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.

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. However, judging from the bibliography he includes, which list a few books from the late 1940s, and his use of a fountain pen rather than the ballpoint he would usually use from at least around 1960, sometime in the 1950s would appear a reasonable guess. During this period he was working on Bottom, as well as “A”-12 early in the decade, both of which have various Biblical references. These notes are distinct from those he made in his working notebooks in preparation for “A”-22 & -23—“A”-23, which are the only works in which he drew extensively on the Bible, particularly the Old Testament prophets. The notebooks for these later poems 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 a few 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).

Note on the transcription:

These notes were initially transcribed by Benoît Turquety and have been checked and edited by myself. The notes are in two groups on the blank end pages front and back. 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 first four pages, from the front, are numbered, but the latter five pages are not, nor were they written in order. For reading purposes I have rearranged these pages (if the back pages were numbered 5 to 9, then the order of presentation here is: 5, 7, 6, 9, 8). In this rearrangement the first page has notes on the New Testament, while the others include notes in order of the books of the Old Testament (starting in the middle of page 6) with emphasis on the historical books. Somewhat haphazardly added in are notes on post-Assyrian history and Babylonian mythology, presumably determined by where he could find free space. 

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 both because the romanization of Biblical and related names is variable and because in any case it is not difficult to figure out who or what Zukofsky is naming. Occasionally notes have been added at the bottom of pages to identify key abbreviations or some of the major reference works Zukofsky was using. The abbreviated bibliography that appears in the upper part of page 6 is given more fully following that page. Actually 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. Editorial intrusions are hopefully commonsensical and always indicated by curly brackets (LZ uses both parentheses and square brackets). The occasional illegible word is indicated as {x?}; uncertain readings of a word are immediately followed by {?}; words and phrases added by Zukofsky are placed within angle brackets < >. Most of the indecipherable words are along edges where the page has worn away somewhat, or in one case a loose page has been repaired with non-transparent tape covering parts of words. But overall these are small and infrequent problems.