Ah Sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done;
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go.
(William Blake – from “Songs of Experience” 1794)
“And I was living (in 1948) in Harlem, East Harlem, New York, on the sixth floor of a tenement. There was a lot of theology books around, in an apartment that I had rented from a theology student-friend, so I was reading a lot of Plato’s Phaedrus, St John of the Cross…and (William) Blake. And I had the sudden… reading “The Sick Rose” and “The Sunflower”, I had the odd sensation of hearing Blake’s voice outside of my own body, a voice really not too much unlike my own when my voice is centered in my sternum, maybe a latent projection of my own physiology, but, in any case, a surprise, maybe a hallucination, you can call it, hearing it in the room, Blake reciting it, or some very ancient voice of the Ancient of Days reciting, “Ah Sunflower…” So there was some earthen-deep quality that moved me, and then I looked out the window and it seemed like the heavens were endless, or the sky was endless, I should say”.
(Allen Ginsberg, in conversation with Jeremy Isaacs, from his “Face To Face” (BBC) interview, 1995 – the interview also includes a spoken recital by Allen of the poem)
Here‘s Allen (accompanied by Peter Orlovsky) singing “Ah! Sunflower” in the perhaps more familiar version (from the 1970 MGM recording of his renditions of Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience”)
and here‘s Ed Sanders and The Fugs (from their eponymous first album, (produced by Harry Smith), some five years earlier (a more recent performance (accompanied by Steven Taylor and Coby Batty) may also be listened to here).