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In June 1965, Allen Ginsberg was interviewed at length by fellow poet Tom Clark. They touched on such topics as poetic meter, William S. Burroughs, and Blake’s “The Sick Rose.” When the conversation turned to hallucinogens, Ginsberg, a famously early adopter of LSD, describes a vision so ominous it could’ve turned an entire generation off drugs:
If I close my eyes on hallucinogens, I get a vision of great scaly dragons in outer space, they’re winding slowly and eating their own tails. Sometimes my skin and all the room seem sparkling with scales, and it’s all made out of serpent stuff. And as if the whole illusion of life were made of reptile dream.
He also mentioned that drugs made him barf. That alone seems a persuasive reason to stop taking them.
Despite his strong desire to continue his pursuit of ever higher levels of consciousness, the cons were beginning to outweigh the pros.
His post-interview psychedelic excursions appear to have transpired in the sort of benign universe typically imagined by a preschooler with a big box of crayons: “tiny jeweled violet flowers,” “giant green waves,” a “great yellow sun.” Otherwise known as Big Sur on acid.
The level of goodness present in those later trips was such strong medicine, Ginsberg decided to experiment further, directing some of his good vibes toward then-President Lyndon Johnson, who was undergoing surgery to remove his gall bladder. Love thy enemy, and all of that.
I wonder if Johnson ever found out he had a rabidly anti-war Beat Poet (and “masses of green bulb-headed Kelp vegetable-snake undersea beings”) praying for his recovery.
Apparently it worked.
The complete June 1965 interview can be read in the Paris Review‘s archives. Those who’ve grown unaccustomed to reading courier font as executed by a midcentury manual typewriter will find the complete text of Ginsberg’s letter below.
June 2, 1966
To readers of Paris Review:
Re LSD, Psylocibin [sic], etc., Paris Review #37 p. 46: “So I couldn’t go any further. I may later on occasion, if I feel more reassurance.”
Between occasion of interview with Thomas Clark June ’65 and publication May ’66 more reassurance came. I tried small doses of LSD twice in secluded tree and ocean cliff haven at Big Sur. No monster vibration, no snake universe hallucinations. Many tiny jeweled violet flowers along the path of a living brook that looked like Blake’s illustration for a canal in grassy Eden: huge Pacific watery shore, Orlovsky dancing naked like Shiva long-haired before giant green waves, titanic cliffs that Wordsworth mentioned in his own Sublime, great yellow sun veiled with mist hanging over the planet’s oceanic horizon. No harm. President Johnson that day went into the Valley of Shadow operating room because of his gall bladder & Berkley’s Vietnam Day Committee was preparing anxious manifestoes for our march toward Oakland police and Hell’s Angels. Realizing that more vile words from me would send out physical vibrations into the atmosphere that might curse poor Johnson’s flesh and further unbalance his soul, I knelt on the sand surrounded by masses of green bulb-headed Kelp vegetable-snake undersea beings washed up by last night’s tempest, and prayed for the President’s tranquil health. Since there has been so much legislative mis-comprehension of the LSD boon I regret that my unedited ambivalence in Thomas Clark’s tape transcript interview was published wanting this footnote.
Your obedient servant
Allen Ginsberg, aetat 40