zukofsky added a line or arrow to indicate their relation to the main body.