“A”-11

11 April 1951, rev. 12 May 1951
strophes 1-2, 11 April 1951; strophe 3, 6 May 1951; strophe 4, 9-10 May 1951; strophe 5, 12 May 1951


In the Table of Contents to “A”, LZ dates this movement 1950, which appears to be when he initially laid out his plan for the poem, but surviving manuscripts are dated March-May 1951 and the volume of Paracelsus that he draws on extensively was published in 1951.

 

For “A”-11 LZ adopts the form of Guido Cavalcanti’s ballata, Perch’io non spero di tornar già mai, again as in “A”-9 reproducing almost precisely the rhyme scheme and line syllable count—there are a few deviations. LZ also adopted from Cavalcanti the convention of the poet addressing the poem directly. T.S. Eliot begins “Ash-Wednesday” (1930) with a rendition of the famous first line: “Because I do not hope to turn again.” Among LZ’s notes presumably for “A”-11, he copied out Cavalcanti’s Italian with EP’s translation of the ballata (see Translations 120-123) and also Guillaume de Machault’s “Ballade: Plourès, dames” with his own translation (see Anew 17, CSP 86-87), which contains imagery relevant to “A”-11 (PZA).

Guido Cavalcanti – Ballata: Perch’io non spero

 

Perch’io non spero di tornar già mai,

 

ballatetta, in Toscana,

 

va tu leggiera e piana

 

dritta a la donna mia,

 

che per sua cortesia

5

ti farà molto onore.

 

 

 

Tu porterai novelle de’ sospiri

 

piene di doglia, e di molta paura:

 

ma guarda che persona non ti miri,

 

che sia nimica di gentil natura;

10

che certo per la mia disavventura

 

tu saresti contesa,

 

tanto da lei ripresa,

 

che mi sarebbe angoscia;

 

dopo la morte poscia

15

pianto e novel dolore.

 

 

 

Tu senti, Ballatetta, che la morte

 

mi stringe sì, che vita m’abbandona;

 

e senti come ‘l cor si sbatte forte

 

per quell che ciascun spirito ragiona;

20

Tant’è distrutta già la mia persona

 

ch’i’ non posso soffrire:

 

se tu mi vuoi servire

 

mena l’anima teco;

 

molto di ciò ti preco,

25

quando uscirà del core.

 

 

 

Deh, Ballatetta, a la tua amistate

 

quest’anima che triema raccomando;

 

menala teco ne la sua pietate

 

a quella bella donna, a cui ti mando:

30

Deh, Ballatetta, dille sospirando,

 

quando le se’ presente:

 

“Questa vostra servente

 

vien per istar con vui,

 

partita da colui,

35

che fu servo d’Amore.”

 

 

 

Tu, voce sbigottita, e deboletta,

 

ch’esci piangendo de lo cor dolente,

 

con l’anima, e con questa Ballatetta,

 

va ragionando de la strutta mente,

40

Voi troverete una donna piacente,

 

di sì dolce intelletto,

 

che vi sarà diletto

 

starle davanti ognora:

 

Anima, e tu l’adora

45

sempre nel suo valore.

 

 

(Text from Pound’s Guido Cavalcanti: Rime (Genoa: Marsano, 1932) as found in David Anderson, Pound’s Cavalcanti: An Edition of the Translations, Notes and Essays (Princeton UP, 1983))

Throughout “A”-11 LZ adapts phrases or ideas from Spinoza and Paracelsus, for which there are incomplete and sometimes unclear notes in his surviving papers (HRC 3.2). The Spinoza quotations below are from the text LZ used extensively elsewhere, especially in “A”-12 and Bottom: the Everyman edition of the Ethics translated by Andrew Boyle, with page numbers referring to that edition. The volume of Paracelsus, which he also uses extensively in “A”-12, is Paracelsus: Selected Writings, ed. Jolande Jacobi (Bollingen Foundation, 1951). This book was given to him by Edward and R’lene Dahlberg, presumably on its publication in 1951; Edward had been a colleague of LZ’s at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn from 1948-1950. Note that the page references given below are from the more readily available second edition (1957), whose text is unaltered except that some the reproductions of woodblock prints have been changed and the entire volume is repaginated.

 

124.2    River that must turn full after I stop dying: echoes the refrain of Edmund Spenser’s Prothalamion: “Sweete Themmes runne softly, till I end my Song.” Ahearn points out that LZ’s manuscript notes also reference a poem, “Bronx,” by the American poet Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820), from which LZ quotes in Anew #15, “No it was no dream of coming death” (CSP 85). Drake’s pastoral elegy is set along the Bronx River, beside which the Zukofskys lived in the early years of their marriage, but there is no evident indebtedness in “A”-11. LZ’s notes indicate he found the Drake poem in The New York Book of Poetry, eds. Charles Fenno Hoffman and Clement Clark Moore (NY: George Dearborn, Publ., 1837).

124.5    wrangling: Corman points out that this word can be found with fair frequency in Shakespeare (“‘A’-11” 17-18).

124.7    honor: this term, which terminates each stanza, was initially suggested by Cavalcanti’s original in which the first stanza ends with onore, although unlike LZ he varies it thereafter. Cf. Baruch de Spinoza’s definition of honor in Ethics III, Definitions of the Emotions 3: “Honour or glory (gloria) is pleasure accompanied by the idea of some action of ours which we imagine others to praise” (135). See also next note and 13.297.7.

124.8    Freed by their praises who make honor dearer: LZ’s notes reference Spinoza, Ethics IV, Prop. 52, Note: “For (as we have shown in Prop. 25, Part IV.) no one endeavours to preserve his being for the sake of some end; and inasmuch as this self-complacency is more and more cherished and encouraged by praises (Coroll., Prop. 53, Part III.), and, on the contrary (Coroll. 1, Prop. 55, Part III.), disturbed more and more by blame, we are led in life principally by the desire of honour, and under the burden of blame we can scarcely endure it” (177).

124.9    Whose losses show them rich and you no poorer: LZ’s notes reference Henry James, “The Altar of the Dead”: “People weren’t poor, after all, whom so many losses could overtake; they were positively rich when they had so much to give up” (Ahearn 117).

124.10  what stars’ imprint you mirror: LZ’s notes reference Paracelsus, the 16th century occult philosopher and alchemist (see 12.134.9). Various details of this stanza appear to be taken from the following passage:
            “And so philosophy is nothing other than the knowledge and discovery of that which has its reflection in the mirror. And just as the image in the mirror gives no one any idea about his nature, and cannot be the object of cognition, but is only a dead image, so is man, considered in himself: nothing can be learned from him alone. For knowledge comes only from that outside being whose mirrored image he is.
            Heaven is man, and man is heaven, and all men together are the one heaven, and heaven is nothing but one man. You must know this to understand why one place is this way and the other that way, why this is new and that is old, and why there are everywhere so many diverse things. […] The starry vault imprints itself on the inner heaven of man. A miracle without equal!
            Just as the firmament with all its constellations forms a whole in itself, likewise man in himself is a free and mighty firmament [these latter remarks are next to a woodcut of a man as zodiac].” (Selected Writings 39-40). For Paracelsus on “the mirrored image he is,” see 12.177.32-178.4.

124.11  Grazes their tears: LZ’s notes reference Spinoza, Ethics IV, Prop. 50, Note: “He who rightly knows that all things follow from the necessity of divine nature, and come to pass according to the eternal natural and regular laws, will find nothing at all that is worthy of hatred, laughter, or contempt, nor will he deplore any one; but as far as human virtue can go, he will endeavour to act well, as people say, and to rejoice. To this must be added that he who is easily touched by the emotions of pity, and is moved to tears at the misery of another, often does something of which he afterwards repents: both inasmuch as we can do nothing according to emotion which we can certainly know to be good, and inasmuch as we are easily deceived by false tears. I am speaking here expressly of a man who lives under the guidance of reason. For he who is moved neither by reason nor pity to help others is rightly called inhuman, for he seems to be dissimilar to man.”

124.12  faced to your outer stars: cf. Paracelsus: “The inner stars of man are, in their properties, kind, and nature, by their course and position, like his outer stars, and different only in form and in material. For as regards their nature, it is the same in the ether and in the microcosm, man” (21).

124.12  purer / Gold than tongues make…: Ahearn (122-123) relates this to Paracelsus’ alchemical interests in the purification of gold as symbolic of a purification of the self, in which case the “tongues” here suggest the purifying flames. In the following lines LZ’s notes appear to refer to an alchemical illustration on “Preparation of the Elixir of Life” in Selected Writings (114).

124.16  thread gold stringing / the fingerboard: cf. Paracelsus: “aurum musicum, the wire or thread gold, used for the stringing of musical instruments (xxxv).

124.18  Honor, song, sang the blest is delight knowing: Spinoza’s given name, Benedict or Baruch, means blest, which is how LZ frequently refers to him; see index. On honor see Spinoza quotation at 124.8 and Ethics IV, Prop. 58: “Honour is not opposed to reason, but can arise from it” (180)

124.19  We overcome ills by love. Hurt, song, nourish / Eyes, think most of whom you hurt: LZ’s notes reference Spinoza, Ethics III, Prop. 44: “Hatred which is entirely conquered by love passes into love, and love on that account is greater than if it had not been preceded by hatred” (see 12.233.26). Spinoza, Ethics V, Prop. 10, Note: “E.g., we placed among the rules of life (Prop. 46, Part IV, with its Note) that hatred must be overcome by love or nobleness, not requited by reciprocated hatred. But in order that this rule may be always ready for us when we need it, we must often think and meditate on the common injuries done to men, and in what manner and according to what method they may best be avoided by nobility of character. For if we unite the image of the injury to the image of this rule, it will always be ready for us (Prop. 18, Part II.) when an injury is done to us” (207). See 12.233.26-234.1 and Bottom 334.

124.21  poison: LZ notes from Paracelsus: “In all things there is a poison, and there is nothing without a poison. It depends only upon the dose whether a poison is poison or not” (95).

124.21  rod blossoms: LZ’s notes appear to suggest a pun with the middle name of Joseph Rodman Drake (see note at 124.2), as well as an allusion to Numbers 17:8 where Aaron’s rod blossoms to confirm the legitimacy of the House of Levi for the high priesthood: “And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.” The knight and minnesinger Tannhäuser requested absolution from the Pope for dawdling in Venusberg but was refused and told he could not expect forgiveness until the papal staff grew leaves; Tannhäuser leaves in despair and three days later the staff blossoms; the subject of one of Wagner’s operas. Also this phrase echoes the “red blossom” of 8.48.2, 8.105.4.

124.22  sweet lights: from Joseph Rodman Drake, “Bronx” (see note at 124.2): “Sweet sights, sweet sounds, all sights, all sounds excelling, / Oh! ’twas a ravishing spot formed for a poet’s swelling.”

124.22  in them I flourish: from Spinoza, Ethics V, Prop. 13: “The more an image is associated with many other things, the more often it flourishes. Proof.—The more an image is associated with many other things, the more causes there are by which it can be excited. Q.e.d.” (qtd. Bottom 29); see also quotation at 12.174.22.

124.23  not any one power / May recall or forget: from Spinoza, Ethics III, Prop. 2, Note: “Again, it is not within the free power of the mind to remember or forget anything” (89).

125.1    Venus lights: LZ notes Paracelsus in the Selected Writings where there is a wood-cut depicting Venus with Mars and the remark: “If there had been no Venus, music would never have been invented, and if there had been no Mars, neither would the crafts ever have been invented” (202-203).

125.1    to / Live our desires lead us to honor: see quotation from Spinoza, Ethics IV, Prop. 52, Note at 124.7.

125.3    in nothing less than in death: from Spinoza, Ethics IV, Prop. 67: “A free man thinks of nothing less than of death, and his wisdom is a meditation not of death but of life” (187).

125.4    the extended / World that nothing can leave: LZ’s notes reference Paracelsus: “But limus terrae [primordial stuff of the earth] is also the Great World, and thus man was created from heaven and earth. Limus terrae is an extract of the firmament, of the universe of stars, and at the same time of all the elements. […] Therefore, the Great World, the macrocosm, is closed in itself in such a way that nothing can leave it, but that everything that is of it and within it remains complete and undivided” (90-91). Also according to sketchy notes from a seminar LZ gave at the U. of Connecticut in 1971, this alludes to Spinoza for whom extension characterizes bodies whereas duration characterizes thought (Butterick 161).

125.8    His second paradise: from Paracelsus: “The striving for wisdom is the second paradise of the world” (65); see 12.146.24.

125.13  turn […] / four notes: in music a turn is an ornament consisting of four notes (Kenner, “Too Full for Talk” in Terrell 201). Ahearn suggests that this represents the four main voices of the poem: Cavalcanti, Joseph Rodman Drake, Paracelsus and Spinoza (118), but may also allude to the four notes of Bach’s name from which Bach composed an unfinished fugue, see 8.104.24 and particularly 12.127.23.