Allen Ginsberg on Visionary Experience – 5

William Blake – The Ancient of Days

Allen Ginsberg on Visionary Experience –  – continues from here

AG: What happened to me was an afternoon in Harlem I had been reading the Blake poems, I had this, as I say, audition of a very deep voice reciting the poems, three or four poems:  “(“Ah!) Sun-flower” first, then “The Sick Rose” and then “The Little Girl Lost”.  Maybe I’ll read those later.  I wasn’t quite sure about the time-span involved.  It seemed there was a sound of a voice in the room that didn’t seem to be coming from inside my head.  It seemed to be a voice in the room, although nobody was there, recognizably Blake, simply from The Ancient of Days feeling about it.  I thought it was God or something, I think I associated it with..  there was a God or some Ancient of Days prophet.  At the same time there was outside the window a sense of extraordinary clear light.  The everyday sunlight afternoon but extraordinary clarity, as if the light itself was some sort of substance, some kind of bright intelligent substance, revealing all of the intelligent handiwork of the Ancient of Days, or of Time, or of the Workman of Ancient Days, and the first thing I noticed outside the window were the cornices of the buildings in Harlem.  These were 1880’s, 1890s, 1910 apartments and in those days there was quite a bit of handwork, like chiselling… what do you call it? … pediments on apartment houses, or friezes, the special metal artwork for the drains, for the little roof-overhangs done in slight Greek or Roman style, or little cornucopias or cornices, little rolled … I don’t the architectural terms.  Do you know what I’m talking about, as they had (them) in old-fashioned tenement apartments?  Well, it was the first time I looked at them very carefully and they were silhouetted against the bright living light of the sky, the sky-light seemed endless and blue, and standing up like buttresses in eternity, (somewhat as in some of the paintings of Paul Klee, or magic squares when you see them in 3-D), giant foundations and buttresses, were the cornices of the buildings and I suddenly realized that an enormous amount of conscious intelligence had gone into the building.  A great deal of care, a great deal of planning, but a great deal of love, in the sense of people putting their bodies to work six flights up in the air, creating the sculptures, which nobody ever noticed.  From the street you never noticed them and I had never paid any attention to them, and I suddenly saw them as signs calling for my attention.  That people were signalling to me from 1890 with intelligible comments.  Thousands and thousands of anonymous workmen all over New York in 1890 had made intelligible comments throughout the building tops of the city.  Street after street there was all this concretized intelligence made out of metal.  Intelligence in the sense of writing for the eyes, signals that they were there and they were quite conscious in 1890 and had built something in eternity to look at fifty, sixty years later.  And it never occurred to me that people were that full of wisdom, or there was that much transmission of consciousness in material forms throughout the civilized world.  And then I looked further, say, at the clouds passing over, and they too seemed created by some hand, or to be conscious signals also, just like the cornices.  Signals of some kind of intelligence but an intelligence much vaster and more far-reaching than a workman’s hand, because there’s the accumulation of energy and force and suffering and consciousness it would have taken for animals to die and their blood to dry and be evaporated and drawn up into the skies and the oceans to be drawn up in the skies and formed into clouds and then drift over New York and drop rain.  It seemed like an enormous amount of work had gone into making clouds –  Millions and billions of years of work to make the entire structure I was sitting in the middle of – I mean the entire planet, solar system. And then, all of a sudden, I looked up beyond the cornices into the sky and the sky itself seemed to be a creation of a great ancientness and much vaster than anything I had thought of as poetry.  So I had the impression of the entire universe as poetry, filled with light and intelligence and communication and signals, kind of like the top of my head coming off and letting in the rest of the universe, as connected into my own brain.  Yeah?

Student:  Did you get any sense of expansion by retelling, by recalling that experience now?

AG:  At the moment, yes.  Because it seems so obvious.  At the moment, yes, occasionally, because I’ve been looking out through that door and seeing very bright greenery, actually bright golden light outside the green door and the trees swaying in a very gentle muscular wind.  So if I look for it I can.  I don’t want to get into analysis yet.  I’m still trying to get to the substance or the such-ness of it- some poetic description.  But by hindsight, I think probably it was that I was in adolescence so limited in my view or mechanistic, or rational that what I was merely discovering was ordinary consciousness, or what I was discovering was mere ordinary everyday consciousness, or ordinary mind, so to speak.  Because really the sky is big and the light is bright.  It’s just that I had never noticed it.  Or never appreciated it, or something.  In other words, what I took to be supernatural vision might have been I was just growing up, or just waking up, to what was ordinar,y and by this time perhaps I’m so used to it that it now seems ordinary, it doesn’t seem supernatural at all.

to be continued

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