In Lost Letter, Allen Ginsberg Tells The Paris Review He Tried LSD Again & Experienced “No Snake Universe Hallucinations” (1966)


(click for larg­er ver­sion)

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.

It took near­ly a year for the Paris Review to pub­lish the inter­view. So long that the sub­ject felt the need to revise his ear­li­er state­ments, via the type­writ­ten let­ter above.

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Allen Ginsberg’s “Celes­tial Home­work”: A Read­ing List for His Class “Lit­er­ary His­to­ry of the Beats”

Allen Gins­berg Reads His Famous­ly Cen­sored Beat Poem, Howl (1959)

Allen Gins­berg Reads a Poem He Wrote on LSD to William F. Buck­ley

Allen Gins­berg & The Clash Per­form the Punk Poem “Cap­i­tal Air,” Live Onstage in Times Square (1981)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.