Tag Archives: beat writers

Thoughts on “The Scripture of the Golden Eternity” by Jack Kerouac

As I was doing a clearing of some of my bookshelves, I came upon this small book hidden away between my larger tomes. It had been many years since I read this, and since I have been meditating daily for a few years now, I thought I should go back and read it again.

This book is a very short collection of “scriptures” that Kerouac penned regarding his explorations into Buddhism and shamanism. What is really cool about the text (in addition to the spiritual insights) is the glimpse it provides into the writer’s thoughts and practices that clearly influenced his work.

I figure I’ll share a few scriptures along with my thoughts on them.

Scripture 3

That sky, if it is anything other than an
illusion of my mortal mind I wouldnt have said
“that sky.” Thus I made that sky, I am the
golden eternity. I am Mortal Golden Eternity.

Everything that we perceive is nothing more than a construct of our minds. Basically, we create our individual and shared realities. That’s why everything that we sense must be considered illusion, because it is nothing more that our thoughts projected onto the canvas of the universe.

Scripture 12

God is not outside us but is just us, the
living and the dead, the never-lived and
never-died. That we should learn it only now, is
supreme reality, it was written a long time ago
in the archives of the universal mind, it is already
done, there’s no more to do.

Everything is not only connected; everything is one. There really is no separation. Separation is yet another illusion and construct of the mind. We only perceive ourselves as separate, and this perception is what leads to suffering.

Scripture 40

Meditate outdoors. The dark trees at night
are not really the dark trees at night, it’s
only the golden eternity.

First off, I love meditating while out in nature. It is just easier for me to connect with spirit. And there have been times when I experienced what Kerouac succinctly describes here: the melting away of the illusion of perception, where everything dissolves into oneness. That blissful moment where the lines of separation blur and, to quote Blake, “every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.”

If you are at all interested in spirituality, or like the beat writers, then you should check this book out. It’s short enough to read in a sitting, but worth taking your time and pondering the wisdom within.

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“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

HowlIf you read just one poem in your lifetime, it should be “Howl.” This poem not only captures and expresses the unspoken reality of post-WWII America, but it shattered social taboos and paved the way for artistic expression that continues today. It is truly a masterpiece.

The poem is much too long to include here. You can click here to read it online; or better yet, go and purchase a copy from your local indie bookstore. Ginsberg would certainly approve of that.

The poem begins with one of the greatest poetical openings ever, in my opinion:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

It is free-form poetry that has a distinct rhythm. I’ve heard it compared with Walt Whitman, and I can see that, but the rhythm is unique and heavily influenced by the jazz music of that period. Reading the words, the cadence makes me feel like I am in a smoke-filled basement and losing myself in hypnotic beats.

In addition to the long, winding lines of verse, Ginsberg brilliantly uses alliteration to create the musical feel of the poem. The following line is a great example of this, where he uses the “B” sound to accent the verse and drive the natural rhythm of the language.

who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,

The 1950’s were a time of repression. Thinking and acting in a way that didn’t fit in with the social mores could be very dangerous. As a result, people began exploring new spiritual and intellectual paths. Ginsberg expresses this searching and longing in the poem.

who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,

who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,

who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,  

who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary indian angels,

who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,

Travel and mysticism were not the only ways in which Ginsberg and his contemporaries searched for meaning in their world. They also turned to sex and drugs, and for Ginsberg, this was open homosexuality, something that was not accepted at that time. Ginsberg expresses his homosexuality with frank openness, something which led to an attempt to ban the poem as pornographic. Thankfully, the courts upheld the artistic value of the poem in one of the landmark censorship cases.

who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,

who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,

who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,

who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may,

The poem is divided into three parts. The second part focuses on Moloch. Moloch was a god worshiped by the Phoenicians and Canaanites who required parents to sacrifice their children by fire. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moloch) Ginsberg adopts the symbol of Moloch and employs it as a metaphor for America. People were expected to sacrifice themselves and their children to a culture that demanded obedience, crushed individuality, and thought of people as nothing more than cogs in the great wheel of capitalist consumerism. It was a society where money was God.

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

The third section of the poem is all about how Ginsberg relates with Carl Solomon, to whom the entire poem is dedicated. Solomon was a writer who was influenced by Dadaism and Surrealism. He was institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital where he was subjected to shock therapy. (Source: Wikipedia) In the final section, Ginsberg uses the refrain “I’m with you in Rockland” to express solidarity, and most importantly, to assert that, like Solomon, we are all institutionalized. We are all trapped within the society that seeks to dull our minds with the continuous zapping of our thoughts. All creativity and deviation from the societal norms is systematically extinguished by a culture that demands conformity.

Again, I cannot stress enough how important this poem is. It is one of the most ground-breaking works of literature ever. While I have your attention, I’ll also recommend watching the film “Howl” starring James Franco, which has some great reenactments of the court sessions where Lawrence Ferlinghetti from City Lights Books was on trial for publishing Howl and Other Poems.

Finally, there is a “Footnote to Howl” which stands alone poetically. You can probably guess what my next post will be.

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“Dr. Sax” by Jack Kerouac

DrSaxI suspect that this post will probably piss off some hipsters out there, but I have to be honest—I thought this book sucked. In fact, in my mind I jokingly renamed it Dr. Sucks. And the truth is, I like Kerouac, but this book is a flop. I couldn’t finish it, and believe me; I hate not finishing a book. But this book was so dreadful and life is too short that I could not justify wasting any more time reading it.

I found it in a local used book store that was going out of business. All books were severely marked down, so I grabbed a stack. This was one of the ones I bought. I’d never heard of this book before, but hey, it’s Kerouac and for $2, how could I go wrong?

The book is basically Kerouac’s attempt at stream-of-consciousness writing. He weaves together memory and dream fragments in rambling sentences to try to capture how his mind works. I envisioned Jack sitting at a typewriter, wired on amphetamines, and frantically typing out every jagged thought that sped through his brain.

Here is a random paragraph from the book:

I could hear it rise from the rocks in a groaning wush ululating with the water, sprawlsh, sprawlsh, oom, oom, zoooo, all night long the river says zooo, zooo, the stars are fixed on rooftops like ink. Merrimac, dark name, sported dark valleys: my Lowell had the great trees of antiquity in the rocky north waving over lost arrowheads and Indian scalps, the pebbles on the slatecliff beach are full of hidden beads and were stepped on barefoot by Indians. Merrimac comes swooping from a north of eternities, falls pissing over locks, cracks and froths on rocks, bloth, and rolls frawing to the kale, calmed in dewpile stone holes slaty sharp (we dove off, cut our feet, summer afternoon stinky hookies), rocks full of ugly old suckers not fit to eat, and crap from sewage, and dyes, and you swallowed mouthfuls of the chokeful water— By moonlight night I see the Mighty Merrimac foaming in a thousand white horses upon the tragic plains below. Dream: —wooden sidewalk planks of Moody Street Bridge fall out, I hover on beams over rages of white horses in the roaring low, —moaning onward, armies and cavalries of charging Euplantus Eudronicus King Grays loop’d & curly like artists’ work, and with clay souls’ snow curlicue rooster togas in the fore front.

Now, I confess, I understand what Kerouac was trying to do here, and I can appreciate it. Expressing the workings of the subconscious mind is not an easy thing to do. And the truth is, I enjoy stream-of-consciousness writing, if it’s done well, and therein is the issue; it really wasn’t done well. This book in no way compares with the works of James Joyce or Thomas Wolfe. In addition, it seems that the entire book is nothing but the rambling stream-of-consciousness. That’s right—no plot, no narrative, basically, no story. After reading almost 100 pages of streaming memory fragments, I just couldn’t take any more.

As much as I hate to part with books, I will probably put this out the next time I have a yard sale. I’m sure there are hipster-wannabes out there willing to pay $2 for this book and who will pretend to find it deep and inspiring.

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“Sphincter” by Allen Ginsberg

I first read this poem in college when a professor gave me a copy of Cosmopolitan Greetings. I wasn’t crazy about the book, so I cashed it in at a used bookstore for credit. While flipping through a Ginsberg anthology today I came across this poem again, and I have to admit, I’m even less impressed than when I first read it.

The poem is basically an ode to his asshole. He speaks frankly about the pleasures of sodomy, as well as his concerns about AIDS and other possible issues that he may encounter as he ages. While I applaud his courage to express himself openly, I just found the poem itself to be a weaker version of what he did so brilliantly in his earlier works, particularly “Howl.” It was almost like he was trying to jump the shark here. I really get the impression that he was going for shock value more than artistic expression, which is sad. It seems like he was grasping for the relevancy of his earlier poems, but instead he comes across as an old guy still trying to be hip.

I personally feel that Ginsberg is one of the most important poets of his time, and maybe that is another reason why this poem is so disappointing to me. I just don’t sense his unique voice here. But, you may feel differently. Click here to read the poem online and feel free to share your thoughts.

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